Update number two on Bologna, Italy. You may be wondering why I am taking the time to sit at my computer and write a blog post while I am living in the most beautiful country in the world.
Computer or exploration? Well, I woke up this morning with the most brilliant idea of taking bus 92 to the little village just south of Bologna called Marzabotto, which – as far as I can ascertain from Google Maps – is conveniently situation right at the Parco Regionale Storico di Monte Sole. I was hoping to go for a wee hike. So I woke myself up before dawn and proceeded to pack my bag for the trip and to cook a giant breakfast (consisting of all my vegetables that were about to go bad), which I then proceeded to eat while glaring out my window to the theme of raindrops playing on the leaves of our garden. I’m not hardcore enough to retain my enthusiasm for hiking when it’s raining, so maybe I’ll try Marzabotto on Wednesday instead. That is the reason I am here, on my computer, instead of outside, in the Bologna rain.
One of my favourite Italian phrases is ‘pian piano’. It means ‘step by step’, and it is used when Italians mean slowly, thoughtfully, cautiously, with care. I’m coming to learn that I have to approach life here pian piano. I recently received an email from a friend in America who had studied in Italy for a semester, advising me that the bureaucracy that seems covertly to govern all of Italian life will no doubt very soon make me want to shout at someone to “Va’ a quel paese,” but instead I should settle for shrugging my shoulders, a quick ‘Boh!’, and a glass of wine. I can’t find a list of available courses to take in my subjects, and the secretary I asked for help in finding the information only gave me the name of a Greek professor? Boh, bring on the gelato. I received an email from the university after that most unhelpful experience, telling me that there would be an informational meeting for international students 24 September, showing us how to find class schedules and such. It is still a little bit hard on my nerves, not knowing which classes I will be taking in two weeks, but such is Italy, and I’m learning that life proceeds pian piano. As a side note, when I was complaining to my Italian flatmates about the terrible organisational structure of the university, they assured me that it’s one of the most organised aspects of the country – the government, they said, is much worse.
Yesterday I had a Sunday lunch with an American family I met here. It was wonderful, and they introduced me to some other Americans they knew. Talking all afternoon with English speakers did nothing to improve my Italian, but it was a welcome mental break for me to able to express myself without constantly making the other person wait as I pian, piano try to remember the word that was eluding me. Last night, I watched Braveheart in Italian with one of my flatmates. Never is it more satisfying to watch an awesome movie than when you feel like you are being productive because you can call it language practice.
Some cultural differences are wonderful, but one that I have yet to come to appreciate is the confusion of the queue. A few weeks ago, I was at the beach with some friends, and it started raining, so EVERYONE on the beach ran to try to catch a bus back to the city centre. I have never seen so many people at a bus stop. There were at least a hundred people there, and the bus (when it finally came) wasn’t able to reach the bus stop because the hordes had trickled out into the street by necessity. So I, as a good immigrant to Britain, assumed my spot in a queue in order to get onto the bus. I was not prepared for other people physically to push me aside. In the end, I was the last person to board, and I was desperately clinging onto the stranger next to me because I was afraid that the door might open and I would fall out. The Italian boys in the back were acting like 12 year olds on a schoolbus. It was very entertaining. But finally, when we arrived in the centre, I think that the bus driver had alerted the police that nobody had bought a ticket, so the police were waiting for us and checking our tickets as we got off the bus. I had not bought a ticket – I had not even been able to wedge my way out of the portion of the bus designated for the door. I was so terrified that the police were going to write down my name on some ‘undesirable foreigners’ list, so I played the role of the stupid American and kept saying in English that I didn’t know what was going on, I couldn’t get to the ticket purchasing machine because the bus was too full, and I would happily pay the price of the ticket now. All of those statements were true. They believed me and took my 2.50 euros, and I wasn’t arrested.
The free language course offered at CILTA isn’t wonderful, but hey – it’s free. And it has been a great way to meet other international students, and it’s easier to have a conversation with them in Italian because we all speak pretty slowly and have similar vocabulary sets.
And finally, the most exciting news for students — somewhere near Via dell’Indipendenza, the Parco della Montagnola, and the train station, on Fridays and Saturdays, there is a huge market. It’s overwhelming. But it’s so cheap. All future students on exchange with Bologna, don’t miss it. I was confused as to how people could afford to buy clothing when I saw the prices in the shops on the high street, but now I understand. You can buy an outfit for ten euros if you search well enough. It’s incredible. I bought some flowers for my room, but they’re struggling a bit because I can’t manage to get the sun to shine on them very well.