03 October 2012

My Diary in Bologna, the Red City


Sunday, September 30, 2012

in the University district along Via Zamboni
Had trouble finding the #10 lodgings on Via Raimondi ... a mother and daughter kindly phoned Stefano (the landlord) on my behalf, and his father, visiting, answered and said he’d be right down. But he took awhile to appear, because I was on the wrong block. The actual number is 10/3 which is farther along the street and across a road from #10... there are four keys – front door, elevator, and two for the heavily barred apartment door. Reminds me of New York.

Walking here I witnessed a medieval religious pageant on the Piazza Maggiore (that’s what those seats and tents and stage were for) in front of Basilica di S. Petronio. Then some kind of demonstration in the next square, then near the train station a demonstration soccer match on a small artificial grass field netted all around, including overhead, with two five-man teams of young boys, all teens. Real referee, lots of people watching, and I enjoyed witnessing the skill of the players. First time that one second of soccer actually entertained me. I stopped for lunch along the way just off Via dell’Independenza – a large four-cheese pizza that I couldn’t finish, and a green salad and frizzy water.

Happy conversation with father and Stefano, then father left to catch the train, Stefano left to join someone for snacks at 6, and I had the place to myself, putting things away and hanging them up, trying to figure out how things work. Let’s see: you turn the handle on the window up and the top opens. To the right and the whole thing swings open. To the bottom to lock it. Remember this or the whole thing falls out on top of your head. I cannot find a single waste basket, except under the kitchen sink.

The room is small, as expected, with a depressing view of apartment block backsides. Tonight it’s raining with thunder and lightning, so going out to explore isn’t likely, but it’s still early.

The neighborhood is uninspiring – apartment buildings block after block, and at the end of this street a huge brick edifice housing a high school and associated rooms of higher learning. To get back to the central historical zone is an easy walk – about 5-10 minutes to the edge, then another 5-10 to Piazza Maggiore, the very center of things.

The price here is 27E a night plus the cost of acquiring wifi; very very cheap compared to other options.

As I write this Joselyn is still in the air... it’s 8 pm here, so she must have another 4-5 hours of flying to go. Thinking of you, Ms. J.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What a different day today. Not a moment to go into any mode but straight ahead. Went to bed early, woke up early. Out the door to explore the neighborhood. First few blocks were empty except for people going to work or school. A few turns and a few guesses and suddenly discovered a couple of bars (had cappuccino and an apple tart), a store for fruit, another store run by father and son, with an entire wall of wines, a great number of dried cured pig legs, a.k.a. prosciuto, pasta made on the premises, and all the cheese and dried tomatoes you’d ever want.

Back home a quick breakfast of yogurt and the doorbell rang, with my new teacher AnnaMaria standing outside on the sidewalk to meet me. We took the bus to school, and proceeded to have a four hour nonstop conversation, ended by the 1 pm arrival of Andrea, and then lunch with Andrea, Andrea’s wife Daniela, (they’ve been married 35 years, were sweethearts for years before that, and she’s known as the Technical Expert in the family!) and Patricia, an American student about my age, from Maine. Lunch turned into another bout of Italian conversation. Daniela’s food was great – two different pastas, a salad, then stuffed veal rolls, bread, wine and water.

onward for 3 km...
At this point it began to rain. As we stepped into Andrea’s car it was raining in torrents. It didn’t stop for hours. We drove to a high vista point shared by Chiesa San Luca, a church dedicated to the Madonna. It stands at the end (or the beginning, depending on direction) of THREE KILOMETERS of continuous portici – those famous overhanging passageways. These run all the way into the old city in one continuous flow. The ones here were built only a few centuries ago (not old by local standards) to keep religious processions dry, and to shelter the pilgrims who came to worship. When he was young, Andrea said, he used to see pilgrims arriving on their knees (it’s a steep climb) but no more these days. This led to a conversation about the changing place of religion in Italian life, just one in a series of dozens of intriguing conversations we like to call Italian Lessons.

A LETTER FROM JOSELYN (who flew home two weeks before me):

Hi T,

Finally I am settled in near the airport...

