About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Santows in Bologna (July 14th to August 7th, 2011)

Our main base during our 24 days in Italy was the city of Bologna, in the province of Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy.  As you can see below, Bologna is not far from Florence or Venice.  It is also close to Pisa, Verona, Modena, and the Chianti region of Tuscany.  We visited all of these places before leaving for London on August 7th!




While Shana and I have both been to Italy before (we honeymooned there), neither of us has ever been to Bologna.  My UMD colleague Matt Sneider has traveled there many times on research over the years, and always waxed rhapsodic about it.  As you will see below, it is a lovely old city, and it is nicely situated for further explorations of other parts of the country.  Indeed, as we later realized, because it is a hub for Ryan Air, cheap travel to North Africa and the rest of Europe is at your fingertips!  The day we were flying out, we realized that we could have been in Marrakesh in just under 2 hours (how cool is that?).  Next time...


We decided early on that renting an apartment would be better than staying at a hotel.  It is of course cheaper, but it would also enable us to better immerse ourselves in daily life.  Since Bologna is renowned for its terrific locally-sourced markets, having a kitchen would allow us to make good use of them.  Our first choice was to swap places with an academic -- they would stay at our house in Providence, while we stayed at their apartment in Bologna.  To that end, we joined a couple of academic sabbatical websites.  While we didn't do a home exchange, what we did do worked out perfectly:  we found a wonderful family to rent our house, and a terrific apartment to rent in Bologna.  Mortgage and rent roughly canceled one another out...

Our apartment is right in the centro, near Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the medieval city.  Via Rizzoli, Via Ugo Bassi and Via dell'Indipendenza all meet at the Neptune Fountain, adjacent to the Piazza.  Via dell'Indipendenza leads right to the train station...and the rest of Europe, really.  Virtually all of the bus lines had stops on or near the Piazza, though the city is remarkably dense, and thus walkable.


In the map below, you will find the Piazza Maggiore roughly in the middle, just to the left of the two towers.  Our apartment is just south and west of the Piazza.


Even better, our apartment (with 3 bedrooms and a lovely little courtyard) is owned by an American photographer with two little kids, Elizabeth Garvey.  Elizabeth was a vital source of information, advice, and leads on babysitters!


Bologna sits at the foot of the Apennine mountains, in one of the richest regions in Italy.  It is also much less touristed (and thus somewhat less expensive) than Florence, Venice or Rome.


Do you like tortellini, lasagna, prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, and Bolognese sauce?


Then the Bologna region is your kind of place.


Do you like high-end shopping under shaded porticos?


Going home to rest between 1:00 and 4:00 pm, so you can eat, drink and chat late into the night?


Climbing ancient towers,  & finding extraordinary churches & public art in hidden piazzas?


Eating the best pasta, cured meat, and gelato in your life?


I thought so.


The first description one generally hears of Bologna is the following:


Bologna la Dotta:  the Learned -- it contains the oldest university in Europe
Bologna la Rossa:  the Red -- generally refers to the city's leftist politics, and its red-hued buildings
Bologna la Grossa:  the Fat -- because the city and region are obsessed with food


Is it any wonder that I was drawn to it?  Food, books, and leftist politics?  Sounds like heaven...and looks like it too, as all of Shana's photographs clearly convey below.


We arrived in Bologna from Paris on July 14, and almost immediately took off for a weekend in Venice.  But after just a brief walk on that first day through Piazza Maggiore and down Via Clavature to the markets, Bologna had us in its grip.  The markets, which occupy a few square blocks behind the Piazza, have been there for hundreds of years.  Indeed, the streets themselves in this ancient city were named after the items once sold there:  Via Pescherie Vecchie, for example ('old fish street').

This was foodie heaven...




Our freezer was never without a bottle of local limoncello, for a late night drink
Our best source for tortelloni (see below), boar salami, and other tasty items
Our favorite tortelloni, made locally with speck, cheese, and sweet potato.  Yum!!!!

