Let The Mille Miglia Recalibrate Your Life, For This Is Truly The Most Beautiful Race On Earth
Photography by Armando Musotto
Adequately recounting the Mille Miglia has never been easy for me, for how can one soul do justice to such an immense history as is contained in this 1,000-mile celebration? Writing about the 2019 edition was made a bit easier, though, thanks to Chopard, who invited me along to experience the gamut of emotions from a close-up, privileged perspective—the kind of intimate access that left my clothes smelling sweetly of spent petrol by each day’s end. It was a week that I’ll not soon be forgetting, and one that elicits fresh goosebumps on each recall. I hope that my photos and words can transfer even a sliver of the firsthand experience through your screen from mine.
The Mille Miglia began on a hot summer afternoon in early summertime, but the sheen of sweat would have been there even if it were set in the middle of a frigid winter—such is the immense and intimidating feeling that was cast over me upon arrival. See, I never thought that I’d have a chance to return to these mythical streets, otherwise scenic routes that once hosted gladiators, tarnishing the asphalt with bias ply tires attached to cars driven as fast as possible through narrow, harrowing streets between and through villages that have stood for hundreds of years.
And so I find myself in the bowl of the event’s primordial soup, in Brescia, among 450 pieces of art that happen to be motorized. The clouds are getting blacker by the minute, and the sun’s rays are struggling to filter through the imposing cloak, making the historical moment of punching into Piazza delle Vittorie even more dramatic and soul-stirring. Soon enough the clouds pop and rain pours down on the shining bodies, beading on fresh wax. Every moment of dry respite is a blessed one as each snap of the big clocktower brings us closer to the start, my adrenaline rising in step.
The butterflies are surely not exclusive to my stomach, and the collective nervous adrenaline is all but tangible. Then, like lightning, the cars are brought to life and the union of high-strung fours and sixes and eights creates a hellish sound that is barely, briefly drowned out by the overhead thunder courtesy of the Frecce Tricolori. The jets, spewing color, mark the start the most beautiful race in the world. Many a heartbeat is skipped in these inaugural moments.
The Mille Miglia has begun in earnest, and the cars dart out of Brescia with odometers and Tripmasters rolling toward the first of some 1,800km of driving left to go. Carefully laid plans, carefully prepared cars, there is no ability to truly plan for this event, for what it has in store. There will be great bouts of luck and anti-lock to come, a whirlwind of a drive along a route that often seems frozen in time and ambivalent to your efforts to tame it.
It is sort of a metaphor for all of life in one life-changing week. The Mille Miglia teaches you that programming your future is pointless. I firmly believe that this race will change your life should you find it becoming a part of yours—really, in any capacity; driver, spectator, perma-grinning cameraman—for its spirit is one of adaptation, putting you in front of choices that you cannot anticipate and moments that are all the sweeter for their serendipitous occurrence. Mille Miglia is honest, hard, sometimes a bit hypocritical, and though it is not as hairy as it was in its early years of pure competition, to win here requires no dearth of will and skill.
The spectacle never lets up, the sound of engines is relentless, each day a cause for someone like me to rejoice all over again. From Cervia, to Rome, to Assisi, to Val d’Orcia, to Siena, onwards to Bologna. It is a path that wiggles between hairpin bends ripped from postcards, deserted country roads where speed limits turn into jokes, turbulent city streets writhing with people who scream and wave as if we were on our way to the moon. Early dawn, harsh noon, welcomed twilight, it is all but a relentless display of historical beauty packaged into something that is still quite raw despite what the year on the calendar would suggest.
Everything becomes red and white when we enter the next square, people dash out of their homes, their children running or perched atop shoulders, flags waving maniacally. An unbridled display of emotion that is infectious, and that I will hardly forget in this lifetime.
The Mille Miglia is like a parenthetical part of the year, something which exists outside of normal waking life, too special to be included in the main text of life. It’s a time when life’s problems are reduced to how well one’s Webers and Solexes are working. A party that leaves wide eyes, huge grins, whiffs of petrol and sighs of pure happiness across a wonderful cross section of this country.
The days pass quickly, as good ones tend to do, and, though the weather this year was not so charitable to the aged metal below the rain clouds, I find it impossible to lob any negativity at such an elevated experience, sopping wet socks and all.
As it does the start, Brescia also marks the end of this journey, and the checkered flag flies over the dirty bodywork of Giovanni Moceri and Daniele Bonetti’s 1928 Alfa Romeo 6C 1500, as fitting a victor as can be for this historically significant event. The sky drops low again, the last lights go out, and the night begins to breathe its crispness over the humidity of the spent day. Sounds of footsteps on cobblestones replace the thrum of cylinders, and the curtains are figuratively drawn over the the Mille Miglia. The emotions garnered over the past week on the other hand are only building on one another, impossible to switch off.