Learning Italian: The Nightly News Edition

First off, languages are not my strong point. At least not foreign languages. I mean, I’ve made a career out of English, but perhaps all of my language proficiency went into that one language. I studied French for four years in high school and then thought I’d try something more exotic when I went to university. Bad idea. After failingbumbling my way through Russian and Latin (Latin didn’t have a spoken requirement), I eventually went back to French in order to fulfill my language requirements. Learning Italian was not really an option while I finished my undergrad degree, even though it would have come in handy with my Italian Renaissance art history studies.

Traumatized or just burnt out from my language learning issues — along with a lack of a clear idea what I wanted to do — I didn’t go on for a master’s degree and instead joined the work force. Teaching art history at a community college was a decent job, but it didn’t really pay the bills, so I ended up becoming an obituary writer for the local newspaper. That meant my mornings were free. I ended up using that convenient schedule to begin taking Italian 101 at one of the local universities.

After struggling with various languages, it may seem weird to want to start learning Italian. However, I knew that if I were ever to return to academia, at least in the art history field, I was going to need to know the language. Might as well give it a try when it didn’t really matter in terms of grades and scholarships. Perhaps that lack of pressure helped. Perhaps all those years of French helped. Perhaps I just had a good teacher and a textbook and lesson design that worked for me. The point is that I ended up doing quite well in that class and picked up a decent foundation in the language and actually enjoyed it.

Scheduling issues prevented me from taking Italian 102, but regular emails with an Italian pen pal helped me keep up with what I had learned. I also started listening to some Italian music, reading Italian newspapers, and sometimes watching TG1, one of the Italian nightly news programs, which occasionally showed up on one of the random cable channels late at night.

Oddly enough, it was when G and I got together that I stopped using Italian as often. Go figure. I heard it often enough from him, and we’d use it occasionally, but there was no concerted effort on my part to continue learning. Moving to the Netherlands didn’t help. I had a new language to bumble through.

learning italian in italiano bookSo, here I am. Now living in Italy and really wishing I’d kept up with my Italian studies. Still, I do understand more than I ever understood of Dutch, despite my best efforts. Right now I’m using my old textbook and Babbel to review and brush off the rust. In terms of the European language levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), I’m somewhere in the Bs, I think. I’m reviewing A2 level stuff right now and it’s pretty basic. I know I went much further than this in my studies. Still, the review does come in handy, because it’s easy to make mistakes, even when you know better. All that gender agreement! It feels more like a war of the sexes!

[I didn’t originally plan on that whole language backstory. This next bit is all I really was going to blog about. Obviously, I have language issues that need to be worked out.]

We don’t watch a lot of TV, but we watch L’eredità (a quiz show) sometimes, followed by a bit of TG1, the evening news that I used to watch many years ago. The news is hard to follow, particularly because of the speed of it all. There’s a lot to cover in 30 minutes, so catching much of it can be challenging. However, it wasn’t the speed that confused me recently.

In between each main news story, the anchor will introduce the next topic, as is typical. One thing I kept noticing each night — sometimes once, sometimes twice — was that the anchor would seem to say, “Grazie, grazie a Lei” right before the start of some of the segments. You see, it sounded like they were saying thank you in an odd, formal, but wrong way. It was particularly odd that it was only before some stories and not others. Why?! I kept meaning to ask about it, but didn’t want to interrupt and then would forget about it. Finally, though, I had a chance to ask.

G was confused at first and rightly so. Then it dawned on him what I was talking about. It turns out the anchor was introducing the name of the reporter covering the story: Grazia Graziadei. Because of course that’s her name. I think I can be excused for making such a mistake. It’s right up there with the footballer whose last name is Immobile. Ah, the joys and confusion of life in another language.

Well, that’s enough of my language travails for now. Time to get back to learning Italian. Grazie. Grazie a Lei for reading. 😉

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Spring in Bologna

spring in bologna via degli orefici

In honor of today being my mother’s birthday, as well as the first day of spring in Bologna and everywhere in the northern hemisphere, I thought I’d share this spring-inspired photo. I took it the other evening along Via degli Orefici, which is one of those charming little streets littered with shops and restaurants with cozy terraces for sitting outside and enjoying the spring-like weather we’ve been having for a while now.

