The last stop on our tour of Italy was Bologna. There is a study abroad program there where Regis sends students and Eric knew the program director who had invited us to come and visit. We were greeted warmly by Vittorio, the assistant director of the program and settled in. He showed us around and we saw something that made us all gasp in joy – a CLOTHES DRYER. We haven’t seen one since we left, as they’re not standard anywhere else. Given that in the dampness of places we’ve been, clothes take at least 36 hours to dry, this was a true luxury.
It’s Christmas season here, and in Europe that means Christmas markets set up around town. I went for a little walk on my own to find a grocery store to pick up some food for the night, and found that the one right next to our flat had handmade tortelloni for sale. I bought a kilo of fresh spinach and ricotta tortelloni, a jar of fresh pesto from the store and settled in for an easy dinner at home. When I was walking around though, I began to have something of an anxiety attack. I felt suddenly very alone and vulnerable, and scared. I had no reason to feel this way – there were plenty of families milling about and I didn’t feel in danger of my safety or anything, just…nervous. It felt strange to me, as I’ve traveled solo quite a bit in the past. I remembered the same sensation when we first got to Romania and Eric had to go to Bucharest for a few days, leaving me alone with the kids. Walking around felt terrifying to me. Now, of course, Romania is familiar and I’m often going about on my own. I think part of it is that for the last few months I’ve rarely been alone at all, usually at least with the kids if no one else. It was also the lack of familiarity, the lack of language as well. By the end of our few days in Bologna this was gone, and I had little problem being on my own, out and about. But it was humbling to realize that even with all the travel, I still get overwhelmed with the unfamiliar.
The following day we didn’t do much to tell the truth. After the intense whirlwind of the last week, we spent nearly the first two full days hardly leaving the flat. We met up with Vittorio, his wife Margherita, and their daughter for lunch at a tasty vegetarian restaurant. The girl was so, so happy to have another girl to chat and play with, as it’s been practically all boys everywhere else! We then relaxed until dinnertime where we were treated to a delicious homemade dinner made by Todd, the director, and hosted by other faculty at the university there. It was so kind and welcoming of them to have a dinner for us.
Next day, Todd took us on a tour of Bologna. Bologna is a small, delightful city. While there aren’t many famous “sights,” the atmosphere is lovely and we felt warmly welcomed everywhere we went. At one point, the city needed to increase it’s living spaces. It did this by building additions onto buildings and underneath them, constructing porticos, or covered walkways, throughout the city. Bologna is known for its rich and tasty food, and in this it did not disappoint!
One of the interesting sights to see was the campus of the first Medical school in Italy. The walls are covered with names and coats of arms of the prior graduates. Inside is a dissection chamber, where students would sit on the tiered chairs while a cadaver was dissected on the marble slab below. Eric suggested I lay down on the slab to recreate a famous dissection scene. Was this a veiled threat? I wondered. I’ve been watching my back ever since. The columns of the lectern are carved with flayed nudes, in homage to the work done below, though are rather grotesque.
That evening we went out to dinner with Adleigh, and she took us to her favorite pasta place in Bologna. This was incredible. All fresh and handmade pasta with the perfect complementary sauce, followed by gelato for dessert, of course.
For our last full day in Italy, we met with Margherita and Vittorio again for breakfast. An interesting conversation about the referendum in Italy – there was a big vote about amending the constitution significantly which failed, and the Prime Minister resigned. It’s seen as another big anti establishment vote, continuing the momentum of Brexit and Trump. In the States, we are myopic in our political knowledge, and I doubt that even many educated people could name five European leaders. I certainly couldn’t before I came here. The last Italian PM I could name was Berlusconi, turns out he’s been out of power for a while. I know Angela Merkel, but that’s because she’s been in power forever. Of course, everywhere else, they follow the US elections closely and have opinions on them. This is what privilege looks like, in this case American privilege, the ability to ignore what’s happening in the rest of the world because you know it doesn’t affect you all that much.
For the rest of our time, we did little more than walk around again to explore the streets, pop into little shops and then dinner at home with some fresh pumpkin ravioli picked up at the Christmas market around the corner, where Adleigh and Sean, a faculty member, came over for dinner and some fun conversation.
The next day we boarded our plane back to Romania, which we all now think of as home.
I usually end my region sections with the street signs, but they really aren’t that unusual here other than the one gondola one in Venice, so instead I leave you with a roundup of our culinary experience.