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The End to the Beginning

Erik Trautman

June is the month of final get-togethers and goodbyes in Bologna. One late evening we sat under a dark misty sky in front of an illuminated IMAX screen in the middle of Piazza Maggiore for the annual event, “Il Cinema Ritrovato” (The Re-found Cinema), hosted by Cineteca Bologna. It was Friday night and Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society beamed through the drizzle projecting itself onto the dominating screen, which left San Petronio masked in darkness like I had never seen it before. Contrary to our departures, Bologna was hosting its first official alumni reunion and a few words were said before starting the show. This picture serves to show the grandness of the screen.

Bologna Reunion info on screen

Dead Poets Society playing on screen.

The following Saturday marked the official opening night and the piazza buzzed with the excitement of what seemed like the entire city in attendance as Ennio Morricone’s composition reverberated off the medieval stone during the screening of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, a spaghetti western staring Clint Eastwood. These last few nights served as a reminder that despite my grown familiarity with Bologna, I still haven’t seen the city in June, which is certainly to say under a different light.

Rewind to Saturday afternoon. I’m perched under a castle eating a sun-dried tomato, pickled pepper, and mozzarella sandwich at the peak on a hilltop town known as Dozza a few kilometers outside of Bologna.

friends having lunch outside

Map of Dozza

Storm clouds brew and bellow ominously down in the valley below, however, we continue with our lackadaisical pace. The atmosphere is quite and calm like in the eye of a storm and the streets are empty besides the occasional roaming cat. Behind us murals cloak every façade of the town; underneath them lay stone plaques etched with renowned names. A banner draped across the stage at the center of the city explains the “Cinquant’anni Biennale Muro Dipinto di Dozza” (Fifty Years Biennial Dozza Wall Mural), however, visiting Dozza is still a bit like falling down the rabbit hole.

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Fast-forward to this past weekend. I’m watching fireworks launch off the region building in Indianapolis from an apartment patio just off the canal. I’ve never seen the fireworks downtown before. I’ve brought my Italian friend with me and with her I’ve brought a whole new perspective to my hometown. She stops me to take photos of sights I would normally overlook as commonplace thus realizing the beauty of my home.

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I’ve made arrangements to return to Bologna to teach English for a year. I’ve met conflicting feelings after seeing what I must sacrifice to spend another year in Bologna, but I believe I’ve made the right decision. I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity like this and I have my whole life to focus on a career and be with my fellow Americans. I’d like to continue blogging if anyone is interested in following. I’d like to thank my family and friends for their patience and support, LAMP for helping fund this experience, and the From I to U blog for allowing me to tell my story. These last few weeks have reminded me that there is always more to discover even in your own backyard and for that the final Italian word is “scoprire” or discover.

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Casa Means “Home”

Erik Trautman

I’ve been thinking about home. It’s a bit of a fuzzy idea for me, something I can’t quite pin down on a map. I remember three houses I lived in with my family. I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah but what I remember of it is skewed since I moved when I was seven (still nearly a third of my life). We went back as a family for spring break last year, the last year before my brother went to Colorado and I set off for Bologna.

I’ve lived in Indiana for fifteen years, those years that really determine who you are. Marvelous and ugly memories surface when I think of Indiana, but that’s true most everywhere you’ve called home. When I returned to Utah I felt at home amongst the snow-topped mountains and red desert rocks. It’s environmentally where I want to be, however, there are things that draw me back to Indiana: friends, family, and comfortable living. Most recently, Bologna has been my home, but I adopted different home this week, Cassano delle Murge, Puglia.


Nearby Matera has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Numerous films have been filmed here, including Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ”

Cassano is a small town in the periphery of Bari. I didn’t ever plan on seeing it but I was visiting a close friend. Small towns are the root to Italy’s charm. Aunts, uncles, grandmothers, and cousins all lived close together, many on the same hillside, some in the same apartment building. Their Italian was freckled with a dialect that sounded more Russian than Italian. The strawberries were wild and picked that morning from the countryside. Those miniature berries packed more flavor than any strawberry I’ve ever had. Every relative had a cherry tree growing in their yard. I ate focaccia made by my friend’s grandmother, the recipe for which has been passed down through generations. What made this place home for her were family and tradition, a different way of eating, and a different way of speaking.