Every time I’ve walked down the street in the past few weeks, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the beautiful blossoms on the trees. (Despite my mother’s best efforts, I am clueless about the names of most plants of any sort.) There aren’t a lot of trees in the city center, at least not in my general wandering area so far, so it was nice to see that bit of nature in the heart of the city. I love how the blossoms seem to almost glow, even in the evening light. They look like their own bit of light art and add to the convivial atmosphere of the street.

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Sunday in Piazza Maggiore (Wordless Wednesday)

Piazza Maggiore Bologna

Big Pope Is Watching You at Palazzo Comunale

No, I haven’t been rereading 1984, but it really can sometimes feel like the statue of the pope is watching you when you’re standing over by the grand entrance to the Palazzo d’Accursio, better known as Palazzo Comunale in the Piazza Maggiore.

palazzo comunale palazzo d'accursio bologna

Originally the home of Accursio, a law teacher at the Bologna University, over the years his home was joined with other buildings until in 1336, it became the residence of the Elders, the highest judiciary in the city and the seat of city government. In fact, it retained some of its function as the town hall until November 2008.

From my first visit to Bologna, the Palazzo Comunale and the statue over the door made an impression on me and was one of the buildings I remembered specifically. It turns out the building has undergone quite a few changes over the centuries, particularly in the first half of the 15th century. That was when the clock tower was added. It even had a wooden automata that included the Madonna and child and Magi, which remained until 1796.

palazzo comunale palazzo d'accursio bologna

The grand entrance portal was added in the mid 1500s by architect Galeazzo Alessi. In 1580, a statue of Pope Gregory XIII (January 1502 – 10 April 1585), sculpted by Alexander Menganti, was included. As well as being from Bologna and encouraging cultural patronage, Pope Gregory XIII is best known as the pope who commissioned the Gregorian calendar (named for him), which we still use today.

palazzo comunale bologna pope gregory xiii

The building may no longer be the town hall, but it does still fly the flags of Italy, the European Union, and Bologna. And yes, the Bologna flag with the red cross on the white background does look an awful lot like the English flag. The cross of St. George is a popular one in Italy.

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Day and Night at La Torre degli Asinelli

Here’s a quick post of two photos I took yesterday of Bologna’s famous torre degli Asinelli (Asinelli tower). We went for a tour yesterday of the renovation work being done on the Neptune Fountain — more about that in another post — but as it was later in the afternoon, I was able to get a daylight shot of the Asinelli tower. You can just make out the Garisenda, the shorter of the city’s two famous towers, to the left of the tall tower. The two towers have become symbols of the city. I was also able to get an evening shot of la torre degli Asinelli, sans its shorter cousin.

One of the great things about many of the major streets being closed to traffic on weekends is that you can literally stand in the middle of the street and take all sorts of photos! The daylight photo was taken further back, near another fountain we went to see. The evening shot — taken after we’d stopped for drinks after the tour — was taken much closer to the towers.

la torre degli asinelli bologna towers

la torre degli asinelli bologna towers

If you’re curious, Europe doesn’t do the whole Daylight Saving thing for another couple of weeks. As a result, I have no idea what the time difference is now with the East Coast of the US. However, I was able to get an evening shot of the Asinelli tower at just a few minutes after 7 p.m. last night. I suppose that will change in the coming weeks and months. In the Netherlands, it stays fairly light until at least 11 p.m. in the heart of the summer, so I’m curious to see how late it stays light here, a bit further south.

Birthday Dinner at Trattoria Serghei

My birthday was this week and that seemed as good an excuse as any to go to dinner at a traditional Bolognese restaurant. After all, la grassa is home to some of the best of Italian cuisine. I had bookmarked an article about some of the restaurants in Bologna that the blogger/professional foodie Curious Appetite had suggested, and G was busy doing his own research. In the end, we decided on Trattoria Serghei on Via Piella. I couldn’t be happier.

