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MY BOLOGNA: THE LEARNED, THE FAT, THE RED
Bologna City | Itineraries | City Tour
While reading an issue of Bologna for Connoisseurs, I was struck by how many things I have not seen or done in Bologna. I lived on via D’Azeglio from September 1971 through to June of 1972, and I like to think of Bologna as a second home. I soon realized while reading the magazine that there were several things that I had missed.
Bologna is a stupendous city, among the most beautiful and singular in all of Italy, and offers an endless supply of architectural gems, world class restaurants, and artistic masterpieces.
I certainly knew of Bologna’s reputation as “la dotta” (the Learned), because it is home to the oldest university in the Western world. The university continues to be famous for its alums and teachers including Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Leon Battista Alberti and Copernicus.
The alma mater studiorium founded in 1088, was frequented by foreign students from its inception.
By reading Bologna for Connoisseurs I learnt that there was a medieval museum, the Museo Civico Medievale in the Palazzo Ghisilardi. This museum, described by Jonathan Bastable in his beautifully photographed article, is a site full of medieval artefacts illustrating the daily life of the “Bolognesi”.
I am eager to view up close the 9-foot-tall, bullet-shaped statue of Pope Boniface VIII, Dante’s nemesis; tour “the columns topped with stone crosses, each one featuring a chiseled, naively-wrought Jesus”; and admire the ivory sculpted memorial, dedicated to a lawyer and teacher, Giovanni da Legnano, depicting students “in various states of boredom or engagement” while they were attending one of da Legnano’s lectures.
Many know of the city’s well-deserved reputation as “la grassa” (the Fat).
The agricultural wealth of Emilia Romagna, the region of which Bologna is the capital, can be ascertained in tagliatelle, tortellini and mortadella to name just a few of the culinary treasures. I spent years perfecting my lasagne verdi alla bolognese and have made tortellini in brodo, although it is a time-consuming dish to prepare.
The city’s gourmet delis and food markets have been praised by numerous chefs including Marcella Hazan. AF Tamburini offers colorful displays chocked full of salsicce (sausages), prosciutti (raw and cooked hams) and mortadella.
Some of my favorite student haunts no longer exist, places like Lama and Rosso Blu. Rosso Blu was a great place for pranzo, because it offered the equivalent of a dollar lunch and a singing waiter.
John Walsh, Bologna for Connoisseur’s restaurant reviewer, highlighted some new places for me to try including Franco Rossi and Marco Fadiga Bistrot. Both warrant a future visit based on his detailed explanation of their cuisine and décor.
Bologna, “la rossa” (the Red), is the city’s third sobriquet. This nickname is due to the terracotta color of the brick buildings, but it is also a reflection of the left-leaning communist council which has governed the town since the end of the Second World War.
I went to several political demonstrations in the early 70’s, even hearing another American, Angela Davis, deliver an anti-war speech in Piazza Maggiore.
Over the past 40 years I have returned several times to Bologna and attempted to fill in the pieces that I had overlooked during my junior year there. In my defense, I did spend a lot of time studying the history of political thought from Machiavelli to Hitler and taking long walks to burn off the enormous fear that I had of my final oral exams.
I did not fail to see the medieval remnants, including the medieval towers during my walks, including the justly famous Torri di Asinelli and Garisenda.
Each morning I walked through the vibrant heart of the city, Piazza Maggiore, yet it wasn’t until my most recent trip to Bologna in April 2014 that I saw the Morandi museum, albeit not in its typical venue in Piazza Maggiore, but in a temporary location due to structural problems caused by the earthquake in January 2013. More than 200 paintings have now been returned to the Morandi Museum in the Palazzo Comunale.
In April I ate for the first time at Rodrigo and fell in love once again with the “Temptation of Eve” by Jacopo della Quercia, featured on the main door of the Basilica of San Petronio. I re-visited the seven terracotta statues that comprise the incredibly moving “Compianto” (Lamentation) by Nicolò dell’Arca completed in 1463. Displayed in Santa Maria della Vita I marveled at the raw depiction of grief. I toured again what is my favorite Bolognese religious edifice, Santo Stefano. This 13th century basilica is a group of seven churches and a cloister with several additions dating from the 15th and 16th centuries.
I had never been inside the Grand Hotel Baglioni , the 5-star hotel which hosted Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner and Paul McCartney. I am proud to say that I have stayed in the Hotel Orologio and the Hotel Commercianti. I dream of returning to my attic room in the latter with its magnificent beamed ceiling. I’ve dined at Pappagallo and Diana, and heard many concerts and an opera at the Teatro Comunale.
The concert that I will never forget featured Jethro Tull at the Palazzo dello Sport. It was an experience that made me think that I had been transported to hell, somewhat like Dante, as the descent into the stadium seemed to be ruled by a greater force, my feet never touching the cement floor, as I was propelled by an infernal maelstrom of people. I did not expect to return to the land of the living.
I loved the tranquil, conifer-lined paths of San Michele in Bosco, as well as the steep incline just outside the gate of San Mamolo, where a street on the right, the 17th century via dell’Osservanza, offered incredible views of the surrounding hills. It was a great way to walk off the torpor induced by my landlady’s delicious but heavy gnocchi.
I appreciated the amazing beauty of this historic city, marveled at the elegance of the shop windows, the varied beauty of the portici (colonnades), the medieval towers that seemed to sprout up indiscriminately, as well as the sublimity of northern Italian cuisine. My first complete sentence in Italian in Bologna was, fittingly, “Vorrei un panino al prosciutto” (I would like a ham sandwich) and tortellini in brodo will always have a special place in my heart.
I have never been so embarrassed by my inability to communicate well in Italian, never so homesick, or so much in love with a city. At 20, I was becoming an adult and Bologna was a perfect place to discover the world and myself.
Now it is time to plan my next trip in order to visit the Medieval Museum, tour the underground canals, have a picnic lunch furnished by Tamburini, and see the inside of Grand Hotel Baglioni.
Article by Marjorie Eisenach
About the Author
Marjorie Eisenach has traveled Italy extensively via numerous trips over the past 40 years, and resided in the country for nearly two years. She currently lives in Minneapolis where she teaches Italian language courses and helps American and British travelers prepare for visiting Italy. For more information, visit www.ItalyandItalian.com.
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