Bolzano: Cold and Grey, But Only in Its Weather

I woke up late Friday morning, around 11, because I had gone to bed a bit too late after talking to Courtney for a while, and honestly because I had been exhausted ever since London. I needed the sleep despite the amount of work I had to finish. I wandered out of my room to find Mario and Silvana in the kitchen and the breakfast of bread (fabulous dark peasant bread) and their homemade jams still on the table. It was exactly as it had been three and a half years ago when some of my clearest memories are sitting around that table trying to communicate my thoughts into Italian (I am significantly better at Italian now than I was then) but still loving every second of the homeyness of their kitchen. The bread and jams were just as resistible but this year, because it was winter instead of summer, I drank hot tea instead of their homemade menta (a sweet mint drink made from mint syrup). I ate and drank some tea before my brain came out of the fog of a long slumber. Silvana, who was in the kitchen making lunch (and here I was just beginning breakfast!), and I got to catch up on life as Betti and I had previously. She was proud of my decision to go to college instead of cooking school because she believed it was the right move for me, not because of a preconceived idea that cooking school would be beneath my “intelligence” but because she could understand from my explanation that I knew I had made the right choice. She asked about my studies and my friends. I told her about Courtney and updated her on family news. She told me stories about Michael as a baby in his one and only visit to Italy (Go again Mike. I’ll take you and be a translator). We laughed as I tried my best to imagine my Mom and Dad here with Michael, something I find a bit impossible. The only memory that I can “produce” is a representation of a picture I’ve seen with Michael in a backpack carried by my Dad with my Mom nearby on a beautiful green hill of Bolzano. Still, it’s an interesting scenario to consider.

Then Mario came back from one of his many “giri” (trips, walks or any number of things meaning to go around a place) despite his age. He and Silvana have lived in Bolzano for years and, at a time, were like mayors of the city. They knew everyone and everyone knew them. In fact, when Mario got home, he called up the local orchestra, which would be performing Wagner soon, to buy tickets for the show and to find a way to see the dress rehearsal. I had no idea that a person could watch rehearsals, but wrote it off as another difference between Italy and America. Later, however, I asked Silvana and she told me that no, only Mario could do that because well, he’s Mario. Mario is one of the happiest and upbeat people that I have ever met.  He chuckles after nearly everything he says and constantly tells stories of his life. After breakfast while I read for history and he read the opera which he would see the next day, he recounted to me his days in Milan and his love of opera. He would see shows all of the time and thoroughly loves opera. Bolzano, unfortunately, does not have an opera house, but that has not stopped Mario from finding ways to go see them in Florence, Milan or elsewhere. This man is so full of life because he so obviously loves life. I’ve never seen a person who finds such joy in the everyday occurrence of living. He truly appreciates the gift of life that has been bestowed upon him and will not let it go to waste. That is how I want to live, finding joy and pleasure even in the mundane instead of the pessimistic tendencies to which I gravitate. This family is amazing.

Half German/Half Italian architecture

After a marvelous lunch of minestra con cecci (chickpea soup with some pasta) and speck (a FANTASTIC cured ham similar to prosciutto) with even more wonderful conversation with Silvana and Mario who still bicker, flirt and love each other like youngsters, I left to take my own giro around the city. I had no direct intentions of going anywhere specific or seeing anything specific but I wanted the walk and wanted to see the city. The weather, though, was frigid and grey. It didn’t stop the city, however, from continuing to be stunning. I crossed over the river and saw the mountains, their peaks covered in clouds, in the not-so-distant distance. I entered the city and passed by a fabulous outdoor market that still sold vibrantly colored and delicious looking fruits and vegetables. Alongside the greens and fruits were meats, cheeses, wines, olive oil and any other delicious item one could desire. Why can’t ever American city have these!!!! I can never stop myself from imagining the glorious creations I could eat with a rich resource such as the Italian markets and farms. There is absolutely no denying that Italian products, including raw fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats, flat out taste better than their American counterparts. Not fair.

