Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9


Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9

Day 04

Running through Bologna is Piazza Malpighi, a major roadway named for hometown scholar Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694), the “father of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology and embryology.” Our host Cosimo had to finish mastering a song with his friend Tosco today (a song for an advertisement for which they’d already been paid), so while they were working in the early afternoon, Scott and I were let loose to explore downtown Bologna. We were dropped off at the corner of Piazza Malpighi and Piazza San Francesco, just in front of the thirteenth-century Basilica di San Francesco, the Due Torri (“Two Towers”) ever-hovering overhead.

Walking through the touristy district of Bologna near the base of the Two Towers, at the corner of Vicolo Ranocchi (“Frog Alley”) and Via degli Orefici (“Street of Goldsmiths”), Scott and I each had a slice of pizza and a beer at a café called Forno Quadrilatero (“Quadrilateral Oven”)

We next decided to try some mortadella (real bologna) at another café on Via degli Orefici called Loste. Here we had another round of beers, and the mortadella served two ways: first, cooked in and served with beans; next, sliced and stacked on pieces of bread.

It was about time to meet back at Cosimo’s apartment, so Scott and I tried to find our way back without getting lost. Just as we arrived at the correct building we saw Cosimo, Tosco, and another Giovanni (whose stage name is “Kappasaur”) laughing under the porticos. We all walked together for a few blocks till arriving at Via dell’Orso (“Bear Street”). Our companions were hungry, so Scott and I watched the trio eat American style fast food in a place called simply “Chicken Taste,” owned and operated by Asian subcontinentals.

After they finished their dinner, we walked about a block to the corner of Via dell’Indipendenza and Via dei Falegnami (“Street of Carpenters”) where we sat at an outdoor table and had a glass of red wine, possibly at Piadineria Wine Bar. We then headed home for the evening.


(more downtown Bologna)

Day 05

At brunch we were all too busy talking to each other to notice that the toast in the oven had started to burn. So after eating up and cleaning up and airing out Scott and Cosimo went to his music studio to work on a new track they later tentatively titled “Burnt Bread.” I worked on my novel while they composed.

Chiara’s car had been making a strange noise, and she wanted it diagnosed before our upcoming trip to Rome, so that afternoon we went beyond Bologna to the village/suburb of Calcara to see a Moroccan mechanic with whom they were acquainted. There we walked around for a few blocks in the suburb before the mechanic decided the noise was nothing important. As we were leaving, he asked Cosimo if I spoke French, perhaps because the straw hat I wore was banded with a tricolor of red, white, and blue.


(blooming succulents in Calcara)

From Calcara we returned to Bologna, drove past the Ducati factory, and made our way to what Cosimio and Chiara described as the best restaurant for Bolognese cuisine in Bologna, Nonna Rosa Trattoria. The four of us shared three courses. The first was a platter with a soft cheese (similar, but not as tart as sour cream), sliced mortadella, fried bread, and a cooked vegetable root similar to onions, leeks perhaps. Second course was tortellini; third was fried pork chops topped with prosciutto and cheese. Desert was torta di mele, an apple pastry served over mascarpone. We finished this off with coffee some lemoncello.

Arriving home around 12:00 a.m., Cosimo suggested visiting a nearby record store, just off Via Sante Vincenzi, that sometimes holds late night listening parties. Here at a place called Mint Sound we listened to records and were served a glass of complementary white wine. Evidently Mint Sound has only recently opened, and the store had made a marketing deal with a local winemaker to where the winemaker made a limited number of bottles with the record store’s logo printed on the label. These limited bottles were then served to guests at the listening parties.


(late night listening at Mint Sound)

Instead of white wine, Cosimo had coffee (because he was driving). The coffee must’ve been strong, because after leaving the record store Cosimo,  in a kind of manic euphoria, drove Scott and me around for another hour or so, through the hills surrounding Bologna, finding panoramic points from which we could see the entire city, sometimes up to three-hundred meters below. Atop one of the higher hills sits the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca (or “San Luca” for short), which was spectacularly lit at night (the moon was big and bright and crescent), and this special high spot can generally be seen from any point down below in Bologna. Or as Cosimo put it: “You know you’re home in Bologna when you can see San Luca.”

It was either very late or very early when we got home, took tea, and took to bed.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9″ here.)

Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9


Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9

After sleeping through the late morning we were served a large breakfast/brunch that started with buttered toast on whole-wheat bread, black olive jam, slices of cheese (cut from what looked like a two-pound block of parmigiana), and Italian flatbread (piadina). The butter went well on both breads; the jam too tasted great on the breads as well as simply smeared on slices of parmigiana. Sometimes we glazed our morsels with a thicker form of balsamic vinegar–a cream–that, upon contact with our food, congealed like liquid fudge drizzled on ice cream. The main course was spaghetti from Tosco’s mother’s homemade sauce.

