ADVENTURES IN BOLOGNA – Chatting my way through Italy

It’s the people. I forgot all about the people. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe, having breakfast, a beggar approaches. He is tall and burly, probably in his 40’s and says he needs help, could I buy him a panino? I wave him away but the older ladies at the table next to me offer him some change. One of them looks at me, prim and proper in her linen dress, perfectly coiffed and says “I know him. He is worthy of our charity”.

Alright then. I call him back “If the lady knows you…” and I shell out a euro. A conversation ensues with the lady in linen and her friend who feel compelled to tell me all about the beggar they have known for decades and another coterie  they “patronize”. The two friends argue about a woman who plays the accordion and who, apparently, squander the money she begs for on packs of cigarettes. A philosophical debate gets under way on whether we should have any input on how the money we give to beggars is spent.

At the same time, a tiny dog on a pink leash wanders under my legs while her owner is chomping tiny doughnuts oozing pastry cream. We get chatting about the dog’s mongrel breed as he apologizes profusely about the intrusion. He politely bids me arrivederci when he leaves.

In the candle store that displays a wide array of wax made cakes, cupcakes, cannoli and cassata that look more yummy than the real thing, the young girl who helps me with the Sicilian lavender soap tells me she recently bought the store and she has never been happier. She used to work for a bank and has now realized her dream – her enthusiasm is beyond contagious.

And what about the volunteer at the small Pepoli museum who shadows me and regales me with stories about the building restoration process and the minor painters whose works adorn the walls? Or the greengrocer who ducks back into his store, right after closing time, to sell me the lemons I forgot for the fish that is cooking upstairs?

Italians like to talk. And they like to make friends. They will commiserate at the bus stop or in line at the post office, they will share personal details at the drop of a hat and will be quick to introduce you to other people – in Italy, one is never alone for long. All those movie clichés are actually true. Anywhere in the world, meeting one Italian will beget three more and so on in an endless chain which results in a few very close friends and a myriad of acquaintances.

While I climb the stairs to my apartment, a frail, white-haired lady approaches the elevator. I tell her the light inside has gone off, but not to worry, the elevator does work. While pondering her choices and then informing me that she will rather walk the three flights up, she also manages to tell me she lives alone and doesn’t want to get stuck in a dark elevator. The whole exchange lasted less than 30 seconds. I could have said nothing or she could have just said  “thank you”. But we are Italians. We like to elaborate…

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