Keep your grubby American paws off the produce...like Paris, they serve you!


Bologna is also a city of portici (porticoes or arcades).  They are mainly located in the centro, the medieval portion of the city, which was once surrounded by the city walls.  By one estimate, there are over 40 miles of these covered walkways -- a godsend for shopping and strolling during July and August, when it gets hot.


The kids, in the University Quarter near the old Jewish Ghetto
Porticos on Via Farini, a high-end shopping street near our apartment



And much to Micah's delight, Bologna is a city of towers!


According to one account, in the 1100s and 1200s Bologna once had has many as 100 of them.  Elite families had them built both for defensive purposes, and to glorify their own wealth and power.  While many towers either collapsed or were torn down by the end of the 13th century, a remarkable number were still standing tall during the age of Dante:






Under Napoleon III and Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, Paris was drastically re-made in the late 19th century, displacing tens of thousands of people and creating many of the wide boulevards and public spaces so often identified with the city today.  While Bologna's restructuring wasn't quite as drastic, many of the towers (and the medieval city walls, or mura dei torresotti) were torn down in the half-century before World War I, in an effort to modernize the city.


Less than 20 towers remain today.  The city wall is only visible in a few places, though each porta invites one to imagine what an extraordinary site Bologna must have been 500 years ago!


Bologna's most iconic images today are the 'Two Towers' (take that, Tolkien), just a few blocks from our apartment.  They are located at the intersection of the roads that lead to the five gates of the old ring wall.  One of them (the Garisenda) leans, while the other (the Asinelli) can be climbed.






The Asinelli is 97 meters tall -- or over 30 stories, the tallest structure in the city for nearly 1000 years.  As you can see from the pictures below, it provides an extraordinary view of the centro...but one does have to work for it!  The old wooden steps (there are 497 of them!) are cantilevered out from the stone walls, and smooth and slippery from centuries of use.  In some portions of the climb, one has to climb ladders too.  Despite an unnerving case of vertigo, Shana got the shots.


This gives you a sense of the scale of the towers; Piazza Maggiore is to our right
Vertigo, anyone?
Micah takes a brief rest during the climb



Piazza Maggiore is in the middle of the picture; our apartment is behind it and to the left
the Piazza Porta Ravegnana, straight down.  The leaning tower is to the right
A dog-eared copy of the image below was hanging inside the Asinelli tower, comparing it to other famous ones from around Italy.  You will note that Bologna's dwarfs its more famous cousin from Pisa.  It should also be noted that by the end of our trip, Micah had either climbed or stood in the shadow of six of the nine!



One of our favorite days in Bologna involved a 2.5 mile climb to the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, on a mountain southwest of the centro.    While San Luca was built mostly in the 18th century, there had been a church of some sort on the hilltop for over a thousand years prior to its construction.  San Luca is connected to the city walls by 666 porticos, the world's longest continuous arcade.  A yearly procession proceeds from the church of San Pietro in the center of Bologna to the Sanctuary along this path.

Shana and I were joined by our friend Christiana, while the kids were in day care.  Just before we left the States, we discovered that Christiana was serving as artist-in-residence at the Florence University of the Arts.  She stayed over with us for a few nights, and later joined us for a side trip to Verona and lunch in Florence.

The views from San Luca were extraordinary, as you can see.  We later saw it from the top of the Asinelli Tower, and from the A1 highway on our drive back from Chianti -- and marveled at our accomplishment.  One can catch brief and tantalizing glimpses of the city while under the porticos, but the Sanctuary is really structured to invite you to contemplate the bucolic vistas on the other side.  And, perhaps, to test your faith by making you walk uphill for almost 3 miles...



