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Portici - Bologna


Bologna from San Lucca

What if there was a city that was nearly 3,000 years old?  A great center of music, science, and architecture - with a university, the oldest in the Western world, that was founded in 1088?

One that had not one, but two Leaning Towers?  And a couple of others that they didn't even bother to talk about?  A city strewn with medieval churches and one of the best preserved ancient centers in Europe?

Where food in store windows (cured meats of all kinds, cheeses, bread, and wines - the four food groups) is presented as if Tiffany was in the grocery business?

A city that invented lasagna, tortellini ("The Navel of Venus") and prosciutto?

Such a city does exist. Bologna: "La Dotta". "La Grossa". "La Rossa". The Wise. The Fat. The Red.

A city of around half a million people, including 80,000 university students, that is one of the great industrial centers (Lamborghini and Ducati along with lots of high tech of the non-motorized variety) in Italy.

The Wise. Three hundred years before John Harvard was born, students at the University of Bologna were doing human dissection in a medical theater that still stands today (as a museum).  Dante and Copernicus went to school there.  Marconi taught there as did Luigi Galvani, who discovered that life is animated by bioelecticity.

Then there's the virtually unknown Quirico Filopanti, who in 1858 created time zones and essentially gave the world its present system of time-keeping, laying the foundation for every present day form of long distance travel and communication. The world, however, was not as "Wise" as Signore Filopanti and did not immediately embrace his "invention". He died in poverty in 1894, unacknowledged for his immeasurably valuable work.

The Fat. Bologna is the epicenter of Italian food, which is to say, the world's center of food.  There is, however, no pretense in the great gastronomical temple.  No artifice. No "fusion".  No "structural food" designed to look like something other than food.  Just the simplest of ingredients, virtually all of which spring from the hills surrounding the city, in their highest and freshest state.

We had the great privilege of experiencing the bounty of Bologna at the home of one of the Italian couples we met this summer in Maine.  The group was in Bangor to watch their sons participate in the Senior League (15-16 year olds) World Series.  We had half a dozen couples over for dinner one evening during the tournament.  There was plenty of prosecco and limoncello and many toasts to baseball, Italia, and my lovely wife's cooking.  We could not have been more pleased.

By the happiest  coincidence, we were already committed to going to Bologna in October. So, come the fall, after a series of e-mails and a Skype session, the next thing we knew, there were our friends from Bologna at the door of our hotel, ready to take us to their house in the country for a home cooked meal alla Bolognese.

Before la cena they took us on a  tour of Bologna's most beautiful spot - The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Lucca - an 18th century church built on an earlier site created to venerate the Byzantine icon of the Virgin, who, according to the legend, brought the rains or stopped the rains or had something to do with the rains in the 15th century.  Situated on a hillside about four miles outside of town, it provides a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside.

The site is connected to the city itself by a string of porticoes nearly four miles long that serves as the route for the feast of San Luca parade. Bologna itself is home to about 20 miles of these covered walkways. Bologna is thus, according to the Bolognese, "beautiful in both the sun and the rain".  It is rather a unique and comforting feeling to walk, virtually everywhere, under these lovely sheltering walkways.

On to our friends' house.

Graziano's father (Graziano referred to him as "a farmer" - which after eating the food, is like saying Enzo Ferrari just makes cars in his garage) provided all the sausage and meats. Graziano's mother made the tortellini en brodo and the desserts - some kind of sugary little cakes stuffed with cream and chocolate. Stolen from angels no doubt.

Paola, Graziano's wife, gave Cindy an Italian cookbook and some 12-year old balsamic vinegar made by her father.

We were touched.

The next day, we took the train and had dinner with some of the other "baseball" couples we met who lived in Parma (about 50 miles from Bologna). More drinking. Much laughing and lots of that kissing on both cheeks that Italians do so well.  Naturally, more eating, including the most exquisite smoked ham that is unavailable in the United States - Culatello di Zibello.

Our friends spent a good deal of the night arguing with each other about which area of Italy was the best - who had the best food, the best wine, the best this, the best that.  It was fascinating and all in good fun. Arguing is, apparently, one of Italy's great pass times.

In short, the night was wonderful.

The Red. The most obvius "red" connection is the fact that Bologna's buildings are virtually all capped by terra cotta tiles. But the same can be said about essentially every village, town and city on the entire peninsula.

Bologna "The Red" is really a consequence of its politics.

Bologna has a long history of leftist politics. From 1256, when they abolished serfdom and freed the slaves through the antifascist efforts against the rise of Mussolini.  Those efforts, from the early '20's through the end of WWII lead to the deaths of thousands and thousand Bolognese.

And one particular little boy - Anteo Zamboni.

On October 31, 1926, in the Pizaaa del Nettuno, in the shadow of Giambologna's monumental (and very graphic) bronze Neptune (1566) Anteo waited to meet Mussolini, who was in Bologna to dedicated the opening of the new soccer stadium (which is still used today).

Anteo, however, was not ther to shake Il Duce's hand. He was there to assassinate him. Anteo was fifteen years old.

Tragically, Anteo's shot missed and he was immediately set upon by Mussolini's thugs and lynched.

Mussolini used what he referred to as his "miraculous escape" from this "barbaric act" to consolidate his power, banning all opposition parties.

Near the site, a plaque honors young Zamboni for his "bold love of freedom".

So that's Bologna. Sometimes dark, dirty and vaguely forbidding but uplifting in all it venerates and all it preserves - its history, its heroes, its food.

Bologna, unlike Rome, Florence and Venice, which are highly tourist friendly and offer up their pleasures on silver platters, makes few concessions to tourists. Oh, they like you well enough. But, they have a very well developed sense of who they are and their place in the world. They were there before the tourists and will still be there after the tourists are gone. So they just don't go out of their way to accommodate you.

No self-respecting Italian eats the evening meal much before 8:00 P.M. In most of the tourist centers, restaurants will, nevertheless, open for business at 6:00 P.M.  In Bologna, they might, if you're lucky, open at 7:00 P.M. but they're just as likely not to open until 8:00 P.M.

They're attitude is, "It's worth the wait". Indeed it is. Oh, indeed.

It was worth the wait to make new friends. To try out our scrambled language skills. To visit Bologna.




Arrivederci! All photos and text Copyright 2012 Gary M. Growe

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Latest comments

08.08 | 00:42

Beautiful pictures guys...looks like you had a marvelous trip...heavenly gardens and fountains! Love Jess & Don... :)

07.08 | 21:20

Is Savannah really that nice all year round? You've got a knack for making a silk purse.... Anyway, I'm convinced; Savannah's on my bucket list. -p

15.05 | 14:44

Thank you for your service.

15.05 | 06:21

Quite interesting for me to know that.