After a couple of pre-dinner drinks at Bella Vita near Piazza Maggiore, we took a leisurely walk to Trattoria Serghei and arrived just as they were opening the doors. We’d made a reservation, which I recommend as the restaurant is very small and has maybe 10 tables at best. The decor isn’t trendy, but it does feel a bit like a family dining room and that seems appropriate, as it is a family-run business.

trattoria serghei restaurants in bologna italy

trattoria serghei restaurants in bologna italy

[Speaking of which, despite the name, no, it’s not a Russian family. As I’ve mentioned before, Bologna has a history of communism, though far removed from Soviet communism and not as prevalent now. However, as a result, it’s not completely unheard of to find people with Russian first names or pro-worker ideological names. But anyway, back to the dinner …]

We had already looked at some of the menu options while deciding on which restaurant to try, so we had an idea of what we wanted to order. As we’d been walking over, we’d been debating whether to try the tortellini in brodo and the tagliatelle al ragú or whether to branch out and try something a little different for the first course. After all, those are two of the staples of Bolognese pasta dishes. Although tempted by quite a few other dishes, in the end, we did go with the classics, with G getting the tortellini while I got the tagliatelle. As it turned out, they were excellent choices.

trattoria serghei restaurants in bologna italy tagliatelle al ragu tortellini in brodo

My tagliatelle was much as G makes it — and his is excellent — but thanks to the quality of the ingredients, it was particularly tasty. Full of rich flavor! We’ve been noticing the difference in even the simplest of ingredients since moving here. Just about everything seems to have more flavor. It’s not just great recipes, it’s great ingredients that make many of Italy’s rather simple dishes taste so exceptional. It also means that things will never quite taste the same outside of Italy.

G’s tortellini were equally excellent. The broth had plenty of rich flavor without being overwhelming, and the tortellini were properly al dente and you could really taste the meat in the filling, despite the tiny size. The Bolognese take this dish seriously and G was suitably impressed.

The broth for the tortellini is made from a mix of cuts of meat, and those cuts of meat that have been boiled to make the broth are also eaten. They’re known as bollito misto and are typically served thinly sliced with a green sauce. G’s family does something similar for Christmas and that was the dish that we both wanted for our secondo or main dish. We were both set on that, despite some of the other great offerings. So when it came time to order it, you can imagine how disappointed we were when Serghei said they were out of it. They only make it a couple of times a week and it sells out quickly. *sigh*

Fortunately, they did have the stinco di maiale, essentially a pork shank. That had been my second choice anyway, so we both ended up ordering that. As we waited — though not for long — G was lamenting the lack of bollito misto. He was this close to wailing and gnashing of teeth! Before he started rending his garments, the stinco came and with the first bite, I was in heaven. So tender! So flavorful! Not at all dry. Perfection! My picture doesn’t do it justice, as I essentially got it from the wrong side, but by the end, I was wishing I could start gnawing on the bones to get any last little bits off and then lick the plate like my dog Charlie. I didn’t want to miss a single morsel or drop. As it is, the meat was so tender that it all came off pretty easily and I didn’t really miss anything.

trattoria serghei restaurants in bologna italy stinci di maiale pork shank

To go with dinner, we ordered a bottle of the Donati Teroldego Rotaliano, which is one of G’s favorites. His family has been buying from that maker for years and it went perfectly with all of our dishes.

trattoria serghei restaurants in bologna italy marco donati teroldego rotaliano

In the end, we decided to skip dessert, as we had a cake and some sparkling wine waiting for us at home, but the next time we go, we’ll try one of the desserts as well. We’ll also make sure they have the bollito misto and reserve two orders, just to be on the safe side. After all, if what we had is any indication, the bollito is sure to be fantstic.

If you’re visiting Bologna and want to try an authentic meal from the region, I highly recommend visiting Trattoria Serghei. It’s affordable, delicious, and the menu is in Italian and English (and at least some of the staff speaks English from what I heard).