I arrived to very warm weather. It's hitting records and will be over 100 degrees in Livermore tomorrow. The 49ers shut down the Jets today 37 - 0 and the Giants beat the Padres 7 - 5 so all is well in sports. I am feeling cold symptoms which I could feel gradually appear and worsen on the plane as the cold air and air conditioning got me. What can you do? ... The a - hole German customs guy toyed with me by telling me it would take 30 minutes for me to stand there (not true) and then delayed giving me my passport. When I asked for it he leisurely said he had to check it. Bad vibes. Then I dropped my passport and the next guy told me to calm down, sit down and I hadn't lost it. If I had sat down I would have been at the back of a long line and not seen my passport handed to a security guard.

Then the lines at the gate! First a line to get a security stamp on our boarding pass then another series of lines extending all the way down the escalator walkway, to board us instead of calling our number. I wish I wrote down all the unhappy comments I heard in this process. The Germans just want power is what I concluded.

Flight was fine, and my seat was second row after Business class, so I got some free wine they had left over in a wine shaped plastic cup. I gave my wine coupon to the lady next to me and had wine using another coupon with my grilled chicken lunch... I watched 3 movies and 30 Rock! Batman and Men in Black 3 and a stupid movie about a bunch of couples expecting babies. Anything to make the time go by. The only other thing about the flight was a bit of turbulence on the way from Bologna to Frankfurt, otherwise all was smooth and on time.

I'm ready for a hot bath and hope to watch 60 Minutes. The tap water with ice tastes fine here. Hetch Hetchy.

Miss you, love you! Enjoy scola or however it is spelled.

the J

A LETTER FROM MARTINA DENTILLI (my Italian teacher who lives in Istanbul – we use Skype for weekly lessons) whom we finally met in person the day before our 10 day cruise from Istanbul to Venice). Martina wrote about Joselyn: “come sta justline? e' in california? salutala da parte mia! mi e' piaciuta molto, mi sembra una donna molto sensibile con un'anima molto nobile!” Which translates: “How is Joselyn doing? Is she in California? Greetings to her from me! I liked her a lot, it seems to me she is a very sensible woman with a noble spirit!”

I could not agree more.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In Bologna, la citta’ rossa, the streets are named after famous long-gone Communists and Famous Victories : Via Stalingrada, Via Rosa Luxembourg (it is strange to watch a bus go by with ROSA LUXEMBOURG in huge bright letters. For some reason streets here also are named after famous English writers (Via W. Shakespeare) and French writers (Via Stendhal). These are the very streets I got lost amongst on my way to school this morning.

I took the #27 instead of the #25. Two innocent numbers, one innocent bus, which took me into a strange land of patriotic victories and foreign writers. This is how I get to meet Italians.

In one bar the owner pulled out a battered little red book of street names and could not locate Via Guarducci, my destination. By the look of the book, any street created after the death of Mussolini wouldn’t be in there anyway.

She painfully slowly and painfully loudly read down a list of alphabetically proximate names, the entire bar enjoying this pause in their caffe drinking: “Guaboni! Guacamole! Guerrelooni! Grabaroni!” No Gurarducci. Her husband ended the episode by pointing out the door (in the wrong direction, but who knew) and saying in Italian, “There are a lot of new streets over there... but who could remember their names? You’ll have to look around.”

A few minutes later I was turned in the seeming right direction by a well-dressed man equipped with the latest in smart phones. While sliding around on the little screen he cursed gently as he lost the maps app several times. We appeared to discover I was either (1) on the wrong side of the autostrada, I think he said, or (2) I was several kilometers in the wrong direction.

So I started off (again in the wrong direction, but who could tell or really care at that point) thinking “I am an idiot I am an idiot” in Italian. It even sounds better in Italian: “Sono idiota sono idiota!"

A woman sweeping the street in front of an unlikely to-be-open store serving soccer teams with all needed equipment, including, but not limited to, free weights, tacchetti, pantacalcio, pallone calcio training, calzettoni – turned out to be the angel of the morning.

