Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tanto cibo e ancora di più sabbia

This past weekend has been high on adventure and low on sleep.  (But never fear, a two-hour nap last night followed almost immediately by nearly fourteen hours of sleep put me back on track).  But before I recount these aforementioned tales of adventure, I would like to at least mention my Monday night discovery.

On Monday night (as you might have gleaned from the previous sentence), I went out with Claude (my half-French Milanese friend with whom I had aperitivi and dinner in the previous post) to a concert that was quite literally under the ground.  The venue (XM24, a "centro sociale," literally, social center) was, as with most edgy sites in Bologna, just outside the walls.  It was also covered with incredible street art murals, and pretty much every major street artist operating in Bologna was represented (I have been keeping track and photographing lots...I think that as of now I have more pictures of spray-painted walls than anything else, so expect an epic graffiti post at some point).  It was too dark for me to take my own pictures that night, but here are a few by the artist Blu gleaned from the internet.  Both are from the walls of XM.

The inside, which resembled a half-outdoor, half-indoor giant warehouse with a makeshift bar and stage (complete with a sheet strung up to for a screen), was brimming with scavenged furniture and junk sculptures of all kinds.  A narrow stairway led down to the basement where the bands played, and I was rather forcefully reminded of co-op cafés back in Saint Louis, especially since it was a Monday night.  The basements of both the co-op and XM24 are heavily and haphazardly decorated with art and tapestries, and the line-up at XM was a group of four indie-punk bands from all over the world.  A small bar in the corner sold cheap beer on tap and cheap red wine from giant jugs.  Before the concert, Claude and I ended up in the back room where we met one of the bands, from, of all places, Virginia.  After conversing a bit in English (the fact that I was a native speaker and a former resident of Virginia was a delight to the band), we headed back into the main room to watch the first band, a French group whose show included an old vampire film being silently projected onto the wall behind them and a tambourinist who enthusiastically danced among the small crowd.  When they finished, it was getting late, and, as it was Monday we decided to leave and go exploring in the park (the nearby Montagnola) instead, which resulted in sculpture-climbing, muddy-falling, and little-sleeping.

Tuesday and Wednesday were full of reading and catching up on sleep.

On Thursday night, I went to dinner at Claude's apartment outside the city walls with Jaclyn, un'amica americana (an American friend).  We arrived early (after purposefully taking a giro around the block to ensure that we arrived at least fifteen minutes after we had said we would arrive), so we passed some time chatting with two of guys that lived in the apartment while they cooked and we controlled the music (a more intimidating task than might be initially assumed, considering that at least one of them studies music at the university).  After some time the third roommate arrived and began cooking his dish, and we broke open the first bottle of wine of the night.  The three of them are quite the chefs, so when the seven of us (two of their friends had arrived a bit after Antonio to complete the party) sat down to dinner, we feasted on homemade chapati (an Indian flatbread) with a spicy yogurt sauce, red wine risotto, another Indian dish with potatoes and green beans, and, of all things, deviled eggs (which apparently have no specific name in Italy; when we explained that in English they are called something akin to "uova al diavolo" it caused much amusement).  Although the dishes were certainly eclectic, they were all extremely delicious.  And incredibly abundant.  There was so much food that it was impossible to finish everything, which meant that at one point, having torn off a half piece of chapati, I had to explain to Andrea that I had done so not because I didn't like it, but because I had already had too full pieces and that I still had to fit in the rest of the meal.  The same "You don't like it?" "No no, it's delicious but I don't think I could fit another bite if I tried" conversation was repeated every course.

After dinner and several bottiglie di vino (bottles of wine), Andrea made for us a large batch of vin brulè (mulled wine) and we sipped and chatted for several hours more.  Among other things, we talked about Andrea's ambitions to travel to India (he is currently in the process of teaching himself Sanskrit), another friend's travels in New York the previous year, and comparisons between the drinking cultures in Italy and the United States.  They were absolutely shocked when we said that aperitivi don't exist in the US, and flat-out didn't believe us when we told them that many people in the US, particularly university students, drink alcohol solely for the purpose of getting drunk.  "That's ridiculous," they told us.  "Who would do that?"  (They were, however, equally as shocked when we explained that very few people in the US smoke, because here smoking is absolutely ubiquitous.  In fact, one of the best ways to come across as anti-social is to refuse the friendly offer of a cigarette).

When it came time to leave, we realized that we had, in fact, stayed so late that the buses were no longer running.

