Now that I am almost two months into my time in Bologna, I’m finally following a regular academic schedule. My course at UniBo, Sociolinguistics, is pretty interesting, but the professor basically whispers when he lectures. He also lectures for the entire two-hour period; one time he even went through an article in class and summarized it instead of us having us read and discuss it. This didactic style is typical at UniBo, but it takes some getting used to coming from all discussion-based courses at Vassar. Within my program I’m taking a course on theatre and another on urban history. These classes are also mainly lecture-based, with basically the entire course grade determined by the final exam. That’ll be stressful later, but now it means that I have pretty much nothing to do. I only have classes Monday through Wednesday (with one hour of class on Thursday, but does that count, honestly?), leaving me with four days out of the week to do whatever reading I have and then watch Netflix or explore Bologna and the surrounding area.
I’ve done two day trips to fill this ridiculous amount of free time to Parma and Venice. Parma is about an hour away from Bologna and is the home of parmesan cheese and prosciutto, so basically everything good in the world. I bought almost a kilo of parm to take back with me and I still have it and it’s amazing and no you can’t have any. It was still Carnevale when we went, which is basically Italian Halloween. There was a parade going through the entire city with kids on floats dressed in costumes, including standard Carnevale outfits but also a lot of Minions. Everywhere. (They were also present in a Bologna Carnevale parade a few days later, so I’m pretty sure they’re just going to follow me around forever. It’s fine). There was also a float of children dressed up as Native Americans, and we quickly fled from this image by going into Parma’s Duomo. The church was beautifully painted, and there were even some mind-fuck paintings that looked like statues at the corners of the ceiling but it was just. Paint. Crazy.
Those children dressed as Native Americans were unfortunately not the only instance of racism I’ve seen in Italy. Even though the ladies at my eyebrow place in Waltham call me “Snow White” for being such a pale Indian, in a country full of almost all white people I stick out pretty drastically. Most Italians I meet seem to be fascinated by meeting someone who is American but not white, but sometimes this turns into that thing where people try not to be racist but end up being really racist because they keep asking you questions about your culture and exotify you instead of letting you live. For example, my program includes three weeks of a cooking class with an Italian chef. This lady makes a mean ragu, but on the first day of class she asked me and a friend with Mexican heritage some rather uncomfortable questions. For example, while rolling out pasta dough, she asked my friend if this was how he made tortillas. Later on, she asked me if I ate beef because she found out an hour prior that I’m Indian (after her somewhat pushy questioning about what other “food cultures” we have, directed at everyone but first to me and my fellow POC). She asked this even though weeks earlier we sent in our food restrictions so she could plan accordingly. But apparently she was “just checking” (even though she didn’t check with a Jewish friend if using pork was fine). To deal with her questions for the next two weeks, we decided to get a drink before every lesson. It worked pretty well but made chopping cabbage with a giant knife slightly terrifying.
In addition, most Italians refer to POC shopkeepers as “Pakistani,” regardless of where they actually come from. Even though there are many immigrant groups in Bologna, they are all grouped together as the “non-white people who run bodegas so let’s just call them all Pakistanis because that’s close enough” group. The Italians even laugh about this labelling of POCs, as if it’s a joke to have POCs in their country. I hate that I’ve already gotten used to this, and it’s weird to think that I’ll be happy to return to America because there’s less racism there.
Back to the travels: the weekend after Carnevale we went to Venice. A group of foolish friends who did go during Carnevale told me that it took them 40 minutes to cross the Rialto bridge. Meanwhile, we were able to cross it in two minutes tops depending on how hard I was panting. #asthma. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about going to Venice at first because I really hate all things touristy (Everything is more expensive and there are more PEOPLE there. It’s the stuff of nightmares, honestly), but the city was really pretty and the food was great since I had actual seafood for the first time in two months (a personal record as a Bostonian and general shellfish fanatic).
I also learned that Venice is obsessed with cats. Every mask store had at least two different versions of a cat mask and they even sold postcards and magnets featuring cats dressed up as Venetian Carnevale characters. I might’ve bought several of these for all my cat lovers in Po-Town (hi guys).
Bologna’s location in north-central Italy made these day trips so easy and left us with plenty of time to still explore the cities, but next month I will be heading out on my first international trip this semester, to London. It’ll be refreshing to speak in English for a change and eat chips with gravy instead of fries and mayo. It will also allow me to continue mentioning fries at least once in all of these posts. It will also be my first time flying with Ryanair, which, based on all the stories I’ve heard, will be quite the experience in and of itself.