Three days in Bologna
Winter is here.
November always brings with it grey skies, a sudden, startling drop in temperature, a change to the contours of the day.
Its fading light marks that time of year when the earth sighs, turns over, takes refuge in a long, slow sleep.
This year, though, the glorious glow of autumn stayed with us well into the ‘grey month’: a busy month in which I felt as though my feet never touched the ground.
Right in the middle of November, I had the pleasure of visiting Bologna, as the guest speaker of Casa delle donne at their conference.
This annual event was held in the beautiful surroundings of the Women’s Library at the University of Bologna. It was a treat to see such a wonderful collection of books, so lovingly looked after.
The conference held on that weekend explored the nature of violence against women and we looked at cultural attitudes, personal responsibility and the role of the law.
You can read my speech here.
The issues that we discussed that day had tragic resonances with the events of the previous days in Beirut, Paris, Ankara.
But we went ahead, conscious that the world now felt like a very different place.
The previous day, when the world hadn’t felt quite so fractured, I had had the opportunity to wander the streets of this ancient city and to appreciate all the delights it has to offer.
And I appreciate them even more in retrospect.
The church of Santo Stefano, for example, with its warm redbrick exterior and the quiet simplicity of its devotional spaces.
No ostentation here: just a stillness that spoke of numberless pilgrims down through the years. And the square of Santo Stefano that isn’t a square at all, rather a kind of magic triangle that draws the visitor away from the church towards the bustle of the narrow, mediaeval streets that form the historic centre.
I learned that such narrow streets are called ‘vicoli’, so I squirrelled away that new word in my slow-growing Italian vocabulary. Then we came across even narrower little streets, which are known as vicolini’.
I love that: how things that become smaller and smaller have their own, perfect nomenclature. They are complete in themselves, no matter how tiny – not merely a lesser version of something greater.
At lunchtime, my new friend Paola and I made our way to a lovely little place called, simply, ‘Vino’, on Vicolo Ranocchi.
I’d asked her to take me to the quirky places around the city that she liked best – not the grand stuff of tourist guidebooks. And ‘Vino’ had an encouraging sign on its window: only those who were prepared to drink wine, or beer, or champagne, had permission to enter.
Well, what was a visitor to do?
We sipped a glass of local white wine, seated at a long, scrubbed wooden table. I watched in delight as other patrons calmly unwrapped the food they had bought elsewhere and proceeded to have their lunch, along with much animated conversation.
I had to visit ‘Atti’, too, of course – a food shop renowned among foodshops. It did not disappoint.
I loved the bustle of breakfast-time the following day at Colazione da Bianca. And it was a very special pleasure to have lunch at Leonida restaurant, where it would have been fun to catch a glimpse of Umberto Eco. Maybe next time.
Because there will be a next time.
Cities have their own charms: but now Bologna has for me all the additional charm of new friendships formed.
We’ll meet again.