Five days in Bologna; with a vague idea of possibly living here some day...
Or, well, perhaps not.
There is a great deal of beauty in this town: the buildings, the food; the charming kindness of the two men who run the bed and breakfast that was suggested by some London friends. Of course there are also the graffiti, the posters... whole sections of the city where it feels as though the younger (student, or not necessarily so?) population includes a lot of people who think scrawling on walls is an expression of individuality – rather than conformity....
Hmm, I do sound like a grumpy old git, don't I.
Two truly extraordinary meals, the kind that make you wonder why you put up with some of the crap you eat in other countries: and there would have been more such meals in Bologna La Grassa, if I hadn't had some stomach problems (I have to watch it with coffee, and I'm still a bit fragile as a result, as I was a couple of months ago – I must develop the ability to refuse an espresso, even in Italy, even in the morning, even after a fine meal).
Though when I take a turn to the right off the main shopping streets, I discover a considerably more beautiful, fresher neighborhood, with wonderful old buildings in warm colors, small parks... what about if I did move here, and put together an analytic practice? A lot of this city is truly beautiful, in a calm and pleasant way.
But, with all the ups and downs, the sense that I may be not giving it enough of a chance – it feels a bit small – perhaps too small. I know about the intersecting links among various northern Italian cities, I know about the famous university, but... this might be just a more charming version of the problem of living in a place that isn't really mine, and isn't really big enough to have big surprises, unexpected events of the kind that I miss from the years in SF, LA, Berlin. And why should I go through all the trouble and expense of moving to a place like that?
I am of, at least, two minds... and think of Sara's dream about the two of us, which seemed to symbolically reflect our separate wishes to live in another country; and of Thomas' desire to live in Italy... and my own desire:
which may be, above all, to know just what it is that I want.
A train from Bologna to Rome – I am braced for chaos and discomfort, but instead am amazed by a fast, clean, pleasant, air-conditioned (that bit is important) journey. At one point I realize I am not sure of my next train connection, and ask the businessman sitting next to me, who is using his iPad on the interwebs, how to figure that connection out – he is very kind and gives me the departure time, neatly locating it online. I thank him with gratitude...
Unfortunately the second train, the one that I am transferred to, is like an exaggerated satire on a horrible Italian train from the 1960s: ancient and dilapidated, minor things broken, full to bursting with sweating people – I stand in overwhelming heat, between the door and the toilet for an hour, watching my annoyingly heavy bag....
At this point, and yes I do realize we're talking about decisions based on absurdly brief chance experiences, any desire to live in Italy is evaporating fast.
Circeo. Unless it's called San Felice Circeo – that doesn't seem quite clear: I think probably the little town at the tip of the peninsula, one along the long coast between Rome and Naples, is what is called San Felice Circeo – and Circeo is the area as a whole. Or maybe not, it doesn't seem to be terribly important.
A small town, a beautiful, indulgent hotel – with the most charmingly friendly front desk clerk imaginable (yes, he was gorgeous, I should have managed to sneak a picture, what else is an iPhone for?). Thomas drives us down from the dusty station and the hideous train to a charming paradise, and I am increasingly ready to forgive all. (Or, at least: to forgive the desk clerk.)
This is designed for people who are well off, I think: though perhaps the town has 'regular' people in it – but the villas in the hills, the gracefully curving white and blue houses designed by Alessandra's grandfather, are clearly designed for an upper-class income. The house where we are holding the conference is relaxedly beautiful, like a dream of a beach house – simple and casual in some ways, rounded corners and small staircases like a ship, but also absolutely complete, such that you could really live here.
And, of course, I am thinking of really living here... okay well not here, not in this house or its kin, that would be no more likely than living on the moon.
But it is Thomas who makes sure that I see the town, on our last day: and it is truly amazing – you walk under a large arch, and are on a long piazza paved with cobblestones, entirely surrounded by houses that are about two or three stories high; warm brown to yellow stone, old fountains, children playing up and down the street. No cars: people are walking along and talking, they go into and out of the large and gratifyingly air-conditioned bar, which serves espresso and gelato all day; some shops, a lot of living spaces. The wide band of gold-grey stone rolls down towards the ocean...
Yes, I could most certainly live here, there is no doubt about it.
Thomas says: and there are places like this all over Italy. We have to see them...
In your car, perhaps, I say.
He says, let's do it.
And we walk up and down, with Alessandra, with my new friend the brilliant and witty Parisian Marie-Hélène and her cheerfully rough-edged Corsican brother, with Giovanni, with the serious young filmmaker Ludo, with my other new friend the down-to-earth American Dianna and her Italian husband, and with the others...
until we have to go back to the car, and leave paradise.