I wrote this about two weeks ago for a Hutton Honors Scholarship, and I think that now is the appropriate time to put it in the blog. Hope you guys enjoy it, I think it’s the best entry yet.
“Sei bravissima, bella! You’re wonderful beautiful!“ I hear over the rain. I look up. My hair is matted down, my running shoes are soaked, and my skin is covered in a rain, sweat, and dirt combination—but apparently to the older Italian man packing up a large white semi, I look gorgeous.
Vendors’ tents that, just moments ago, had covered my favorite park were being packed into 16-wheelers, hastily hiding the evidence of what had been a hot, Bolognese day. Rain had replaced the sunshine and stagnant humidity and had driven everyone from the gardens that day. Everyone, that is, except for Paige and I, who decided there was no better time to go for a cool, leisurely run.
“Grazie, Thank you!“ I shout back.
“Quanti giri hai fatto? How many laps have you done?”
“Sei bravissima bella, bravissima! Vai vai avvanti! You’re wonderful beautiful! Go go go!”
For what must have been the hundredth time since stepping off of the plane and onto the Italian tarmac, I found myself thinking, “Does it really get better than this?”
June 8 marked the five-month anniversary of my love affair with Bologna. I remember the beginning, my sheepish introduction to this city that came in the form of stutter-filled questions and frazzled impulse buys. A study abroad experience that was once defined by a stressful period involving finding a room for rent and desperately forcing conversation with my new roommates has been replaced with a tranquility that can only come from an intimate understanding of a new location.
And now, just as the conversations have begun to go smoothly, solid friendships have formed, and I can finally go to the grocery store without needing to translate my shopping list, I need to start saying goodbye. Goodbye to my newfound love, Bologna. But we both knew that this love was never meant to test the strength of time, and that eventually I would have to begin the all-too-soon transition to reality.
Like all love affairs, my relationship with Bologna was a beautiful potpourri of high-stress, blissful contentedness, and vague thoughts of a future together that, I knew, could never be.
I remember the first two weeks in Hotel Holiday, crammed in a room with a girl who, little did I know, would become a future roommate and best friend. It seemed like last week I was armed with my Italian flip phone, piles of housing ads torn from outdoor corkboards, and a hand-made script, clearly communicating that I was an American student, studying in Bologna, and looking for a room for the next six months. My first month and a half in Bologna I will forever remember as a time of mispronounced words, fears of being homeless, and the uneasy feeling that I had finally bitten off more Italian immersion that I could ever hope to chew.
Luckily, I met my two-week deadline of finding a new home, having no idea that my new roommates would become one of the most important parts of my time in Italy. All I knew was I had fallen in love with how big my new room was and its optimal location to my university classes. But even a budding socialite like myself had a hard time getting used to the fact that at some point, I would need to talk to my roommates, in Italian, without any sort of English buffer. Battling the urge to hide in my room for the next six months and avoid all communication with my roommates, I planted myself in the living room and battled through getting-to-know-yous and awkward silences.
During these times of awkward silences, I turned to my friends in the BCSP program, individuals I had become incredibly close with incredibly fast. The fact that we were all in this together and all equally clueless as to what the next six months had in store for us, made us instant friends. We congregated for nightly dinners insieme, walking around our new home and slowly becoming familiar with the porticoes, the lack of grid-system streets, and the fact that everything in Bologna closes between three o’clock and five in the afternoon.
One morning, I realized the city that had been a complete stranger to me was slowly beginning to reveal its secrets and remove its foreign facade. Later that afternoon, I took Via Oberdan to get to the park on the south side of the city, knowing it would be way faster and I wouldn’t need to battle the foot-traffic on Via Dell’ Indipendenza. In the evening, I clearly communicated to my roommates that I was going to go to the grocery store, and asked if they needed me to pick up cleaning supplies for the house. The barriers between the Americans and gli Italiani began to crumble, and the two social circles began to slowly fuse together. One night, during apperitivo at our house, I looked up and saw every one of my American friends talking with my Italian ones. I smiled, took a slow sip of my new favorite drink, spritz amaro, and once again thought about how life, at that exact moment, was perfect. America had never seemed so far away.
Now, with two weeks left of my six-month romance, I need to start preparing myself for the end. Two nights ago, our roommates decided to throw a party at our house to celebrate a whirlwind six-months that came and went so fast that it seemed unfair. My friend, Francesco, asked me how I felt about going back to the States. I told him that it felt, amaro-dolce, he looked at me, confused, and I realized that the expression, “bittersweet” didn’t translate in Italian. After I had explained it to him, he smiled and said, “Amaro-dolce, bella questa frase, Bittersweet, what a beautiful saying.” Last night, I came home and Francesco was there, keeping my roommate company while he studied. He asked me how my night was, I told him it was abbastanza bene, good enough, to which he responded, “Ahh si, amaro-dolce, ahh yes, bittersweet.” I smiled at his effort to accurately use his new favorite word and wished he knew exactly how bittersweet that moment had just been.
Over the past two weeks, people have slowly begun to trickle back to the United States and each day, I am reminded that I am on borrowed time in Bologna. We promise each other that, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later,” and I hope that everyone else means it as much as I do.
Unfortunately, I know that when my time to bid farewell to my new-found love comes, I will not be able to sincerely say, “see you later,” knowing that if, somewhere down the road, we happen to meet again, it will never be the same. Never again will I be twenty-one, living in Italy with tre Pugliese e uno Milanese. Never again will I be able to go to Conad supermarket and know that I’m more likely to find dried, raw pig legs dangling from the deli section than turkey burger patties and premade potato salad. That spark that makes a relationship new, exciting and terrifying all at the same time will never come back. It’s a thought that pains me and makes me want to burn my suitcases, sweep up the ashes and never look back. But deep down, I know, questo non è possible, this just isn’t possible.
Human beings are incredibly adaptable creatures. Over a few thousand years, we have managed to change our diets, turn shacks into skyscrapers and, aside from viruses, become one of fastest growing species in the world. Our universities use this uniquely human trait to promote studying abroad, hoping that students will expose themselves to a foreign setting and come out as more socially and culturally exposed individuals. And that is exactly what happened to me.
I’m thankful for my beautiful six-month affair with this gorgeous city. I’m appreciative of its graffiti and its lack of English translations under Italian street signs. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made and know that this experience was shaped more so by them than anything else.
In the beginning, Bologna excited me, terrified me and made me cry. In the middle, I began to see Bologna for the beautifully under-exposed Italian treasure that it is, offering its graffiti-covered walls and seedy side-street bars as safe havens for students from all over the world. In the end, I discovered what Bologna did for me, making me thankful for the friendships I’ve made, the adventures I’ve had, and giving me a self-confidence that I would have never acquired if I had skipped out on studying abroad.
For the rest of my life, or at least until I am old and senile, I will reminisce on my beautiful, roller-coaster relationship with Bologna. I will apologetically shrug to audiences that, after the fifth recount of my life under the porticos, will inevitably roll their eyes at me. But hopefully, they will indulge me as I recount to them these repeated stories with, as the Bolognese are so affectionately called, la dotta, la grassa e la rossa.