Sunset Glow over Piazza Maggiore

If you come to Bologna, you’re going to end up spending time in and around Piazza Maggiore. As the name implies, it is a major square in the heart of Bologna. Day or night, it’s a fun and attractive place to be. There’s always plenty of people and dog watching to enjoy, and there are even cafés with tables set outside to enjoy the good weather. Charlie and I lingered over a coffee there one Sunday morning, sitting back and enjoying the variety of people passing by, from far-off tourists to local umarells (I’m sure they have opinions on the Neptune being restored).

While we were there one evening as dusk was approaching, I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the glow ignited by the setting sun on parts of the surrounding buildings. At first, there’s the glow on the dome of the Santa Maria della Vita rising up over the Palazzo dei Banchi and the Pavaglione portico that runs along the front.

To the right is the Basilica di San Petronio, a beautiful church with an interesting and entertaining history. The sun hitting the top portion that runs along the nave, turning it a vivid orange, was particularly spectacular in person.

Even on the left, the Palazzo del Podestà catches some of the light on its tower, but adds its own small light show in the evenings. Behind me, as I took all of these pictures was the Palazzo d’Accursio, which I’ve written about previously.

Museums, tourism offices, open markets, nice shops, great views, and even a whispering groin vault are some of the many sights to take in among these buildings … and so much more. Visitor or local alike, it’s hard not to be taken in by all that Piazza Maggiore offers.

Santa Maria della Vita Dome
piazza maggiore palazzo dei banchi

Basilica di San Petronio
piazza maggiore bologna

Piazza Maggiore
piazza maggiore bologna

Where the malcontent and the hyperpolyglot meet

italian language via malcontenti bologna

I recently watched a whole night of Italian language TV and felt pretty good that I’d followed more than enough of it to know what was going on. While I might not have understood word for word, I wasn’t struggling and really having to listen intently to it all.

My Dutch never got to that level, though I can read Dutch better than I can understand it being spoken. And I can’t speak either language all that easily at the moment. I get tongue tied and stumble and come out with endings and conjugations that I know are wrong as soon as they come out of my mouth. I also find myself speaking a hybrid of Dutch and Italian sometimes, especially when chatting to my dog, Charlie. He’s Dutch, after all, and knows his commands in Dutch, so I’m obliged to still speak some Dutch.

All of this is my way of saying that while I’m making some headway again with the Italian language, I will never be a strong polyglot. I definitely won’t be a hyperpolyglot like Giuseppe Mezzofanti.

A Way With Words

Mezzofanti (1774 – 1849) was born here in Bologna to a family of humble origins. He became a cardinal, but was perhaps best known for being a hyperpolyglot, in that he was said to have spoken around 38 languages fluently and had a basic knowledge of dozens more.

In 1797, he became a professor of Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and Asian languages at the University of Bologna, and in 1803 he was appointed assistant librarian of the Institute of Bologna. Not bad for a carpenter’s son.

Misfits and Malcontents

It does seem that there is some disagreement nowadays that Mezzofanti would have truly been fluent in so many languages. There is talk that the requirements were primarily in reading and writing, and that his ability and need to speak was typically limited to basic chit chat. No matter what the actual story may be, he seems to have been truly gifted when it came to languages. I remember only a little from the five and a half years of French I studied at school — though it has helped me some with Italian — and my attempts at learning Russian were a complete disaster. Even if Mezzofanti could only hold the most basic of conversations in 38 languages, I’m still impressed!

So how did I learn about this linguistic dynamo? I was wandering around town and found myself on Via Malcontenti. I’m easily amused and I couldn’t help but wonder about the malcontents that gave the street its name. In pausing to photograph the street name I happened to spot a memorial plaque, though I couldn’t really read it clearly at the time. Thank goodness for zoom lenses!

italian language via malcontenti bologna

With a bit of zooming and Googling, I learned about Giuseppe Mezzofanti and the fact that he was born and raised there on Via Malcontenti. There’s more to his story, including becoming the Custodian-in-Chief at the Vatican Library. You should check out this site if you’d like to learn more.

It’s amazing the bits of history you can stumble across, just by taking a few extra photos while wandering around a city. Even if you don’t understand the Italian language — or the language of whatever country you’re in — take a few extra zoom shots of these kinds of markers and then go back and get what you can from Google and Google Translate (or your search/translator of preference). Sometimes they’re older plaques like this and sometimes they’re modern ones with more information. Either way, it’s a fun way to expand your knowledge. I’m sure Mezzofanti would approve of that.

italian language via malcontenti bologna

italian language via malcontenti bologna

But is it art?

A question for the ages. What is art? Sure, there are fairly obvious answers — Michelangelo’s David, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Masaccio’s Tribute Money, etc. Yet when it comes to modern art, things are a little less set in stone … or oil paints, or plaster, for that matter. Graffiti is one of those areas that divides people, and even for those like myself who do think of it as art, there are often debates as to what counts and what doesn’t. I like street art, but I don’t like random squiggles that are little more than a spray-painted signature. Or maybe I just don’t like the randomness of much of it. See? Even I can’t make up my mind completely as to what is art.