My friend’s mother teaches dance to a class of seniors called “danze del popolo,” dances of the people. They performed three dances from around the world: Greece, Brittany, and Armenia. Before the first dance she explained that Greeks who have immigrated throughout the world may no longer know how to speak Greek but many still know this antique dance. They brought a piece of home along with them as they searched for better lives.

danze del popolo

Danze del Popolo

danze del popolo

Danze del Popolo

What is home then? Is it the location of your family or a traditional way of doing things like cooking or dancing? These are manifestations of home but during my stay I’ve come to realize home is a state of mind. Home is comfort and familiarity and you can create that state in any part of the world, home is in your head. I’m not sure where my home will be three months from now, but wherever I end up I hope to take home with me.

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Nostalgia in Anticipo (in advance): Margherita Gardens

Erik Trautman

Shadows flood the lawns at the Margherita gardens as the sun sinks. The unkempt grass waves in the breeze. The teeter-totter rocks in synchronization with the wail of a distant ambulance and children bob around on a large trampoline.

Spring has arrived, escorting a myriad of balls and Frisbees that weave around in all directions against the peach sky. The college kids pop around like popcorn on their slack lines. Some juggle at the gardens, others play with devil sticks, and everything is amongst a circus of dogs. One guy shapes bubbles and another carries some tall flowers.

man creating giant bubbles in park

crowds in the park
I’ve passed a few afternoons in the gardens—you can tell because I’m red and spotty. On the first of May and on Mother’s day I picnicked and sampled the stands: pecorino (sheep) cheese from Sardenia and olives from Puglia.

another large vendor booth

a vendor booth

I visited the turtles in the central lagoon—the turtles I met in August and tried capture in Blog 1. I was disheartened because all those afternoons had passed and muttering the pair of words “un caffé” to the barista gave me away as an English speaker. I expected passing eight months in these gardens would transform me, I thought having predominately Italian chargers meant I was a different person, but it seems, in this pond, I will always be the same old turtle slugging behind all the fast fish. This is, however, a rather tranquil lagoon in a simply magical place. I’m surrounded by friends and sites I fear to miss and I’m no longer hunting turtles.

a hut with a wall of flowers

yarn and knitwares

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6 Travel Tips for Europe

Erik Trautman

I’m often asked to compare the lifestyle in Europe to that in that in the United States and I constantly grant Europe points for it’s transportation services, however, they can throw a first time user for a loop. After a frantic scramble between trains to get my family to the Liguria coast, I’ve got the hang of traveling on trains. After one plane trip to Seville and another to Dublin, I’ve got planes figured out, and after eleven-hours of bobbing around on a bus with friends like a bunch apples in a tub as we careened through the French Alps on the road to Grenoble, I have a grasp on bus travel. Below are six tips that will help you avoid some of the speed bumps I hit along the way.

  1. Plan ahead! Trains are the most comfortable way to travel but if you don’t book them far ahead of time your wallet will be empty by the time you arrive at your destination. Also, validate your tickets on regional trains and check for connections. I made the mistake of neglecting these last two things and paid a hefty fine. Furthermore, often you’re destination won’t appear on the screen because they only list the final destination of the train, check for the train number instead.
  2. If that ship has sailed, BlaBla Car is a good ride-sharing service that is largely available in Europe. Basically, you create a profile and search for your destination. If a driver with the same destination has open seats, you can send them a message requesting the spot. I was tentative at first but most drivers have past reviews and a rating. I’ve used the service to go to from Bologna to Milan for twelve euros as well as the return to Bologna for the same price and from Bologna to Turin for twenty.
  3. If you’re traveling by plane Ryanair is a good low-cost airline. Travel light because your first bag is free but if it doesn’t fit the measures (roughly a stuffed to the brim backpack) you’ll be hit with a baggage fee. Be warned that the flights are cheap because it’s a minimal airline; the seat aren’t comfortable and don’t recline.
  4. If Ryanair doesn’t reach your destination, Skyscanner will find the most affordable airline, it found me a flight for about half the price of Expedia’s best suggestion.
  5. As for places to stay, make friends with Erasmus students. Erasmus is like overseas studies, however, Erasmus is only for European students. The word is often misused to describe any foreign student, but Erasmus students come from all over Europe so they often have connections in popular destinations and they make great travel buddies.
  6. If you can’t find a buddy to stay with, AirB&B and Couch Surfing are good alternatives. Although I have never personally used their services, they both come highly recommended. Hopefully it goes without saying, use caution and your best intuition with couch surfing.

Although travel can be chaotic, after a few trips you’ll surely get the hang of it, and in the end it’s well worth the hassle. Below are a few photos of where my trips have taken me. Safe travels, or as they say in Italian, “Buon Viaggio!

