I’ve been in Bologna for about four weeks now, and I’m still getting used to the lifestyle and cultural differences here. Probably the most pressing cultural difference for me is the great quest to find tea in a country that pretty much drinks exclusively coffee. Tea does exist here, but it’s mostly the shitty store brand ones or weird flavored teas I can’t be bothered with or one centigram of chai for 15 euros. I’ve also had to get used to the strong judgment for drinking the tap water; it’s about as hard as Vassar water in my opinion, but everyone seems to think that it’s not at all safe. Since I didn’t bring my trusty Brita water bottle, however, for the sake of taste I’ve been buying giant bottles of water and carrying it around in a milk bottle. I do find it rather amusing that I’ve gone dangerously beyond the Vassar Mason jar in such a short amount of time despite my confusion towards mason jar users. (On that note: where do you guys put your jam if all of your jars are in use? What’s wrong with conventional reusable water bottles? Is there a reason to use empty salsa jars instead? Because I have seen that, and I am worried about you.) It’s also ironic that despite being really serious about separating out trash and recycling into four different collection bins, Italians are really into drinking bottled water instead of using reusable bottles or filters. So close to helping the Earth, guys, so close.
Another cultural difference is the absence of a drinking age in Italy. There is an actual drinking age (16 for wine and beer, 18 for everything else), but being able to drink doesn’t mean anything here because everyone does. This made my 21st birthday slightly anticlimactic. My night started out with an aperitivo at a wine cafe in central Bologna. For those of you poor souls who’ve never experienced this, an aperitivo consists of a pre-dinner drink (traditionally a spritz, but can be anything) and snack. This place had a very intense snack. We were given endless bread and individual plates of mozzarella, tomato and onion jam, olives and mortadella. It doesn’t sound like much typing it here, but in Bologna all of those things are about 200 times better than they are in America. Next was dinner at Osteria dell’Orsa, a recommendation from a friend (hi Marya) where there is amazing homemade pasta for ten euros or less. I enjoyed my tagliatelle al ragu (a.k.a. bolognese) even more knowing that I will never have to eat at the deece again for as long as I live. Sorry I brought it up. After dinner we went to actual bars, a nice change from Svedka in the dorms/being packed like anchovies into the THs. Though the night was definitely filled with its shenanigans (about which I won’t go into detail for the sake of any parents or professors reading this), it was pretty tame for a 21st; I managed to remove my makeup and contact lenses, take a shower, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Of course I was drunk while doing this, so waking up at 7 a.m. the next morning to catch a train was really really great.
That train was to Modena, where we spent the day touring the city’s duomo, eating tons of amazing food and searching for balsamic vinegar.
The city is famous for the vinegar, but it is also very expensive, i.e. I will go back to Modena later in the semester and use my parents’ money to buy vinegar as a “souvenir” instead of cutting into my food allowance provided by my program. I also plan on going back so I can enjoy the city without a terrible hangover and lactose nausea, which is a very fun combination. Being lactose intolerant has been an issue since all things dairy are quite prevalent in Italian food, but the great abundance of pharmacies here means that my saviour L. acidophilus is readily available. Also: parmesan cheese aged for over 24 months doesn’t have lactose in it, so I might just eat exclusively that for the next four months.
I’ve also been going to class this whole time. My semester-long courses start next week, but for the past three weeks I have been taking an intensive Italian course as a review for how to actually use this language, which was pretty helpful after spending all of my winter break watching Buffy and Tom Cruise movies on an endless loop. Part of this course involved learning about the history of Bologna and the university here, which is the oldest one in Europe (est. 1088). The university didn’t have any actual buildings until the 1500s, when the Pope purchased land near the growing Basilica San Petronio and built the Archiginnasio, which houses the wood-paneled Teatro Anatomico (basically a room where the medical students would dissect cadavers to learn about how the human body works).
I was told that the Pope did this in order to halt the construction of the Basilica, which stood to become larger than St. Peter’s in the Vatican City. I’ve also heard that the real reason for why the Basilica was never completed is that all of the people funding the project lost all their money playing cards. Both seem equally plausible.
This initial course is now coming to an end, which means that I’ll have to start taking real classes at the university and within my program. The course shopping phase over the next few weeks should be interesting and/or very stressful, as most of the classes I’m looking at are in areas in which I’ve never taken a class before, like semiotics and sociolinguistics. Hopefully I’ll be able to find something that works out, but until then I’ll be hiding behind my laptop watching the newly-available Italian Netflix or using Aperol spritzes and cones of french fries to ease my worries. Probably just the fries, though.