The next day I got up early and sat through five hours of class, including a THREE-HOUR art history lecture, and took a quick nap before getting ready to head al mare (to the sea) with Francesco, Enrico, Irene, Teo, and assorted Americans.  The ten of us piled into two very small cars and sped toward Enrico's apartment right on the water near Cesena, about halfway between Ravenna and Rimini.  It was a harrowing journey involving driving 1. at high speeds, 2. at times with two cars in one lane, 3. the wrong way through traffic circles, etc. etc.  Ma, abbiamo sopravissuto (we survived), and this time Enrico had remembered his keys.  Upon arrival we ate a lot of patatine (potato chips) and prosciutto and eventually got around to actually making dinner.  After dinner and a dance party we headed downstairs to the beach, at which point everyone again chased each other, tackled each other, and generally got very, very sandy.

The view from Enrico's balcony.
(Taken the next morning, as it was dark when we arrived).

Also from the balcony.

Once we began to get cold (since it was, in fact, the middle of the night in February), we returned and resumed the dance party for several hours before finally retiring to (three people to a) bed at six o'clock in the morning.  After a few hours of very sandy sleep, we woke up and began searching for somewhere to eat breakfast.  As February very much constitutes the off-season for a small beach town, EVERYTHING was closed.  So, after much driving in circles, we eventually gave up and took the ten-minute drive to, of all places, McDonald's (which in Italy they just call Mac).  McDonald's would be the only place open, right?  The Italians couldn't understand why all the Americans were so upset about this, so we tried to explain how disturbing it is to see one of America's worst exports absolutely packed on a Saturday morning in a beautiful beachside town in Italy.  Not to mention the fact that it was here that we all saw our first obese Italians.  And the fact that I, the vegetarian in the group, could not eat anything because everything on the menu had meat, even the salads.


When we returned to the beach and resumed running around, things started to look up, even if it was freezing.  Enrico found something resembling a soccer ball so some of them spent a while kicking it around in the sand while Marie and I collected their shed jackets.

Between the three of us, we're wearing seven coats.
And Teo only has one.

After it finally became too cold and sandy to frolic any longer, we returned to the apartment and cleaned.  And cleaned and cleaned and cleaned.  It appeared that the night before we had managed to carry in with us approximately half a beach's worth of sand.  It. Was. Everywhere.  In everything.  But with ten of us to clean half as many rooms, the work went quickly and before long we were ready to pile back into those cars for a fortunately-not-quite-as-harrowing journey home.

Then, sleep.

And tomorrow?  Milan.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ho detto una bugia (in realtà, ho amici)

So, as it turns out, I do actually have (Italian) friends.  Which I realized pretty much immediately after writing that last post.  Bologna is a small city (even though it has a population equivalent to that of Saint Louis, the actual physical space of the city is, based on my "extremely accurate" google maps relative size comparison, approximately one twentieth that of Saint Louis), and the day after writing that last post I ran into two of my non-American acquaintances just walking around the streets.  Which in and of itself doesn't mean much because I already knew that I had several friendly acquaintances, but it did make me feel better.  After that, however, things really heated up.

I made a plan with one of these aforementioned acquaintances to go out for a pre-dinner aperitivo, and what was originally intended to be a glass of wine before dinner turned into three glasses of wine instead of dinner (I had originally planned to go out for pizza with some of the other Americans).  We then took a giro (walk) around the city and ended up at his apartment, where we hung out with his friends and roommates until quite late in the night (and finally did eat dinner).  All of them were students at the university studying art and music and philosophy and other wonderfully humanities-type subjects.  Most of them were vegetarians (the first Italian fellow-vegetarians I've found!), one of them makes delicious herbal tisanes, and around midnight one girl stood up, announced she was making a cake, and asked if we would prefer lemon or apple.  For the first time since being in Italy, I actually met a group that reminded me a little of my Wilderness Project crew back in Saint Louis!  Not to mention the fact that I spent something like seven hours speaking nothing but Italian in mostly one-on-one conversations.  Successo!  (Even more successo: we have plans for another dinner next week.)