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A Day in the Life

Erik Trautman

Yesterday wasn’t a typical day by any means, but I believe it well represents the development I’ve undergone from a first semester student to full-academic year student. The first I noticed of this development occurred during breakfast. I had plans to explore a new pasticcheria (pastry shop). My breakfast food supply was very limited due to my upcoming trip. I buckled, however, to the familiarity of my usual café, Fram. I was pleased to see there were still chocolate cornetti (like a croissant), which I had with the usual café macchiato. I gulped down my breakfast in a hurry because I was headed to the BSCP office to catch a word with the director, who is often busy during the afternoon. My favorite barista was working and although I see her nearly everyday I didn’t know her name. As I waited in line at the register I worked up the courage to ask her. “Benni,” she said, “and yours?”

I stopped by the Pam grocery store on my way to the office to pick up some honey flavored lozenges for my sore throat. Antonio, a cashier I had come to know, was working the register. I asked him how thing were going while checking out. While I still have trouble deciphering his thick Sicilian accent I made out something about back pains and a desire to travel in my luggage with me on my return to America. Then I was off through the back alleyways of Bologna I could now navigate with my face down in my Ipod. As I crossed through Piazza Maggiore I heard an African-sounding voice calling after me “mister!” I ignored it at first but then felt guilty and turned by head. He had a hand-full of books in one hand with the other gloved hand raised for an embrace. I told him I had already bought a book of poems from Senegal that has sat on my desk untouched all year-long, gave him a hand-full of throat lozenges and was on my way.

By the time I arrived at the BSCP office a little bit after ten, it was too late. An office full of teachers from universities across the US already occupied Professor Ricci’s office, buzzing about their experiences in Italy thus far. I waited in the main room. I hadn’t been to the BCSP office in months since all my classes this semester are through the university of Bologna. I chatted a bit with Paolo, my language teacher from last semester, joking about how our class was irreplaceable. A few spring semester students sat at the computers, tapping away at the keyboards, a few more filtered into Paolo’s classroom. I didn’t recognize any of them. I felt like an outsider in the office where I often saw my American friends last semester. I sat by the desk of the program’s administrator, Daniele. I chit-chatted a bit with her and Lorena, the office assistant, and eventually had a chance to thank professor Ricci for the recommendation letter he wrote for me that resulted in my acceptance in a teach English abroad program. Then I left the office to go home for lunch. On the way home I saw the old accordion player I would pass every other morning last semester. Needless to say it had been months since I’d seen him but I dropped some change into the hat that laid on the sidewalk in front of him and he gave me the usual nod as if I hadn’t missed a day.

I made a typical Italian lunch around two o’clock. Pasta with tomato paste (you don’t buy pre-made sauce) datterini tomatoes, onions, tuna, capers, with an American touch, bell pepper. Around four o’clock I went to pick up the kids at the International school for my babysitting job. I walked home with them and, as usual, had to bribe them to do their English homework with the promise to play wrestling, which consists of me tossing them back on Francesco’s bed while they try to take me down as a team, they always win. Around half past six my boss, Silvia, came home and I walked back to my house, taking the shortcut my roommates had taught me. I reflected on how things had changed this semester. I had grown familiar with faces and places around Bologna. I now recognized people who have the same routine. They take the same bus lines; they go to the same supermarkets and cafés. What was once familiar to me had become alien and vice versa. I had a long trip to Ireland coming up, but I realized that day that I had changed. I fit the mold now and had become one of those recognizable faces and when I return it wouldn’t at all be like before but like returning home again, and with that the Italian word for the day is abituato — literally “habituated” or “used to.”

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Pringles, Katy Perry, and Chevy Trucks

Erik Trautman

Two weeks after returning to Italy, I now know what it is to be an American – well, what it is to be an American through European eyes. Take any 90’s high school movie and that pretty much sums it up: jocks, cheerleaders, lockers, and yellow school buses. They told me I talk like people in movies and they asked if spring break was like the movie. I still haven’t seen “Spring Breakers” but I imagine my road trip stories were a bit toned down compared to James Franco with corn rolls and grills.

I later found myself trying to explain Groundhog’s day, which I realized I knew nothing about until now: the first Groundhog’s day was in 1887, it takes place in Punxsutawney, PA, the marmot’s name is Phil, and he has an 80% accuracy rating according to accuweather. Unfortunately, the large ground squirrel (yes, I also did research on the groundhog) saw his shadow this year, as he always seems to do, however, this got me wondering how far his jurisdiction extends. Senseless daydreams aside, I’ve been preoccupied with this image of American identity. At first it was just fun listening to Italians pronounce Punxsutawney but what I didn’t expect was to learn about where I come from while being 5,000 miles away. This discovery naturally came to a climax during this year’s Super Bowl.

