La Vita Bolognese
One of the advantages of being abroad is that you’re already across the Atlantic Ocean, which means that traveling to different places for a weekend only costs about 100€ instead of $800-$1000. Anyone who’s traveled around Europe knows how wonderful it is to take a train or plane to another not-so-far-away place that speaks a different language, eats different food, and boasts different romantic stereotypes. Despite the convenience, however, I’ve decided to forego the traveller’s life for the past few weeks and stay in Bologna, my Italian home. Of course I want to see new places and explore other countries, but right now, I’m really enjoying Bologna, its familiarity, and its people whom I’ve come to know. I’m starting to feel like a regular Bolognese.
Hopefully, you already know about Max—the colorful character who serves me my morning coffee and brioche—from my last post. About a week ago, Max invited my friends and me to have “aperitivi” at his bar, which is basically the Italian version of pre-gaming that includes snacks. This is when we finally met “Max della sera,” or “Max of the night.” Now, Max della sera and Max della mattina (of the morning) are two very different Maxes. Night-Max is a lot more open with his thoughts and a lot bolder in his speech—characteristics probably spurred on by the four to five glasses of wine that he drank with us. After trying to get me to scopare (sleep with) his son for a while—under the condition that I tell him how his son is afterward so that Max, as a true Italian father, can disown him if he’s not on par—Max went on to voice some of the more intimate thoughts that he is too polite to say in the morning. In short, Max is a bit of a pervert; but then again, most Italian men are, despite their age or marital status. I’ve been going to Max’s cafe a little less frequently lately, mostly because I realized that making my own espresso is a lot cheaper, but also because my image of Max della mattina has been a little tarnished by Max della sera.
A few more consistent characters have come into my Bologna life lately, one of whom is Marco, my favorite barman. Not only is a true artist at making drinks, he is also a circus-master of juggling bottles, catching ice cubes thrown from across the room in a glass, and peeling complex patterns out of oranges, which he lays on his drinks like Michelangelo carving his final touches in the David. Marco always puts on a great show. He also has great taste in music, which is a true rarity in barmen. I can always count on Marco to play some Chili Peppers, Bowie, or Nirvana while every other bar in town is playing “Gangnam Style” for the twenty-fifth time that night. But more than anything, Marco is a great friend. After hearing about a particularly unfortunate situation that took place back home, I did something I’ve never done before: I went to a bar by myself. I needed a drink, as well as somewhere I could be alone for a little while with my thoughts. Marco let me in at 5:30, just as the bar was opening, and poured me a whiskey. He didn’t ask me what was wrong, although he did raise his eyebrows a little bit when I ordered my drink straight. Marco played Pink Floyd for me while we talked and commiserated for over an hour as he refilled glass after glass. It was exactly what I needed, and I think we found some true solidarity in each other; the next time I went into the bar, he came over and gave me the most enthusiastic high-five I’ve ever received.
Every weekend, the streets in the center of town are closed to traffic and they fill up with the citizens of Bologna who walk in the street, listen to street musicians, buy balloons for their children, shop, and enjoying the simple pleasures that Bologna has to offer. I love joining them and leaving the safe-cover of the porticos that run through the city, feeling a bit of sun on my face and looking up at the tall medieval tower that looks over the city. No matter if it’s snowing or sunny (both of which we’ve experienced in the past week), the Bolognese take to the streets every Saturday and Sunday with me right there beside them.
There’s something truly great about coming to know a foreign city so intimately. I know where to go for the best pizza, gelato, tagliatelle al ragù, prosciutto, and mozzarella, while I buy my fruits and vegetables from the same grumpy old Italian woman every week at a shop near my dorm. I even have a favorite pescheria where I buy fish. There, I always have to elbow my way past crowds of Italians to order at the counter, but it’s worth having to intimidate people when I see the fishmonger chop and skin a piece of the freshest salmon I’ve seen in my life. I could have flings with Pisa, Paris, or London every weekend, but I feel like I’m in a solid and comfortable realtionship with Bologna right now, and I’m really enjoying the process of discovering all of the small details and imperfections that make this city so beautiful. There’s still so much more that I have yet to see.