As if this weren't enough, a few days later I had a dinner with Matteo and some of his friends again and some of his friends invited a few of us to do something with them the next night as well.  We ended up driving (in a mini-van!) out to Francesco's house near the beach in Ravenna to pick him up there before commencing our journey to find somewhere to eat in a deserted beach-town in February...late at night (by the time we arrived at Francesco's it was already 9:30).  A lot of yelling and last-minute sharp turns ensued, as it appeared that no one had a very good sense of where we were trying to go.  Eventually, after an hour or so of seemingly aimless driving, we ended up at a restaurant quasi (almost) in the middle of nowhere.  There we enjoyed several courses of incredible cibo (food), including pasta and lemon sorbets made completely from scratch.  Several hours later, we finished our meal and continued on al mare (to the sea, in this case the Adriatic).  We found an empty beach (which wasn't especially difficult, seeing as it was the middle of the night in February) and proceeded to splash around in the frigid water, attempt handstands and cartwheels, and chase each other around the sand and do our best to trip each other, pausing only for a spot of yoga and stargazing.  Eventually the cold sand became too much for our bare feet and we headed back to Enrico's nearby apartment...only to find that he had forgotten the key.  So...we turned around and spent the sleepy hour-long journey back to Bologna listening to the Blues Brothers soundtrack at full volume, finally arriving home around 3:30 in the morning.

In other news, my mysterious third roommate has finally arrived (only a month and a half late)!  Charlotte is another Brown student but is originally from London.  Aaaaaand that's about all I know about her, because even though she's been here for about a week by now I still haven't seen her for more than about a half hour.

The one thing she did miss by arriving so late was the debacle of the windows.  For some rather mysterious reason, all of the windows in my apartment were recently changed.  When it happened, I was the only one in the apartment (my Italian roommates were both smart enough to skip town), and thus I was the only one to endure the three days of dust and cigarette butts covering everything and the only one to find the notes left by the workers entreating me to Facebook them (...IN my computer and IN my bed...) while the workers themselves were still unavoidably present (Charlotte and Marie found their notes only once the work was finished).  But, on the upside, we now have new windows?

Out with the old...

To switch topics again, I have finally settled into a groove with my classes at the university.  After the agonizing process of course selection, I finally chose Fenomenologia degli stili (Phenomenology of styles; it's basically an art history class focusing on modernism and the avant-garde), Istituzioni di storia del cinema (Institutions of the history of film), and Storia della radio e della televisione (History of radio and television), which doesn't begin until March 15.  The Storia dell'arte moderna (History of modern art) class that I was thinking about taking before turned out to be the worst lecture I have ever attended in my life (so much so that I couldn't even make it through the whole two hours), so I decided not to go with that after all.  Although the two-hour lecture periods (or two-and-a-half-hour lecture periods in the case of Fenomenologia) take some getting used to, there's a break in the middle and the material is interesting so it's really not so bad.  Even my "long" hour-and-a-half classes at Wash U will seem short after this!

My favorite graffito in Bologna, on the building where my cinema class is.

The main text reads: "La vostra crisi non la paghiamo"
("We aren't going to pay for your crisis")

The monkey is climbing (King Kong-style) on one of the Due Torri
(Two Towers), which are a central landmark of Bologna.

Well, this post is getting to be fairly long so I suppose I will stop for now so as not to completely wear out all your eyes.

Ma non temere, mi sentirete più a presto!
(But have no fear, you'll hear more from me soon!)

Monday, February 14, 2011


Buon San Valentino (Happy Valentine's Day)!

Orientation has been officially over for a week or so now and life in Bologna has entered a new stage.  Having been here for over a month now, life in Bologna is no longer a constant series of novel revelations and I've become as accustomed to the Fontana di Nettuno in Piazza Maggiore as I am to the Bunny or the Clocktower back at Wash U.  I also no longer have the structure of orientation classes to fill my days, and while I've been searching around and trying out classes (and have so far found two out of the necessary three), the complete lack of daily homework and extracurricular commitments means that I still have far more free time than I could ever dream of in Saint Louis.  This surplus of free time further compounded--to hyperbolize slightly--by the fact that I do not yet have friends.  Of course, I have made many new friends from among my American program-mates, I get along very well with both of my roommates and am in the process of getting to know several other Italians (Matteo and his friends, some classmates) better, so on some level that statement was completely ridiculous.  So allow me to clarify: I do not yet have friends who I can call anytime, all the time (and with whom I can speak, guilt-free, solo italiano).  I have instead many friendly acquaintances and guilty fellow english-speakers.

This entry is not meant to be a complaint.  It is instead meant to be a reflection of the exciting unknown that has been occupying my thoughts these past few days: What comes next?  To borrow a favorite metaphor of Steve Shriberg, I am approaching the next drop on the roller coaster that is the abroad experience.

Here's to hoping it's as thrilling as the first.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

La vita scolastica

Although some of you may have forgotten the intended purpose of my sojourn in Bologna (namely, to take classes at the University of Bologna and generally be a student) amidst all of the descriptions of gite (trips) around Emilia-Romagna, musei (museums), and unbelievably delicious cene (dinners), this same purpose has recently been brought rather forcefully to my attention with the completion of my orientation class exams (oral!  in Italian!) and my first attendance of a lecture alongside actual Italian students.  So, cari lettori (dear readers), the purpose of this entry is to regale you with tales of my trials and travails as I attempt to navigate la vita scolastica (academic life) a Bologna.