The plan was for Doritos, Mountain Dew, buffalo chicken wings and Budweiser, the commercialized image of an American Super bowl party. Sunday, however, isn’t the best day to do shopping in Italy. Many of the markets are closed leaving the open ones quite packed, and it’s nearly impossible to find buffalo sauce or sour cream. I tossed what I could find on the sporadic shelves at the local Pam into the hand-pulled cart: Pringles, Philadelphia cream cheese, hot dogs, beef, corn, eggs, potatoes, and beans. I proceeded to make chili, pigs in a blanket, potato skins, and deviled eggs. Theò, my friend who agreed to host the party, made a chicken curry. After eating chili, curry, and cupcakes, no one could eat a bite more, and I was left in the kitchen with a basket full of hard-boiled eggs (although I admit I did misplace the mayonnaise).

The game started around midnight due to the time difference and continued till almost four in the morning. We watched the extravagant opening ceremonies, tried our best to explain the game to the inquisitive Europeans, awed at the halftime show, and laughed shamefully at some of the commercials. So is this what defines America: Chevy trucks, Groundhog’s day, Pringles, Katy Perry, and overgrown men bashing into each other while Nationwide tries to scare you into buying insurance? No, America is a cultural empire that I never saw until now, from across the ocean. It’s a fantastic ideal of prosperity, grandness, and freedom depicted that electric night in a blur of red, white, and blue jerseys, flags waving the words “Seattle Seahawks,” Katy Perry on a beach surrounded by dancing sharks, fireworks, the grand canyon, and witty ads. I wont talk about the results of that game but after watching it, I’m more comfortable talking about something far grander, America. Therefore, the Italian word for the day is “paese” or country.

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A Semester of Growth

Erik Trautman

We were gathered around the cramped living room of Kait’s quaint apartment on the top floor of the castle tower. Not one, but several half-eaten cakes occupied the dining table, one of which was adorned with candles. They blended in with the foliage of bottles, balloons, cups, streamers, and snacks scattered about. For many of us, this would be our last night together in Bologna, as the semester students would be returning home that same week – although I expect to know many of them for some time. The night was beginning to wind down and the question being tossed around was, “do you think your experience abroad has changed you and, if so, how?” I was impressed with everyone’s responses as I frantically searched for my own. I landed on something about how my self-confidence has grown as a result of my travels and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome along the way, which is true, but only now, after returning to the Indiana for a three-week holiday break, do I realize the full extent of my personal development.

I can narrow it down to three things: manners, patience, and tolerance. The first I noticed at the dinning room table the first night of my return as my siblings shoveled down their dinner before my parents even had a chance to sit down. I found it astonishing that four months ago I would have done just the same, but after spending that time eating with strangers abroad the lack of gratitude and consideration was appalling to me. My parents don’t mind but after pointing this out, my sister has begun to follow my lead; my brother is a harder nut to crack.

I noticed my increased patience in the car, a place I often lose all patience. I no longer found myself screaming obscenities at complete strangers that would make a sailor blush. I wasn’t teetering on the extreme edge of every speed limit but took my time getting places, enjoying the journey, which is a mandatory requirement if you intend to live in the slow-paced Italian lifestyle.

It dawned on be that I had developed tolerance during conversations with friends and family that took a less than politically correct or understanding direction. Italians aren’t known for their political correctness, however, like some of my peers from back home, I don’t believe they mean to offend, but have never been close to someone they would or could offend. It’s a rather homogenous society, not much unlike Indiana. As a white heterosexual male, this wasn’t so much of an issue for me, but it was for some of my American peers in BCSP. This greater diversity of friends is what I have to thank for my increased sense of tolerance and acceptance. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bologna is welcoming place for minorities, there’s a flourishing GLBT community, but you have to understand that it’s not the melting pot that many of us have grown accustom to in America, which I am now more thankful for.

Tomorrow I get a haircut, maybe buy some clothes, and pack my bags for another semester in Bologna. I can only imagine what I will come to learn in the following six months and I intend to make the most out of every last-minute because the lessons learned there will serve me for a lifetime not only as a professional, but as a person. Therefore, the Italian word for the day is ringraziamento or “gratitude.”

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