Monday, April 26, 2010

What happens in Bologna

The thing nobody tells you about Europe is that occasionally there are Icelandic volcanoes. Taking my first trip to France and Italy, this was probably the thing I was least prepared for. Well, that and the heavy volume of cheese I would be required to consume.

Traveling to two cosmetics conferences, my mom and I stopped in Paris before winding up in Bologna, Italy.

Bologna is endearingly referred to in Italy as “La Grassa” or “The Fat One.” While it is regarded as Italy’s gastronomic center, and a destination for aspiring cooking school attendees, there’s really not much else there. The tourism brochure should really read “Bologna: Come for dinner, stay for dessert.”

That’s not to say that Bologna is without its share of ancient churches. It is, after all, an old city in Europe – those are required. And indeed, Michaelangelo painted the interior of Bologna’s Santo Domingo in 1494 – and then he probably had a ham sandwich and took off because there’s nothing to do in Bologna.

Bologna does of course lend its name to the signature meat, which helps explain why I spent most of the trip humming the Oscar Meyer wiener song. But the other thing that Bologna may be known for is its two towers. Situated near the center of the city, both were constructed when two powerful families decided to have a competition to see who could build the tallest tower. (And because, I’m assuming, the game show “Family Feud” had not yet been invented.) This ultimately resulted in one lithe tall tower and one squat tower, which, when it started to lean, ultimately ended the competition. The lithe tall tower is still open today, and with its promises of the best views in Bologna, it seemed enticing.

297 small, extremely narrow, and rather rickety steps later, the view was rather nice. It was the thought of having to travel back down in the darkened spiraling sections that caused my brief cold sweats. But if my sweats were nerve-induced, a rather hairy middle-aged man was sweating right behind me, running up and down the steps of the tower like he was training for some step-climbing competition or tower triathlon. We reached a landing and he stopped to change clothes before completing another round. Like I said, there’s really nothing to do in Bologna.

To amuse themselves the townspeople gather in the central’s Piazza Maggoire and dance. Let me be clear, I am not an expert on Italian music, or Italian dancing, but I’m not sure I experienced either in the time I spent in the Piazza. In the main section, older folks seemed to be dancing an Irish jig, a grown woman with chicken puppets strapped to her feet played an accordion, and somewhere in the distance a man played an ocarina. Well, he played “Let It Be” on an ocarina. If he’d followed that with “Can You Feel The Love Tonight,” I would have sworn I was in a mall.

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