I recently left Bologna behind, struggling to pack my huge stock of clothes and souvenirs and miscellanea that had mysteriously proliferated during my stay.
It was a bittersweet parting. I was excited to move on in this Italian adventure, but there are always little things that one misses, plans that never came to fruition. I never visited the Seven Churches, never went to an after-hours pasticceria (pastry shop), never picnicked at San Luca, never went to the Gelato Museum. At the beginning of the semester, all of these things seemed more than possible, with so much time ahead of us. Then it ends before it began.
I did do, though: I did walk up Torre Asinelli, I did at least visit San Luca, I did have ice cream at the neighborhood kiosk near my house, I did read Italian Topolino (Mickey Mouse) comics, I did go to the vegetable market, I did buy things at the Montagnola, I did visit the Medieval Museum, I did eat roasted walnuts from sidewalk vendors…
I did take an oral exam in Italian over the philology of Dante. Perhaps I did not do everything, but I did enough.
Having now left Bologna, I was asked what surprised me about the city.
Walking into the city for the first time, I had been surprised by the lack of trees. The medieval center is crowded with building after building and lined with portici (arcades). I also noticed that the only colors people wore were black, blue, brown, or gray—blending in with their surroundings.
Beyond the superficial, I was surprised by the little shops; instead of one superstore like Target, everything was split up into tiny shops, each with a unique twist. Notebooks at the cartoleria, bus tickets at the tabaccheria, fresh fruit at the fruttivendura, socks at the calzedonia, silverware at the casalinga store…
I was surprised by the abundance or scarves and the worship of hair dryers, by the love of Disney and the profusion of dreadlocks, by the lack of Ziploc bags and the sudden presence of a bidet. But after living in a historical center for such a long period, I forgot to be surprised. Once you walk past an ancient or spectacular monument for so long, you forget to look at it again; it becomes normal. School life slides into a sort of routine and the little culture changes that surprised or confused me at first became a piece of life.