Sunday, September 27, 2009

Everything Looks So Italian !

Before I visited Italy the first time twenty years ago, I had the idea that it would look like the United States, maybe with some international traffic signs thrown in for variety’s sake. I imagined that each city would have a very authentic, very picturesque Italian section but would otherwise look like northern Virginia with a higher speed limit. No doubt I got this idea of Europe in general and Italy in particular from the time we went on vacation to New Glarus when I was in high school. In case you didn’t know, New Glarus is the Switzerland of Wisconsin. In fact it was such an authentically Swiss experience as I recall, that there was actually one block on the main street where the personnel working at the diner, the donut shop and the hardware store dressed in dirndls and lederhosen. That was some trip. Boy did I ever feel like we should have packed our passports !

With that vacation as my frame of reference, you can probably appreciate my surprise and delight when I discovered that everywhere I went in Italy looked, well, Italian. I still get a kick out of this. The other day I was walking down the street and on the ground in front of me was a bug—an Italian bug. I bent to examine it and much to my delight found that it really didn’t look any bug I’ve seen at home. It was kind of like an oversized lady-bug, without the spots and it was bright red. Oh I know not everything here is unique. The grass we walked on today looked just like the grass back home. But sometimes I am so overwhelmed at how uniquely Italian my surroundings are that I just want to say, "Stop ! Stop ! You're killing me !"

If I had to specify one main difference between being here in Bologna and being home it is the sheer amount of visual detail. I don’t know of any other way to say it. For example, there is a porticoed building on Via San Stefano which is punctuated by portraits from Roman mythology. I think that the satyr in the photo is quite dashing In addition to the many reliefs, numbering about twenty, each of the columns' capitols is sculpted with a different design. My guess is that these designs carry on the theme of the sculpted portraits. You might think that a building of such visual interest would show up in a guidebook, but it doesn’t. It is just one of innumerable fascinating buildings that you can discover throughout the city.

The ease with which we bump into interesting places has actually created a little bit of conflict with Boris. Everyday he wants to know what the plan for the day is. I guess he wasn’t paying attention when I told everybody I knew, and some total strangers too, that there is NO PLAN. What we really want to say to Boris is, “Well we plan to wander aimlessly until we get hungry. Then we’ll have a snack and strike off down a street we haven’t walked on before and then we’ll stop for a capuccino.” Surprisingly, this does not sound like a fun day to a ten-year old so we try to come up with little projects, or as I think of them, “faux projects.” Like tomorrow he’s going to go buy orange juice for breakfast. That should provide a wonderful opportunity for him to use the first-person conditional form of volere: vorrei, “I would like…” when he asks for it at the store. Plus we’re out of orange juice. Bill and Boris have also gone on sketching expeditions, picking out various architectural details. The other day Bill read that if you take the underpass below Via Ugo Bassi, one of the major thoroughfares of the city, you can see the remains of a Roman road. So that’s another little project for us. And you can buy cake around there.

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