It was a greyish day in Bologna. The canopy of clouds darkened the mustardy yellow and uncertain ocre of the buildings that looked rather drab even when the sun came out. In the weather shrouded light they looked distinctly depressing on arrival. But it was good to get away for a couple of days, even though it was for work,
The locals are refreshingly polite and straightforward. At the cozy hotel*, the delightful ladies who run it went out of their way to make us comfortable for our little meeting. There was no time to see much, and to the probable horror of most people reading this, I had lunch in a Chinese restaurant. Yes, in Bologna. Bolognese food is delicious, but heavy on meat and sauces, better enjoyed in the evening with good wine. I just had a short lunch break, and there was a long afternoon meeting ahead.
That’s where plain travelling and tourism differ, and I’m perfectly happy living the now of a city, without all the duties of having to seek out the past.
In our tourist personas, we go for the history, which is fine, because faced with novel architecture, colours and dialects, if not languages, we look for the visible signs of ancient roots and art. The centuries of events, alliances, wars and humanity that have molded the present.
But living in Italy has made me a bit history-weary and I like to look at the now of new places. Do people walk quickly, do they promenade sedately, do they look around them or are they oblivious in their rush to arrive somewhere? When travelling, to locals you’re obviously not one of them – there’s a je ne sais quoi in the way you dress, or walk or look passers-by in the eye – or don’t. You tend to look everywhere, at shop windows, tea-rooms and restaurants, and you also stop and gawk at all the stuff dangling around the newstand.
When I got off the train in Florence in the evening, it was cold and drizzly dragging my trolley bag over the slippery cobblestones. So much so that even stupendous Piazza del Duomo failed to move me. When you visit these famous places again and again, the novelty wears off and the wondrous views and statues start to look like so many postcards.
But on the upside, it’s also when you become more aware of the details of daily life, the products on supermarket shelves and people queueing at the counters, the garbage collection notices, the bus stops and bike traffic. The friend who walked me to the banks of the Arno pointed out just how high it had risen in the great floods of 1966 and I thought that just couldn’t be possible. That’s history that will never cease to fascinate me wherever I go, the events that took place during the lives of the living…
Returning home was good too, if anything because the weather in Rome is its best feature. You can usually count on a warmer evening to welcome you back from the north.
All my photos 14thcountry.com
*this is NOT an advertisement, but a thank you to www.hotelparadisebologna.it central location, lovely rooms, great breakfast too.