The process of my transformation into a true universitaria bolognese (Bolognese university student) has been both gradual and utterly mysterious.  In fact, it continues to be somewhat mysterious.  Coming from the orderly world of Wash U (never before have I appreciated WebSTaCs existence so much), I was not prepared for the entropic labyrinth that is the University of Bologna.  After all, how hard could choosing classes possibly be?  As it turns out, choosing classes can be very difficult indeed.


1. No centralized university website or course catalogue.  L'Università di Bologna is divided into a multitude of facoltà (for my Wash U readers, think of the five schools and then multiply them and remove the ability to mix and match), each of which has its own website and course catalogue.

2.  Scratch that, course catalogues don't actually exist.  Some (not all) of the facoltà have "orari delle lezioni" (timetables of the courses), which list the names, times, and locations of all the courses offered in a given year.  Or at least a few of these bits of information.  Never descriptions though.  Those can only be found on a completely different website if you search the course name and professor.

3.  Classes all start on different days (ranging from 31 January to the end of March).  Sometimes the orario delle lezioni is helpful enough that it will provide a start date...but sometimes not.

4.  There is no such thing as a MWF or TTh class.  That would make avoiding overlapping classes far too easy!  No, instead classes happen on random days, usually at a different time (and sometimes in a different location) each day.

5.  Classes are held ALL OVER the city, which means that commutes between class can stretch up to a half hour walk.  Walking through Bologna is lovely, but the long distances between classes can make putting a schedule together even more difficult.

With a lot of patience, a lot of time, and some help from those who actually understand this system, I managed to put together a list of classes that I would like to take and that do not (frequently) meet at the same time.  Although the whole process was slightly mystifying and often frustrating, it was an interesting and (once I had figured things out a little bit) enjoyable challenge.

Having discovered the start dates, times, and locations of my classes, I struck out today to actually attend my first lecture, Istituzioni di storia del cinema (Institutions of the history of film).  Contrary to my expectations, I found the aula (lecture hall) without incident, and consequently ended up there ten minutes before the class was scheduled to begin.  Fortunately, the same was true for about twenty other people so I took a (metaphorical) deep breath and picked out a seat.  Over the next half hour or so the huge, terraced lecture gradually filled up with approximately 200 students with varying degrees of piercings and dyed hair (to be expected when one takes a class in DAMS, le Discipline delle Arti, della Musica, e dello Spettacolo / Artistic, Musical, and Theatrical Studies).  The professor arrived approximately twenty minutes after the scheduled beginning of the class and began to lecture approximately ten minutes after that.  Lectures here supposedly all last two hours each, but between the late start, the early release, and the five (make that fifteen) minute break in the middle, this one ended up being a lot closer to the hour-long lecture to which my time at Wash U has accustomed me.

In any case, I enjoyed the lecture (seeing as today was predominantly an extended discussion of the syllabus and exam procedures, this probably had more to do with my ability to understand than the gripping nature of the content) and even managed to strike up a conversation with the girl sitting next to me during the break.  I'm beginning to realize that my American accent is more of an asset than the annoyance I had originally believed it to be because it is an excellent conversation starter.  Any time someone asks a question (such as, "I got here 40 minutes late, did I miss anything?") and I respond with my accented Italian, they usually follow it up with an "Oh, where are you from?" aaaaand voilà.  Conversation.

So I leave you now looking forward to the prospect of beginning another class (Storia dell'arte moderna / History of Modern Art, which in this case means the Gothic/Baroque's all a matter of perspective I guess) tomorrow and having a familiar and friendly face in class on Thursday when my film course meets again.  Così vi lascio fino al nostro prossimo incontro, i miei cari lettori (I leave you until we meet again, my dear readers)!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Parma e prima

It's only been a little over a week since I last wrote, and already I don't know where to begin.

Last weekend the group stayed in town and checked out some musei (museums) in Bologna instead of taking another gita (day trip) to a nearby town in Emila-Romagna.  One of these was il Museo del Palazzo Poggi, one of the musei universitari (university museums) which (sort of) focused on the relationship between science and art throughout history and could have been more aptly named "the museum of things rich old white men have collected since the 1500s."  The first room contained a wide variety of stuffed animals (for anthropological purposes).  Ranging from snakes to puffer fish to crocodiles, none were very cuddly.  The highlight of the museum was the display concerning the history of anatomy and anatomical instruction.  Among the paintings of distinguished professors past lurked wax models of deformed fetuses and a glass uterus with which medical students could simulate births.

