Well, here I am in Bologna. The trip here was smooth, if somewhat grueling. I flew via Munich, which was the first time I’ve ever been in Germany, if being in an airport counts. I wish I’d had my camera at the ready for the descent into Munich, because it was a crystal clear day, and the countryside around Munich was really striking. Of course this is the city that my father was stationed in after the war, and there was a fleeting plan to bring him back there about ten years ago, a trip which never materialized. I didn’t get a glimpse of the actual city, though, either landing or taking off. The Munich airport looked brand new, and seemed like one long, stretched out mall. The flight to Bologna was only about an hour, on a pretty small plane (two and two seats across). We did get a little snack; packaged cheese and crackers with the cheese coming in one hunk with no discernible way to distribute it onto the crackers. And moist towelettes.
From the Bologna airport I took a bus to the center of town, from which it was a five minute walk to my apartment. I got here a bit early, and the landlady was waiting when I rang the bell. She gave me an orientation to the place, first in Italian, and then in English when it occurred to her that I wasn’t Italian. Almost everything was comprehensible in my jet-lagged state, except the garbage system. It’s very, very complicated. There are five (or six; it’s hard to know) different types of garbage, each of which goes a different place on a different day. There is a little explanatory chart that I anticipate spending many happy hours contemplating.
Bologna is known as a progressive town, and perhaps this is how progress manifests itself. Right now, though, I’m terrified to produce any garbage, not knowing what I’m supposed to do with it. I don’t suppose flushing everything down the toilet is an option.
The apartment itself is a bit dark and slightly dingy, though my initial impression of it has improved a bit as I’ve settled in.
There are no windows out to the street, instead they open to an interior courtyard and what seems to be an air shaft. I’m a little too close to the other apartments across the courtyard, especially since there are only sheer curtains on the windows. It’s very hot and humid here, and of course there’s no air conditioning, but given the lack of privacy I need to be careful about walking about the place in an advanced stage of undress. There are ceiling fans in the main living space and the bedroom, and so far this seems to be enough. The apartment is upstairs from a pizzeria/cucina non-stop place, between the university and the center of town. With no windows on the street, though, there’s virtually no noise, except from the other apartments.
Yesterday it was all I could do to make it down to the neighborhood Conrad and stock up on food, which included a big pile of mortadella. Oh, and I was able to order bread nearly flawlessly, which I suppose goes to show that there is hope for even the most hopeless amongst us. I managed to make myself stay awake until 10 pm last night, and then slept almost straight through until 7.30. Amazing what utter exhaustion can do for even an insomniac.
This morning I went for a ramble in town to get oriented a little. The approach to town from the airport was fairly charmless, which made me second guess my choice of this town for the year’s sojourn, but heading into town this morning there was charm aplenty. It’s a very medieval looking town, dramatically different from Rome both in its lack of architectural diversity, and its lack of urban chaos. The central visual motif of the town is arcades, and most streets have them.
The visual icon of the town is the great Neptune fountain at the entrance to the Piazza Maggiore. In true Italian style, though, poor Neptune is completely covered right now, kind of like his cousin the Triton was during my stay in Rome.
The Piazza Maggiore looks like a big, open-air movie theater, which apparently is what it is during the summer.
It’s surrounded by medieval/renaissance structures; the Palazzo del Podesta, the Palazzo Comunale, the Basilica di San Petronio, and the Plazzo dei Banchi.
Gregory XIII, the guy who came up with the modern calendar, and a native son, watches over it all. One can only hope he likes movies.
I popped into the Basilica, and managed to take a few pictures before that fellow with the blue shirt strode over to close me down. Apparently you need to buy a ticket to take pictures.
The Basilica is notable for, among other things, the fact that the facade was never finished.
In fact the basilica itself was never finished; as was the case in Siena, a plan developed in the early sixteenth century to greatly enlarge the church, which would have resulted in a church larger than St. Peter’s in Rome. Civic pride knew no bounds in Italy back in the day; however, the Vatican did, and the Medici pope Pius IV purportedly put the kibosh on this project.
The streets around the Basilica are narrow, winding and picturesque, and reminded me a bit of the old part of Seville.
While wandering around them I ran into the other great landmark(s) of Bologna, the Garisenda and Asinelli towers. It was fashionable in medieval Italy, for reasons of both prestige and defense, to build very tall towers, though not many towns have retained them. San Gimignano in Tuscany is a notable exception. These two have somehow managed to survive in Bologna, which is all the more remarkable given the uncertain engineering that seems to have gone into building them.
While I haven’t even been here 24 hours yet, a few things have struck me about this city. First is the notable lack of tourists, and in particular foreign (and more particularly American) tourists. Oddly enough this has left me feeling slightly vulnerable. I remember in Rome feeling a slight sense of relief when, walking into town, I went through the gate in the Aurelian wall by San Giovanni in Laterano and entered the Land of the Tourist. I felt that somehow I was off the hook for knowing what was what – and I could take my camera out with impunity. Here I don’t feel like I have that excuse. Of course that was one of the reasons I chose to come here; no one will get frustrated with my lack of Italian and end up speaking to me in broken English. Not that they won’t be frustrated, of course, but not being a tourist town there’ll be fewer English speakers. And even after less then 24 hours I can notice a difference. When I was at the supermercato yesterday there was a pair of ragazzi just inside the door making a pitch for something or other. Upon entering they asked if they could speak to me for a minute, but I explained that my Italian probably wasn’t good enough for it to be worth their while. Unfazed, they cheerfully tried again when I was leaving! Even my landlady, who speaks English and knew I was here to learn Italian, didn’t think to use English until halfway through our orientation. If nothing else this does seem to be a promising place to improve my listening and speaking skills.
Another thing that’s struck me is the police presence here. There are a lot of armed police around, some, somewhat unnervingly, carrying machine guns. I assume it’s because of the fear of terrorism, and in fact some Italians were just taken hostage in Bangladesh yesterday. Still, it’s a little strange, especially given the lack of tourists here. It would seem less out of place in Rome.
There are also a lot of Africans here. They are, almost without exception, standing on the street with upside down baseball caps, soliciting money. They stand out more here than they would in, say, Rome or Naples, given the homogeneity of the population, but it’s still quite striking.
These are my initial impressions of the place. I’ve only just arrived, though, and no doubt there will be more. Much more.