And now I’m feeling really hungry …

Shopping at The Garage Bologna

Shopping at The Garage Bologna doesn’t mean buying a new car or car parts. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Yesterday, we went to The Garage, an urban market held at the Dynamo Velostazione. Dynamo is a pretty awesome place on its own, as you can rent and store bicycles or have them repaired and they also organize bike tours. Coming from the Netherlands, it feels natural and familiar. But really, Dynamo is so much more, as it regularly features music, exhibits, performances, has its own lounge area, bar, and free wifi, all in a setting that seems to combine classical with industrial. With bonus bicycles for decoration, of course.

Dynamo entranceThe Garage Bologna Dynamo urban market

The Garage Bologna Dynamo velostazione urban market The Garage Bologna Dynamo velostazione urban market

From what I’ve seen, it looks like yesterday’s edition of The Garage was a one-year celebration. They held the first edition there a year ago today. Inside the fabulous arches, you’ll find all sorts of items on offer, frequently made by the vendor, although there were also some interesting selections of postcards, books, and vintage clothing.

Of the self-made items, some of the pieces that caught my eye were the jewelry made from colored pencils (and their shavings!)  by IngeniumSoul S&V and the beautiful engraved jewelry from Lab.ab. In fact, I was so taken with Lab.ab’s work that I bought one of her rings. G ended up buying a quirky hat from another vendor. Oh, and I also bought an elephant postcard, because I have a thing for elephants these days. It turns out the elephant print was actually a Marimekko print. I should have known. I also seem to gravitate toward all sorts of Marimekko items.

Labab The Garage Bologna Dynamo urban market

After admiring everything on offer and chatting briefly with one of the Dynamo guys, we decided to enjoy the Sunday sunshine and got a couple of glasses of prosecco from the Velo Cíty Bar and sat outside, admiring some of la scalinata del Pincio (Pincio staircase) and the old walls of the Castelli di Galliera.

The Garage Bologna Dynamo urban market

The Garage Bologna Dynamo urban market prosecco flamingo

The Garage Bologna Dynamo urban market pincio

If you’re going to be visiting in early April and are looking for things to do in Bologna, check out the next edition of The Garage at the same location on Sunday, April 2. I suspect I’ll be back. That colored-pencil jewelry is calling my name.

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Foto Friday: Cin Cin

drinks aperitivo fabrik bologna

Yay! It’s Friday! Though as a freelance writer, that doesn’t really mean much to me. I’ll be working part of the weekend, though I’m hoping to make it to The Garage Urban Market on Sunday. But still, it is Friday and it’s hard not to feel a little celebratory.

The other week, we stopped at Fabrik for an aperitivo before dinner. They had a decent prosecco and gratis olives and nibbles that were a nice accompaniment, particularly the olives. We sat outside, but the inside looks pretty stylish yet comfortable, and G has already been back to meetup with a friend. It’s also a fun spot for dog watching, although I think most of Bologna is good for dog watching. Dogs of all sizes and breeds are regularly out with their owners for a passeggiata or on their way somewhere. Dog lovers that we are, we can’t help but admire every one we see.

I think tonight we’ll be enjoying our aperitivo at home with our own adorable cane and gatti, but whatever your plans, I hope you enjoy your evening and weekend.

fabrik bologna aperitivo drinks

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Mardi Gras(sa)

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all! Today I find myself thinking a bit about New Orleans and Italy, as well as the nicknames of Bologna: la dotta, la grassa, e la rossa. La dotta, meaning learned one, stems from Bologna being the home of the oldest Western university. La grassa, or the fat one, is thanks to the city’s famously delicious cuisine. La rossa, the red, typically refers to the red roof tiles that cover so much of the city, though the city’s sometimes communist tendencies have occasionally tied in to la rossa, as well.

Lessons Learned

It may have been decades *ahem* years since I last lived in New Orleans, but I will never not love that city. After all, it is often referred to as the most European of all the American cities. I lived there while I was a student at Tulane University, getting my degree in the history of art and trying to become a bit more dotta. It was there that I particularly fell in love with the Italian Renaissance and its architecture.