A life-size model of (non-deformed) fetal twins.

Anne Geddes, anyone?

 There was an artist assigned to the Facoltà di Medicina e
Chirurgia (Department of Medicine and Surgery) at the
 University of Bologna who was tasked with creating all
of the wax anatomic models.

Bodyworlds, anyone?

The prize of the collection was the Venerina (little Venus), a life-size wax anatomical model with removable organs fashioned in the shape of a reclining nude (complete with a wig made from real human hair and a three string pearl necklace).  She was beautiful but, shall we say, slightly off-putting.

La Venerina.

Between the Palazzo Poggi and the hall of skulls that I walk through to get to class every morning, I've certainly seen my fair share of insides in Bologna.

Fortunately, the majority of my time here is still devoted to interacting with live bodies.  This past week Matteo and his friends came over to my apartment for dinner.  I provided the dolce (dessert), a cheesecake made from my Italian roommate's recipe, and then six Italians swept in and took over my kitchen to provide the rest: spaghetti with a sauce made from fresh cherry tomatoes.  Before, during, and after dinner and dolce the eight of us enjoyed several bottles of wine and a lot of laughter.  It was an evening delizioso e divertente (delicious and entertaining)!

The night before that, however, was more mysterious that entertaining.  Several of us in the Brown group ended up with 5 tickets to see "Il flauto magico" (The Magic Flute) at the opera house in Bologna.  Little did we know, it was actually "Il PICCOLO flauto magico" (The LITTLE Magic Flute), which turned out to be the children's version including only the arias in German and sections of Italian dialogue in between.  These were presumably meant to clarify what was happening, but the plot remained entirely mysterious to all of us, especially since the costumes and staging said less "Mozart" and more "Tron."  Yes, Tron as in the Disney movie about a boy trapped inside a video game.  The general consensus of the group after viewing the hour-long spettacolo (show) was that this was an example of experimental theatre that didn't quite work (or, as Simon put it, blasphemy).  It was certainly quite an experience.

To return to the previous theme of cibo (food), and more particularly the theme of cibo delizioso (delicious food), part of the group had a cooking lesson on Friday with an Italian chef, during which we made three pasta dishes from scratch (as in beginning with nothing but eggs and flour): tortelloni e ravioli con burro e salvia (tortellini and ravioli with butter and sage), tagliatelli con ragù (tagliatelli with meat sauce), e orecchiette alla vegetariana (orecchiette with a sauce made from tomatoes and a whole lot of roasted vegetables).  

Lubin learning to use the pasta machine.

La cena (dinner) at various stages of preparedness.

 Not only was cooking together a lot of fun, as always, but this time the result was extra-delicious.  Some people in the group said it was the best meal they had ever eaten and I think we all ended up with Thanksgiving-style stomachaches afterwards.  Worth it!

This Saturday (also known as yesterday), the group took la nostra ultima gita insieme (our last trip together) to Parma, a town in Emilia-Romagna known for its cheese (parmigiano, better known in the US as parmesan).  In the morning we explored the city with the help of a fabulous guide (with an even more fabulous outfit).

La nostra guida.

Members from the Partito Democratico handing
out flyers calling for Berlusconi's resignation.

The sign reads: "Resignation.  Berlusconi
humiliates the country."

The opera house in Parma.

The reconstructed remains of a theatre bombed during WWII.

After walking around the city and enjoying a delicious multi-course lunch, some of us decided to go exploring in the park.  People-watching, duck-feeding, and snowball-fighting ensued.

Strolling through the park, Abbey Road style.

Rob attempting to feed the ducks with a dead leaf.

The patch of snow that provided ammunition for
the snowball fight.

Action shot.

As we were walking through the park speaking English, a little boy heard us and said to himself, "Ma che dicono?" ("But what are they saying?").  Adorable.  Less adorable was the guy who approached us on the train and proceeded to sit in the aisle next to Marie, getting in the way of everyone trying to walk through the train car.  He still didn't move even after she rejected his offer of marriage ("Sei di California?  Mi sposi?" / "You're from California?  Marry me?").  He only (grudgingly) left when the train reached his stop, which was fortunately not Bologna.

After that, we made it back to Bologna without further incident.  Now it's time to get down for some serious studying for my history exam tomorrow.  Oral and in italian!  What fun!

A presto!