She ceased sweeping and spent ten minutes patiently explaining where I was, where I needed to go, even to the extent of Xeroxing the correct page of a detailed street map, yellow-highlighting the correct street, and better, calling Daniela at home for further directions (luckily she was at home). I shall forever remember the courtesy shown me by the two people at 3C Sport international sas, costruzione e vendita accessori brevettati per il calcio, via S. Campagnoli 2, 40128 Bologna, phone 051/325105 and email to gianniceneri@libero.it

Andrea, Daniela, la nipote, AnnaMaria at Bolognalingua.com
When I finally arrived at Andrea’s house, walking in as if I knew what I was doing, I gracefully gulped down the proffered cup of coffee, proclaimed my idiocy, and the lessons began.

These consist of sitting across from my teacher at a table upstairs in an unused study/bedroom, sun (or rain) streaming in through half-opened iron-barred windows, and talking.

There is structure to this, but mainly, we talk. I listen, I speak, we discuss whatever comes up; we turn to yesterday’s homework and go through it, stopping when I have questions or don’t know whether a particular preposition should be di, al, in, alle, gli, or perhaps dagli, fra, negli, in, di, eccolo, per, in, nella, agli, ai, or dei. Or in again.

I swear this is fun. I swear it!

Besides the streets named for Communists and writers, and, no doubt, Communist writers, Bologna has the customary streets named for famous patriots. I have not yet located the ubiquitous Via Cavour, but there has to be one. There is Via Garibaldi, Via dell’Indipendenza, Piazza della Resistenza, Piazza VIII Agosto. There’s a Piazza Roosevelt (and in Ravenna: Piazza John F. Kennedy) but no Piazza dedicated to Hoover, Nixon, or any other Republican.

Bologna, the red city. Named for its red bricks, or the red plaster on the red bricks, or the Red Party, or all of it.

Aha! In looking over the city map I have now discovered Piazza Cavour!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012, continued...

On Monday everything seemed to be open and working, once one gets used to the local hours. Bars open first, then stores. Everything’s going great at noon, beginning to close by 12:30. First the stores slam down their steel doors, then the restaurants stop serving (about 2:30, you can tell because they turn out the lights on the wine bottle display) and even some bars are closed. By 5 in the afternoon things are starting to reopen. That was what I saw on Monday.

On Tuesday we had a general national strike led by transit workers. No buses to school. All taxis busy because no buses. All streets jammed with traffic because everyone’s taking their car and all taxis are ferrying workers.

Wednesday, today, we have construction in the casino which I thought for a moment meant “in the basement of this apartment building” but actually means, in Stefano’s colorful words, big mess today – a casino (originally: bordello or brothel) indicating a mess, shambles, botch, cock-up, balls-up, raising hell. The water is announced to be off between 10 am and 3 -- except the water continued to run after 3 pm. I don’t know whom to believe, Stefano, or the worker downstairs who gave different hours.

Monday: normal. Tuesday: strike. Wednesday: casino.

Medieval procession in P. Maggiore
Thursday we have a grand party to celebrate Bologna’s patron saint, Santa Petronio. We shall have pastoral visits, photo shows, flag tossing, open-air concerts, moments of silence, comedians in dialect, a religous concert for Vespers, homage to the statue of S. Petronio, an outdoor choral concert featuring something modern, and at the very end “Il Mago di Oz” or the Wizard of Oz performed by the group “Qdi4" for absolutely no logical reason whatsoever. Maybe Qdi4 had an open date?

Tomorrow what we will not have is places to buy food or restaurants in which to order food. Some bars are expected to open, the irreligious ones.

Therefore, on the way home today I stopped by a small store and discovered some perfect take-home. For 28.88 Euro I rounded up a couple of meals worth of lasagna, ravioli (not really ravioli but I don’t know what else to call it), chicken leg, roasted peppers, meatballs with peas (I know; it looks better than it sounds), two short loaves of bread with cheese inside, and a fruit torte the woman said is typical of Bologna, but I didn’t write down the name – something that sounded like cross-hatch-ia or close.

I just checked: it’s 4 pm and the water’s still running. More school tomorrow.


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