We drank lots of espresso and were also offered sparkling water, fruit juice, milk. After the meal, we were given a glass of Cosimo’s grandmother’s homemade cherry wine. We also had some sips of amarezza (bitters, liqueurs) “to settle the coffee.”

After our stomachs had relaxed, Cosimo and Chiara guided Scott and me on a walking tour through the 900-year-old city of Bologna. One of the first things we saw was the Porta Galliera (city gate) where in medieval times folks would pass through to enter this once-walled city. Nearby were a group of book stalls and stacks under a large white tent. We browsed these wares for a while. I found some specimens from the mid-1800s that were a good price but nothing in English. Scott found some old comic books and bought them.

We strolled through Bologna southward down Via dell’Indipendenza (Independence Avenue) until we came to Finestra sui Canali which reveal the ruins of Bologna’s canal system. Between the 1200s and the 1600s these canals, fed by the River Po, were used for travel and commerce from Bologna to Venice.

Next we came upon some of Bologna’s most famous and recognizable landmarks, the Due Torri (Two Towers), and while plenty of visitors shuffled about the bases of these towers, the scene was nothing like the infestation of tourists one finds at the one in Pisa. Bologna’s towers were built in the 1100s, and, like Pisa, they lean.

We continued south for a few blocks until encountering Palazzo Re Enzo, built in 1244. Some of the acoustics beneath the covered archways and porticos of this palace made for whispering galleries. Here under the arches, before the days of texting, Renaissance lads and lasses used to flirt and court each other by whispering back and forth.


(whispering gallery at Palazzo Re Enzo)

On the east side of the Palazzo stands the Neptune fountain, a special place for Cosimo and Chiara because ’tis the spot in Bologna where they, our hosts, first met. Immediately to the south of the fountain spans the Piazza Maggiore, overlooked by the Basilica of San Petronio.

Our breakfast had been large, but by evening Scott and I needed a snack. So at a mini “food mall”––possibly a place called Eataly on Via Drapperie; right off Piazza Maggiore––Scott and I split a tuna steak sandwich over some pinot grigio.


(Piazza Maggiore at night)

We walked back to our host’s apartment, then, got in their car and drove around before finding the “right” gelato place. We must’ve driven for over an hour, because lots of places close early on Mondays. Soon enough Scott and I found ourselves in a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Cosimo and Chiara couldn’t decide where we should eat gelato: one saying, “No that place’s stuff is too soft, let’s go to so-in-so’s”; the other replying: “No, theirs is too hard––somewhere else.” Yet, like the porridge in the children’s tale, the gelato we ended up eating was “just right”––each of us trying three or four different flavors scooped, piled, and slathered atop petite cones. Specifically, I remember there being a lot of pistachio and strawberry cheesecake.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9″ here)

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9″ here)

Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9


Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9

After leaving Austin, Texas at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday, we arrived in Bologna, Italy around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Our host Cosimo was waiting to pick us up. He lives about ten minutes from the airport, so after a short drive we were at his apartment. There we met his girlfriend Chiara and had some late afternoon snacks (almonds and spicy chip-cracker things) along with coffee.

We went out later that night, probably around 8:00 or 9:00, to meet some of Cosimo’s friends: Tosco “The Tuscan” and Giovanni, “the Yugoslavian,” who isn’t really Yugoslavian. We met them at a café on the corner of Via del Partello and Via Paradiso, just across from the Tribunale per i minorenni di Bologna (the juvenile court of Bologna). The entire length of the street of Via del Partello appeared to be located in a bar district with lots of foot traffic. The cafe served pizza and craft beer.

Tosco and Giovanni were not impressed by either the beer or the pizza. And soon enough I spilled the first half of my second beer on the last slices of pizza; so we finished our grub and moved on.

Giovanni said something like: “Texas, eh? Tony Lama boots, right?” and I replied with something like: “Yeah, those are the Gucci of cowboy boots.”

We made our way down Via del Partello for a few blocks until its intersection with Via San Rocco. Here we entered a techno music club–combination record store called Quattro Quarti (Four-by-Four).

I tried ordering a beer at the club, but it was cash only and I had yet to exchange any dollars for euros. So I thanked the bartender but declined the drink, then, about five minutes later, the bartender enters the dance floor (where I was standing, not dancing), hands me a free beer. Cosimo says: “It’s probably because you’re a tourist.”

Later at that same club we were all given a glass of champagne by one of a group of folks celebrating someone’s birthday. We were also offered a spliff outside the club, and later walking home Cosimo noted that, in terms of the crowd and enthusiasm at club Quattro Quarti, tonight was exceptionally festive.

We got home around two or three in the morning, and began a pattern of ending each evening (or morning) in Italy with a cup of tea.


(club Quattro Quarti)


(Vinyl from Quattro Quarti; I don’t remember a suicide scene in “Rocky”)

 (Read “Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9″ here)