Christiana, near the top
Mark, trying desperately to catch his breath...while contemplating the breathtaking view
The Santuario della Madonna di San Luca

Piazza Maggiore, near our apartment, is at the center of Bolognese life -- geographically, culturally, and historically.  We virtually always started our days there, either by picking up pastries from the Gran Bar, or crossing it to get to other parts of the city.  When we wanted a taxi or a bus to get to the train station or the park, we started there.  And when we needed to hook up with friends, babysitters (or with one another), the Neptune Fountain adjacent to the Piazza was the meeting place.  

The piazza is lined with majestic Romanesque and Gothic buildings -- palazzos, a huge and stunning basilica, the Museo Morandi, and public art of all sorts.  Gelato, drinks, food and shopping could all be found either on the piazza itself, or on some of the narrow pedestrian streets shooting off from it.

During our stay in Bologna, the piazza was set up for evening outdoor films.  As I'm sure you know, the Italians take cinema very seriously, and all of the movies were very well attended.  Toward the end of our stay, Shana and I left the kids with a babysitter and watched the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man.

Piazza Maggiore at dusk



All of us were struck by two very modern works of public art adjacent to the piazza.  In the courtyard of the Museo Morandi, there was a very brief sculpture exhibit, of bronze horses and other figures.  They were wonderfully kinetic, as you can see from Shana's striking photographs.




Just a few feet away, we found other metal sculptures on a side street -- smaller, more graceful, but still powerful.

Public art always puts a smile on Micah's face.  What?


The Neptune Fountain, my friend Matt told us, is the place the Bolognese meet up with one another.  We did it ourselves, in fact.  As you may know, there is a Neptune fountain in Florence as well.  It is bigger, more grandiose.  But the one in Bologna has a few rather striking features of its own, controversial when it was first constructed, and (for some) it still is.



Yep, that's pretty much exactly what you think it is


One of our favorite things to do in Bologna (and Verona) was to go out for aperitvo.  

The time schedule is quite different in Italy.  They work in the morning, then close up shop between 1pm and 4pm for lunch and rest.  The stores and offices then re-open.  Beginning at 6 and usually last until 8:30 or so, many bars and restaurants serve aperitivo.  After 9, they eat dinner.  

Basically, aperitivo is like American happy hour, only with better food.

And you are eating it in Italy, generally outdoors, watching the sun glance off of ancient and beautiful buildings.

And people are sharply dressed.

And there is very little drunken yelling.

OK, its not like American happy hour.

Anyway, if you buy one drink -- a spritz is apparently the drink of choice in Italy at the moment -- you can eat as much as you want from a buffet of regional specialities.  Pasta, salads, mortadella (the cured meat of the region), eggplant, bread, anchovies, olives, and so forth.  Each establishment serves a different array of things, and its fun to share secret knowledge with others of the best places to go.   

It is apparently not unusual for families to feed their children through aperitivo -- and why not?  The kids get delicious pasta, the parents can relax and socialize, while holding onto the big cash for a fine dinner later.  We did this on a number of occasions, usually at a place just off Piazza Maggiore.


We had a lot of amazing food in Bologna.  Pasta and salumi (cured meats) are really the specialties, though the gastronomical culture of the region extends far beyond that.  Remember that Parma (cheese) and Modena (balsamic vinegar) are also in Emilio-Romagna!  

The kids fell in love with tagliatelle bolognese, and had the best tortellini and lasagna of their lives -- all originate from this part of Italy.



















Since I love prosciutto and other salumi, I was in heaven.  I even got to try culatello di Zibello, described lovingly in Bill Buford's terrific book Heat, which can't be purchased in the U.S.  Made in Zibello (near Parma) with the muscular part of a pig's hind leg, it is highly prized.  Some say that Zibello's climate is ideal for aging the meat; the fog that rolls off the Po River and the biting cold of the winter give culatello its sweetness and fragrance.  The cut of the meat, the craftsmanship, the long aging time (12 months) and the unique flavor all contribute to its high price.  I ordered it pretty much every time I saw it on a menu, and also purchased some from one of our local butchers to take on the train to Modena.

