Milan’s Sforzesco Castle may be the only 15th-century building to offer free wi-fi.
Officials here were so convinced of their forward thinking that they decided to call it “Wireless Castle” in English. It’s part of a 17-million euro project, launched last week, to get Italy’s most industrious city wired by 2015 — apparently no one has told them that some early-adopting cities are now cutting off the juice.
It’s free, but not without the kind of typical Bel Paese bureaucratic scuffle that provokes a mantra-like mamma mia-ing and ritual cheek-puffing in frustration.
To be able to check email in Sempione Park, which surrounds the castle, you have to go to one of three places (the Aquarium, the Triennale museum or the Torre Branca) to sign up.
Naturally, they keep hours which may or may not coincide with when the outdoor internaut wants to be online — all three are closed Mondays, two out of three also close for lunch.
I got on board after lunch a few days ago at the Triennale, where sign-ups are at the ticket counter. If you think the illicit thrill is gone from the Internet, just try using it publicly in Italy: the frisson of having to turn over ID because users are considered possible terrorists provides ample reassurance of a vaguely shameful activity.
The middle-aged man at the counter didn’t press me to fill out the form in its entirety and didn’t make a copy of my ID as he should have, a good thing since it still has an old address on it.
For the effort, I got a credit-card sized piece of paper with a user name and password — embellished with the city coat of arms and a bad photoshopped image of the park with two teens superimposed using laptops — that gave me three hours of internet access.
As I was walking out wondering why anyone would bother, I got the answer thanks to a trio of male university students wielding an open laptop searching for a signal as they headed towards the counter.
Three hours online, not necessarily consecutive, before I’d have to get another card. You could get a lot done in that time span — or in any case you’d need an espresso or bathroom break — but it does seem designed to keep people from using it. Or a throwback to the days when access was hiccuped and slow enough to make email checks or searches something you “went online” to do.
More than getting work done, wi-fi in the park seems like an excellent way to meet men, if you’ve perhaps exhausted the outdoor markets and Critical Mass. Without even one computer-toting woman in sight, asking why the signal seemed weak amounted to a come-on.
The Vaio-lapped hipster who advised me to try near the Bar Bianco (the signal behind the Triennale is iffy at best, he said) sauntered over about 10 minutes later, prompting me to make one of those hasty departures (leaving behind a book I needed) that is the bane of en-plein office workers.
“Connectivity” takes on a whole other meaning.