As I’ve said before, Bologna is full of what I consider street art and what I also consider to be just ugly squirts of paint. Some is purely words, but poetry is art, and if those words make you think, then should they not also be considered art? So, here are a few more bits and bobs I’ve spotted around town. You can make up your own mind whether they’re art.

bologna street art is it art what is art

bologna street art is it art what is art

bologna street art is it art what is art

bologna street art is it art what is art

In this case, which is “better” art? The photo with the man or without the man? I like both, so you get both. More chances to think about whether the revolution will happen.

bologna street art is it art what is art

bologna street art is it art what is art

 

Sunny Italian Scenery for a Cloudy Day

When people think of Italy, they often picture sun-drenched scenery. That’s certainly been true for Bologna for much of this year. There’s been a distinct lack of rain, which has its pros and cons. Sometimes, that constant sunshine can be overwhelming and relentless. There are days when you just need a bit of grey to snuggle into. But when the sunshine starts to get to me, I try to focus on the glory of the colors of Bologna. One look at those red roof tiles and those charmingly colored streets and it’s hard not to appreciate this beautiful Italian scenery.

However, this week the weather has been decidedly more Dutch, with looming clouds and occasional bouts of much-needed rain. Monday was a national holiday, a day when lots of people were dusting off their grills and gathering with friends for a day of fun in the sun. There was plenty of sun, but there was also a midday shower to keep things interesting. The weather all week has kept us on our toes as we’ve tried to decide if it’s safe to grill. Will it rain just as we’re ready to start? Can we get the fire going before the rain gets too heavy? In a pinch, can we do the same meal on the stove?

We’re going to take our chances today and try to grill, despite the clouds and rain that have hovered over us most of the day. I do say most, because as soon as I started to write this post, the sun came out and the sky is looking like the blue of the Italian national team jerseys. Will it hold? Fingers crossed! In the meantime, I hope you’re happy with whatever the weather is like where you are. And if you’re dreaming of sun-drenched Italian scenery, here are a few colorful streets and buildings to brighten your day.

Italian scenery bologna colors

Italian scenery bologna colors

Italian scenery bologna colors

Italian scenery bologna colors

Italian scenery bologna colors

Italian scenery bologna colors

Italian scenery bologna colors

Photographing Bologna, Then and Now

The first time I came to Bologna was December 2001. It was my third trip to Italy, but my first to Bologna. But yeah, 2001. It’s been a while since that first visit. Today I ended up looking through some of my old photos from that visit. Photographing Bologna was fun then and it’s still fun now, though a drastically different experience in some way. That first trip was so long ago that I was still using film, and not in a fancy way. I mean in a standard point-and-shoot kind of way. I think we got our first digital camera the next year.

Anyway, being film, and being winter and low light, it means I had a lot of blurry photos. A lot. I didn’t have the knowledge or full control to do a better job, though I’ve learned a lot more over the years. Plus, it really does come in handy with digital cameras to be able to see the shot you made and know if you need to redo it. I doubt I had any idea of just how blurry so many of those photos were when I took them. Still, I like to think of some of those photos as “Impressionistic”. They have their own charm.

In looking through the photos, it was fun being able to recognize some of the places and have new memories to go with them, not to mention better pictures (sometimes). It was also a good reminder of places I need to still revisit. Some photos I have no idea where they were taken, but that’s not a surprise, as I’m still getting vaguely lost on a regular basis. I try to head in a basic direction and have a few landmarks to help me orient myself. The rest is just fun wandering, even if it does take me longer to get to places than it probably should.

Some Things Never Change

Not all of the photos I took in 2001 are of specific places, just streets and colors that I found attractive. The same things that I loved about photographing Bologna then are things I still love. In fact, there was at least one spot that I photographed just for the colors back in 2001 that I know I photographed for the same reason this year. It was fun to see that particularly blurry photo and still be able to recognize the spot, even if I don’t actually know where it is or how to get there again.

As I said, I don’t know exactly where this spot is, but in 2001 I loved the variety of colors that included orange, purple, green, and gray, along with a few fun architectural details. Those same colors are still there. Even some of the shutters are still closed! It would be hard to tell that nearly 16 years have passed between photos. (Also, do you know how hard it is to take a photo of a blurry photo, since I don’t have a scanner? The photo of the photo may actually be even blurrier than the original!)

Somewhere in Bologna, December 2001.

photographing bologna colors

The same somewhere in Bologna, February 2017. Trust me.

photographing bolona colors

By the way, if you’re into that kind of thing, you can follow my blog with Bloglovin

Olé!

bologna street art

Another Flamingo in Bologna?