Culatello di Zibello
Mortadella (and cheese)
The Osteria dell'Orsa, or Tavern of the Bear, is a restaurant in the University Quarter and a favorite of students.  While we struggled to translate the menu, everything we ate was delicious and affordable.  The kids discovered tagliatelle bolognese, their new favorite food.  I had my fill of mortadella and parmesan.

Our favorite restaurant, however, was the Trattoria del Rosso, the Red Restaurant.  It was on Via Righi near Via Oberdan, a nice shopping street that runs alongside the old Jewish Ghetto.  They have a cheap (10 Euro) fixed price menu, with a selection that changes daily.  Shana and the kids enjoyed a variety of different things during our three visits -- Cotoletta alla Bolognese, Gran Fritto di Agnello e Verdure, and Lasagne.

They had a bubbly house white, served cold, which was absolutely delicious on a hot day.

All of us loved the Cresentine con Salumi Arigianali.  Basically, these are little fried dough puffs (kind of like beignets from New Orleans, without the powdered sugar), served hot.  One puts this lovely creamy cheese on it -- squaquerone -- and then various artisanal salumi, like mortadella, prosciutto, and culatello.

Awesome.  And even better, they have the recipe on the website.

Since I am a creature of habit, I ordered the same entree all 3 times:  Stinco con patate al forno.  Pork shank, with roasted potatoes.  Couldn't get enough.  The fact that it was called 'stinco' was just an added bonus.

Mark, at Trattoria del Rosso, contemplating stinco con patate

Our Bologna apartment really became our home-away-from-home.  It was roomy and comfortable, and the boys who live there left a few things for Maya and Micah to play with.  While we were out and about on most days, we made sure to have a little down time, too.  Since most things in Bologna are closed between 1 and 4:00 pm the afternoons were often spent at the apartment.


The kids were just incredible at entertaining themselves.  Let me give you a few examples.

First, they staged a dramatic film, below.  Shana and I didn't discover this film clip until we got back to Providence -- it was on Maya's camera.  No doubt it will show up as a short in several film festivals in the next year, alongside their re-enactment of Romeo and Juliet starring their stuffed animals (see the Verona blog post.



Second, Micah's favorite toy (other than his Eiffel Tower) was the clothes drying rack.  Yes.  This became the London Underground, the Paris Metro, and the Bologna bus system.  I rode it to the front door a number of times, driven by Micah the Conductor, who also provided the sound effects for the air brakes.


Christiana, enjoying our private courtyard
Maya and Micah loved taking the elevator from floor 0 to floor 1
Shana and the kids, enjoying their all-natural face masks from Lush, on Via D'Azeglio near our place

One of the kids favorite places in Bologna was the Giardini Margherita, a huge and super-fun public park just outside the walls.  In addition to playground equipment and places for picnics, they had go-carts, inflatable slides, horse carriage rides, and trampolines.

Micah and Maya, running toward the trampolines




You'll enjoy this...here is Maya, getting go-cart revenge against Micah.  Back in Paris, in the shadow of the Louvre, Micah had plowed his bumper-car right into the side of Maya's, at full speed.  Vengeance is best served cold...

video


Riding cool pump bicycle contraptions at Giardini Margherita


Maya and Micah, waiting at the Bologna Station for the train to Modena...




6 comments:

Maribel Agullo said...

haven't had a chance to read through everything but loved your photography, great angles!

PS saw the link on Elizabeth's Air BnB post

Unknown said...

Once again, looking at pictures, I can definitely feel proud of my beautiful hometown.
Glad u and your family enjoyed your time here in Bologna!

james said...

Great post and pictures, i enjoyed so much, even if it's 2008 ago.

Matt Voges said...

My daughter 6th birthday was the first of January. I arranged a party into my own backyard with inflatable jumpers and an inflatable moonwalks. I tried to did my best to make this party awesome. I was success. Special thanks amazing jump party rental company.

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