Italy and New Orleans are all tied up together in my mind in some ways. Such as running under the live oaks on the way to my Renaissance Architecture course to turn in my big paper on rustication that my professor ended up liking so much he asked for a copy. Squeeeeeee! That same professor lived and worked here in Bologna off and on over the years.

Fat Tuesday

I may not be Catholic, or even religious, but between studying so much Italian Renaissance art, as well as living in New Orleans and having a lot of Catholic friends over the years, I’ve learned some of the Catholic traditions, and such. One of which, is Carnevale. It’s not a big deal here in Bologna, the way it is in Venice or New Orleans, but there are still some traditions. In New Orleans, you’ve got King Cake to turn you grassa, because it’s everywhere and absolutely delicious. Here in Bologna, there’s another sweet treat during the season: sfrappole. Sfrappole are thin bits of fried dough coated in powdered sugar and they’re pretty addictive. It’s a common treat during the period leading up to Lent. You’ll find piles of it everywhere from local cafés to the grocery store. Not that it’s purely Italian or even from this region. There are variations found in multiple countries and numerous names even within each country.

mardi gras bologna

Seeing Red

When I get to la rossa, that’s when the comparisons fall apart. The colors I associate with New Orleans, particularly during this time of year, are yellow/gold, green, and purple. Though I suppose there are quite a few red eyes the next morning during the season from staying up late and partying. But for what it’s worth, while writing all of this nostalgic meandering, I have been looking out onto some of the red roofs of Bologna. They’re a nice pop of color on what it turning out to be a grey day.

But returning to la grassa for a moment … I thought about making some gumbo today, but I really like okra in my gumbo and I haven’t found any yet. Does anyone know if there are any shops that sell it here in Bologna? I found it in Utrecht, so I hold out some hope of finding it here. A girl can dream …

Finding the Bologna Flower Markets

flower market bologna italy quadrilatero

One of the things I loved about the Netherlands were the flower markets. As well as the big weekly one held every Saturday in Utrecht — in a beautiful setting — there were also always a few stalls set up every day along one of the major canals in the city. The funny thing was that the flower vendors by the canal had big booming voices and sometimes sounded more like the Italian street vendors I’ve seen on TV.  To be honest, a large man yelling in Dutch, even if it is about flowers, can be a bit intimidating! What wasn’t intimidating was the price of the flowers. You could get huge bouquets of tulips for just a few euros and the rest of the flowers and potted trees were equally affordable.

The other week, I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the Netherlands. While out with Charlie for his morning walk, we saw a few stalls/trucks set up at Piazza VIII Agosto. That’s not unusual, as there is a huge market held there every Friday and Saturday with row upon row of matching white tent stalls set up, filling the large square. However, this wasn’t a Friday or Saturday and the few trucks and displays weren’t of the usual clothing and household goods. They were flowers! I’d found a miniature flower market in Bologna!

bologna flower markets piazza viii agosto italy

Despite the smaller selection, there were still a variety of attractive flowers for planting or for simple decoration in a vase. There were even a few small potted trees. The prices didn’t look too bad, though maybe slightly more than in the Netherlands. They even had some tulips, though I didn’t see a price on those as Charlie and I got distracted when we met a lovely big dog and his friendly owner.

bologna flower markets piazza viii agosto italy

Perhaps it was part of the Mercato di Piazza San Francesco, which is where the usual plant and flower market is held on Tuesdays, though it looks like it transferred temporarily to Piazza VIII Agosto last year while some renovations are being done.

Flower Shop

Of course you don’t have to wait for a one-day market to buy flowers. There are plenty of regular flower shops within the city where you can buy flowers, arrangements, and even and laurel wreathes for your graduating student. After all, this is a university town!

If you want something in between your typical florist and the outdoor flower market, there’s always some lovely flower market to be found in one of the achingly picturesque streets in the Quadrilatero in the heart of the old city center. I think this one may be housed in a former goldsmiths guild. Look at all of those arches and vaulting!

flower markets bologna italy quadrilatero

flower markets bologna italy quadrilatero

Now that I know some spots to buy flowers, I really do need to remember to buy some flower vases. I wonder where I can find those?

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