This post was written on the 4th of August, the day after I arrived in Bologna, Italy.
This morning and early afternoon I spent wandering the area of the citta’ west and to the south of the main square, Piazza Maggiore. Walking like this I let myself be guided by my curiosity, which reliable as always, led me to narrower alleyways crammed with stalls, the overflow from the small produce, cheese, meat and fish shops they were attached too. It’s completely mind-boggling the array of vinegar, oil, tomato, preserve, and various canned special vegetables they have in their stores. I was so out of my depth, so completely inadquate in my knowledge of Italian cooking that I didn’t even feel bad… I’m just an alien visiting from another planet!
I learnt that there is a lot of variety in the porticoes that the city is famous for – some airy, some gloomy, some old and elegant, some old and crumbly, some that go straight and some (my favourite!) that go curving ’round the bend of a building. I also quickly learnt that there are a LOT of churches and otherwise religious places. Again, my knowledge here is entirely inadquate. But be they church or sanctuary, I found them all beautiful in their own way. There was the tiny sliver of a sancutary wedged between shop buildings, which I really really wanted to visit but couldn’t because you know, even religious workers need to take their August vacation. There was the hulking construction that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the street, unmistakeable for its outer wall decoration which comprised of sharp stones jutting out like daggers diagonally in one section, and then round stones laid in normal horizontal lines in another section. Even the slightly less unique churches were unique, whether they were decrepit with neglect; or swanky-looking and obviously much-loved by a well-to-do congregation.
I love the colours here. They’re warm and inviting, yet also contain a sort of bite that induces a surge of adrenaline just to look at them. Rounding practically every corner I relived the thrill of catching sight of these colours, combined with the complex arrangement of light resulting from the extreme strength of the summer sun being held at bay and only allowed to fall through the porticoes at particular angles and in particular designs. My confession is however that at a certain point I had to admit that it was too much. There were so many streets that were intensely beautiful to me, and through so many of the little details as well. The autumn leaves on the tree that seemed to gently brush up against and merge into the orange of the house, the light fitting of the fierce phoenix clutching onto a crystal orb (the light) with its claws, the chimney stack that was a triplet of miniature houses stacked one atop the other in descending size… Wow struck me at every turn and I had great difficulty controlling it, it wasn’t too long until I realised that I had overloaded.
I breaked for lunch.
The momentary respite and pleasantly full stomach couldn’t save me however. When I returned to city-touring, it hit me instantly that there was too much everywhere. But whereas before it was at least of an enriching kind, this time it was bashing my brain in. So many clothes shops – so satin, so geometric patterns, so highlighter lingerie, so shiny shiny molto molto MOLTO MULTICOLORE! People approaching, passing, knocking into my shoulder, all hiding their eyes behind jet black sunglasses, most often aviators no less. Wearing bags, belts, t-shirts with large-lettered sassy writings on them. Lots of ill-matching colours put together on bodies, of note is the Italian man fashion of wearing colourful plaid pants with a bright but opposing coloured polo shirt. (Something in my chest shrunk as I described that…) Lots of ultra-browned skin, some people completely throwing public opinion to the wind by flaunting their lobster red hides. Guys leaning and falling onto their girlfriends’ shoulders as they stumble down the street in their arrogant stupor. In what was a very bad decision on my part, I entered a street market in a large piazza and found myself suddenly in a hell of mountains and mountains of shoes. I actually felt fear at not being able to escape. How can everyone else shop so normally and engagingly when I’m standing here stuck behind these ARGH slow people in single file and I see no end to the shoes in sight, so many shoes with their low prices and cheap leather and heels and open toes and round toes and beaded detail and animal print and ribbons and polka dots. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I escaped, somehow.
Strolling down a slightly quieter street one guy bumped into me really hard just so he could turn around and say “faaaaahck you!!”, complete with hand gestures. Sitting down in McDonald’s some time later some teenage girls chucked chips at me, offering up a subdued yet still giggly “scuusi!” after I stared at them with contempt for about 2 minutes. Yeah bitch, scusi doesn’t cut it. Though you know, a craving for chips (probably a stress response?) was why I popped into McDonald’s in the first place, so they could have just been reading my mind…
Then at the bus stop to get back home a mid-aged Italian man kept inching towards me to have his arm always touching me. I’d move away an inch, he would move that same inch to be pressing against me again. The first time it happened I gave him the benefit of the doubt and just shifted a bit to keep the space. The next two times there was absolutely no doubt that he was doing it deliberately, so after the third time I removed myself from his vicinity and stood by a group who I knew was staying at the same place as I. He moved around the bus sign so that he had a clear view of me in my new location and stared every now and then. Say, 20 second stares. Though I could be mistaken once again, he was of course wearing those fucking sunglasses.
Hmm… I was beginning to wonder if Italy is not the tad bit racist……. Thankfully, the sleazes are equal opportunity. The country is saved!
I was drained at the end of my first real day in Italy. The cities are going to be a trial for me. And it’s not the tourists, it’s the Italians.
But, I was getting sick of myself as I waited at the bus stop, scowling to communicate my displeasure to disgusting molester man as if it would make a difference.
I thought about what a massive tragedy it was that the bad incidents could so thoroughly contaminate the whole of my day, and the whole of my mind. ‘There must have been good things that balance it out?’ I interrogated myself.
Old people have been nice to me, I thought. I like the old Italians.
But this still felt a cold comfort.
Soon after I put myself through this I got on the bus, sat down, and then got right back up again to give my seat to a skinny 8-9 year old French girl carrying a big rucksack; she was with her younger brother and out-of-breath mother. After I left the seat to lean against a pole she gave me the most beautiful, genuine smile of gratitude. It was a while after I had left the seat, so she had actually waited for me to catch her eyes so that she could give me the smile.
Maybe this will come off as desperate, but it wasn’t just a nice smile, it had a clarity and a sincerity that made me feel like she was speaking to me.
And as disguted as I’ve been by the other events, that smile is keeping me going.