Two Months

As of today, May 11, I have exactly two months left in Italy. I’ve spent the past few days completely amazed at how quickly this time is passing and wondering how the heck I’m going to manage to finish all the work I set out to do while still being able to see all the places I set out to see.

I’ve been alternating days where I’m really really excited to go home with days when I’m cripplingly sad about having to leave. Just last week, I nearly had a breakdown over the realization that once I’ve returned to the US I’ll have to specially request fizzy water at restaurants and even pay extra for it. And then I realized that restaurants in the US have hamburgers, and did a little happy dance.

I consider myself a strong, independent, woman. I’m a thinker, a figure-it-out-for-myself type. In other words, I’m a researcher and an analyst and that’s what got me here in the first place. But all of that thinking and planning sort of goes out the window when immersed in another culture. At home, I print out directions and search websites and figure things out fully before I even leave my house so I can just go do something and not worry about it. Here, no matter how many times I practice a sentence or think of a word (because yes, even though my Italian is pretty good now, I still plan out questions while waiting in line) I just might lose the critical piece of vocabulary in the moment. And sometimes you have to just not care that you’ll look like an idiot asking someone what’s up because you really don’t know how it works, like at the pharmacy where the pharmacist and the teller are the same person so you still have to take a number even if you’re just looking to purchase things you were able to grab off the shelves. And often I have to give up on that knowing where I’m going and just ask for directions, since the street names change every few blocks (something they’d never get away with in the US.) And then there was the retrieval of my permesso di soggiorno, when the line I needed to be in was more a blob of people and I accidentally missed my call time and just had to ask a random person what was up (and she turned out to be very nice.) It kind of makes thinking and planning hard.

But, Italy makes not planning pretty easy. One of the things I will eternally love about Italians is how open and friendly they are. When you make eye contact with someone on the stairs, he or she will almost always give a friendly “buongiorno,” or at least a “ciao.” If you see a crowd gathered somewhere, someone’s always willing to explain why they’re all clustered around, like yesterday when I happened upon the giro d’Italia and a friendly stranger explained the race to me. And, when I do forget that vocab word, the person I’m talking to almost always supplies it or waits patiently until I recover my brain.

In fact, Bologna is a city of personalities. I go running a few times a week in the park near my apartment and do a lot of my work at the main city library, so I’m almost always surrounded by all different sorts. There’s an old man in my park who makes me think of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” because he sits on a bench every day just looking and waiting, but I’ve never seen anyone join him. I also have a fellow jogger who cracks me up, because she jogs with a cigarette between her teeth and always has a friend waiting with a sandwich for when she’s done. I also discovered a fun local deejay with friends a few weeks ago; he dresses up in a giant inflatable costume and goes by the name “DJ Bunny.” There’s a guy at the library who gets a new book every day and just devours it, and if you ask him what he’s reading he’ll launch into a whole explanation of how it fits with his philosophy. When the snow hit in February, people came out in droves in their moonboots to build some pretty interesting snowmen (I could swear Bologna was channeling its inner Calvin and Hobbes.) And every day, I see street performers and the crowds that gather around them laughing and enjoying themselves.

When I visited Gabrielle in Catania and got to talk to her students, a lot of them asked me where I preferred to live, in the US or here. I will admit, there’s a lot I miss about the US. Even those Italian students mentioned bureaucracy and how long it takes to get something done here, which at the time I called charming and now am finding more than a tad frustrating (how many e-mails do I have to send to get a response? Plus, walking a kilometer and a half for shampoo? Come on.) What I do prefer about Italy, though, is the pace of life. The fact that people can actually stop in piazzas to watch street performers and can pull their motorini over at intersections to chat with a friend. It’s pretty incredible.