While Charlie and I were out walking this afternoon, he was sightseeing with his nose, and I was sightseeing with my eyes. Both of us had plenty to enjoy. As we were walking along Via Mascarella, I was admiring some of the artwork that adorns the grates that cover the restaurant and shop entrances when they’re closed. Some of those may be a post for tomorrow, along with a few others I’ve snapped recently. Then we got to a spot not far from Cinema Odeon and I may have let out a started, “Oh!” I’ve been known to do that quite loudly when coming across something unexpected but lovely. In this case, it was a flamingo! Well, a painted flamingo, but a  Bologna flamingo nonetheless! Obviously, I couldn’t resist snapping a few shots. And Charlie had to get in on the action, as well.

bologna flamingo moustache

It turns out that Moustache is a bar/restaurant that’s been open since around 2011. It seems to get solid reviews from both locals and tourists, so I might just have to give it a try soon! Their cocktails seems to be pretty popular, while the food is simple, genuine Italian dishes, I think particularly from Emilia. It all sounds good to me! Have you been to Moustache? What did you think?

Italian Architectural Styles and a Moment of Zen

Charlie and I went on a fairly short walk this morning, as we’d gotten up late and I had work still to finish. But even on a short walk, you can easily be amazed by all of the architectural styles and colors to be seen in Bologna. Even at one intersection, you can find art deco on one side and medieval/Moorish on the other. Walk a little further down the street and you’ll find a church that almost looks Mission style, but with a bell tower that reminds me of Venice. Add in a few balconies and all of the beautiful colors that Bologna architectural styles are known for using and you can’t help but end up with a smile on your face.

classic italian architectural styles bologna

italian architectural styles bologna deco medieval italian architectural styles bologna art deco

italian architectural styles bologna art deco

italian architectural styles bologna mission

italian architectural styles bologna mission venetian

 

And now your Charlie moment of Zen …

Charlie moment of zen dog wall art

Where to Buy Books in Bologna: Market Edition

Even in this age of ebooks, any bibliophile expat is going to be on the hunt for places to buy real books. Whether it’s a big-box store or a seasonal book market, that need to find out where to buy books is strong. My Utrecht blog had a couple of posts about places to buy books in Utrecht and those remain some of my most popular posts to this day.

While ebooks make it easier for people to find books in their language of choice when that’s not the local language, physical books are always nice to return to. There’s something comforting about buying a physical book that you can easily flip through, make notes in the margins, and add to your bookshelves, not to mention give a good sniff. In my various moves, the one thing that has made up the bulk of my moving boxes is my book collection.  We currently have a wall of bookshelves and not much free space left. And I left a LOT of books behind with each move. That’s one of the things I always regret once I’m settled.

Of course, if you’re learning the language of your new home, books are a great aid, not just the textbooks. Children’s books are a surprisingly fun way of practicing and as you advance in your linguistic learning, you can move up in the book age brackets. If you’re like me and enjoy art history, you may find yourself adding books in the new language to your library, such as my book on Italian palazzi, written in Dutch. That was more aspirational than actually at my language level, but I figured it was a fun way to learn some of the architectural terms in Dutch. In past visits to Italy, I’ve picked up books and pamphlets in Italian when visiting various museums.

where to buy books Bologna Book Market Fiera del Libro

There are big chain bookstores here in Bologna, including one of the big ones near the two towers, but I also like finding smaller bookstores and market stalls. While out with Charlie the other day, I came across a Bologna book market that made me very happy. After a bit of research online, I discovered that it’s the Fiera del Libro, which is held seasonally twice a year in the Piazza XX Settembre (over by the bus and train stations). Set up under a tent, this 120-square-meter market sells books, prints, posters, comics, and more, both new and used.

The current spring edition started in March and ends May 1, so I need to go back soon with some cash in hand. When I stopped by the other day, I only had keys and dog biscuits filling my pockets. However, during my quick tour through it, I noticed at least one section selling books in English, with an option of one book for €5 or three books for €10.

The Bologna book market returns again in October and runs through late November. Best of all,  it runs daily, from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. I love leisurely working my way through stacks and shelves of books, almost as much as I love reading books. I could easily spend a whole morning working my way through the whole market. I can’t wait!

where to buy books Bologna Book Market Fiera del Libro

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A Snapshot of Bologna

bologna italy street photography

This is not the best photo I’ve ever taken — Charlie had had enough of standing around waiting for me to take yet another photo — but there’s something about it that really appeals to me. I love the moment-in-time aspect of it all. It really does feel like a snapshot of life in Bologna, behind the scenes of any touristy bits, even though it is smack in the middle of the Quadrilatero, if I remember correctly. The restaurant cook on the phone, perhaps placing a last-minute order. The woman cycling past that reminds me of Utrecht. The young couple perhaps making plans, and the older couple on their way somewhere, as the sun highlights the glorious colors of Bologna, while leaving other parts in cooler shadows.

All of this is just one more reason to love Bologna.

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