So, with an end in mind, I’ve set about doing what we planners and researchers do best: I’m making lists. The first is my Bologna bucket list. Remember that book I got, called 101 cose da fare a Bologna almeno una volta nella vita? I pulled it back off the shelf this week to thumb through and pick out the things that jumped out at me most (and discovered in the process that I’ve done quite a bit more off the list that I just never realized was on there.) Also on my bucket list are a number of restaurants I’ve passed a few times and thought looked good or tried before and want to get back to. Go figure, my priorities are local culture and food. I’ll really be enjoying these last two months.

My second list is one of successes and failures. I actually have no failures to report, not because I haven’t messed up, but because I’ve decided to not regret any of it and simply count it as learning. My successes, though, are numerous. I have thus far managed to convince several people that I’m actually Italian (my favorite accomplishment), successfully maneuvered my way into an archive chock full of historical oil prices, reserves, and trade data, fixed a broken/jamming copier at the library(thanks to all that experience at the information desk in college), managed to stick to my budget so my last bout of spring travel can be just incredible, managed to stay in touch with friends back home (one of the things that had me most nervous to come here), and never lost sight of why I came to Italy in the first place. It’d be easy to get totally swept up in the work part, which I haven’t, and just as easy to totally forget about work and just live, which I haven’t. I also got over the embarrassment I’d normally feel asking for help or advice, and that feels really good. It’s quite freeing, actually. So I’m pretty happy.

And without further ado (mostly because I want to commit it somewhere I can’t ignore), my bucket list:

1. Trattoria da Giorgio. This is a little restaurant down an alley that Sarah had suggested as a great place to get pasta, but it’s always packed so I’ll have to plan my trip carefully.
2. Archaeological museum (Cose da Fare #9)
3. Medieval museum (Cose da Fare #38)
4. Climb the scaffolding of San Petronio to get a view on the city.
5. Return to the Drogheria della Rosa, the restaurant where I took my family for our big dinner before Christmas.
6. The Ristorante Biagi, a well-reputed restaurant that also sells tortellini jewelry.
7. Search out street art (Cose da Fare #62)
8. Get out into the hills of Bologna and see the nature surrounding the city (Cose da Fare #81)
9. Osteria del Sole, one of the oldest in the city, where you bring your own food and they supply the drinks (Cose da Fare #13)
10. Cose da Fare #31: “Vedere il compito sbagliato di Mozart”
11. See the oratorio oat Santa Cecilia (Cose da Fare #43)
12. Go to the botanical gardens of Bologna, which are supposedly inside the city walls but I’ve never seen.
13. Visit the Certosa (Cose da Fare #77) – this one is rather embarrassing because the Certosa backs up right on the park where I run. It’s the old city cemetery.
14. Cose da Fare #85: “Cucinare un vero pranzo Bolognese senza tortellini.”
15. A few more weekend trips: Torino, Pisa, and Naples.

What do you think of the list? Anything I should add?


3 responses to “Two Months

  • Gabrielle

    I totally had a full-on freakout today about leaving Italy…so I completely understand! I also wrote a bucket list a few weeks ago. Since Catania is on the east coast, “see the Sicilian sunrise” is at the top of my list! Also, loved the image of your fellow jogger with a cigarette in her mouth running towards a sandwich…

  • Dad

    Elle, I LOVE your outlook! And your take on the myth that is “failure” is spot on.There really is no such thing; those little bumps in the road are lessons to be learned, with as much gratitude (or, failing that, equanimity) as you can muster. But you’re all about success, these days! Good luck with your bucket list! And please, keep blogging! It’s awesome (and so are you)!

  • Audrey

    Great list! We’ve been to Osteria del Sole 3 times and love it! The first time we got there right at last call, which is somewhat early (9:30 or 10PM). The second time we brought food and squatted at a reserved table until the party showed up. We learned that bigger parties can call a day ahead to reserve a table. The third time we went just for a drink but ran into friends who showed up at 7 with food and were able to get a table. I think if you show up later senza reservation, you need to have good table karma and swoop in on a table as other people are leaving.

    Let me know if you need a partner in crime on any of your list adventures. I will happily be an accomplice!

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