I walked through the city for a while admiring the beautiful buildings with their not quite Italian, not quite German feel. In fact, Bolzano is such a mix of cultures that people are naturally bilingual there. Signs are in German and Italian. The mix of cultures is quite something and explains the unique beauty of the actual city of Bolzano. It doesn’t feel like any other Italian city. It feels like Bolzano and I loved wandering its streets listening first to HiDefiniton and then to Lady Gaga. Walks are a fantastic time to think and introspect. Abroad these qualities are undeniably needed. There are constantly far too many thoughts, worries and joys swarming my head. I need these walks (generally after a meal) to clear my head and organize myself. They calm me and allow me to investigate my feelings and experiences in a way that can only come from designated, undistracted thinking time. The desire, and need, for such time is why I keep this blog. It’s why I write. I need the organization and stability that comes from unconditional “me” time where I’m able to dissect my complicated mind.
I made it home around 5 after losing myself a bit near their apartment. Luckily I have this iPhone, which somehow can know where I am even without service or Internet, because I was mapless. I was able to relax for a little bit and finish reading that damn history book before Betti arrived to pick me up for dinner a little after 6. The plan for the night was to head to the museums because it happened to be the only night of the year in Bolzano where the museums were free. Not only were they free, but they were open until one. I forget the name of the city-wide ‘event’, but it still was cool that I managed to come to Bolzano for this popular night.
After a delicious pizza dinner with Betti at which the waiter somehow guessed I was from Connecticut (seriously?), Betti, Joe and I walked to the downtown. I asked a bit about the history of Bolzano and found out that Silvana had lived here during the war. Her family escaped to the mountains for two years to remain safe but came back to the city every so often to make sure the house still survived, which I think it did. Bolzano was heavily bombed, however, and it’s still possible to come across undetonated bombs when reconstructing buildings. I cannot imagine escaping the threat of war and I continue to have problems connecting the devastation of WWII to reality because I grew up in an American generation far removed from both the temporal period of the war and from the actual destruction that occurred in the country. I did not grow up with constant reminders of the worst manmade calamity in history. The fear, worry and impossibility to live day by day normally in Europe for years escapes me. It’s hard for me to put myself into that time and into that situation. What would war feel like? Would Silvana sit in the mountains and feel safe or was she scared that bombs were exploding in the valley? How could life even pretend to go on normally during times of war? I’m glad I’ve never experienced it and I hope I never will, but the thought of that complete devastation of society escapes me.
The first museum at which we stopped was the archaeological museum of Bolzano which houses the Ice-Man. The Ice-Man was found frozen, mummified from the cold, in a mountain pass on the border of Austria and Italy. He lived during the Bronze Age (about 5,000, maybe more) years ago. He was found with a pretty complete (considering his age) collection of tools (including an axe), clothing, boots, weapons (including a bow and arrows) and other tools including a basket in which he would carry coals to start fires wherever he stopped for the night. The man was killed by being hit on the back of the head with something, but that mystery will never be solved. His discovery was incredibly important for scientists and archaeologists who have used his preserved things and body to come to learn much more of how peoples lived before civilization really took off. The museum is quite cool and very interesting. I learned a lot about early man even though we didn’t finish seeing everything in the place!

Bolzano's River

From there we walked down the road to the Bolzano modern art museum housed in a really cool glass building stuck between a house and an apartment complex that honestly reminded me of New Haven. This building (and the surrounding couple of buildings) could have been transplanted to Yale and nobody would have thought it too out of place. Maybe it was the lighting or the trees that gave me such an impression, who knows? We met one of Betti and Joe’s friends (his name escapes me and I feel terrible because I’m so bad with names) and then waited close to half an hour for their other friend, Mirco, to show. Apparently he’s habitually late so we gave him some time before finally deciding to go on without him and take a tour. The first exhibit, which everybody saw upon entrance to the museum, involved a bunch of suitcases strewn or standing across the floor with cut out animal pictures hanging off the luggage and three spaceman hanging from the ceiling. Joe, his friend and I laughed because we could understand nothing about it. A quick question, can something be considered art if it requires an explanation to be understood, let alone appreciated in ascetic value?

The Cousins and Mirco

Our tour guide, speaking in Italian of course, led us to the fourth story of the building for an exhibit by some German artist (again her name escapes me and I hate how terrible I am with names) who spent most of the 70’s in New York. I’m fairly sure she actually still lives and works there. Well, what do I see when we get to the fourth floor? “Pillars” made of plywood and painted strange colors with random tapes and artistic papers attached. Some had reflective qualities and behind the pillars, on the wall, where three “mirrors” which distorted reality. Our tour guide asked if anyone knew what this represented. Somebody answered a city (it might have been Betti or Joe) and in fact he/she was correct; we were looking at this artist’s representation of New York city and what it meant to her. Each pillar represented a particular person in her life and how that person affected her. Therefore no one, except the artist, could fully appreciate it. The mirrors were meant to show how in a city it becomes hard to recognize oneself and the varying degrees of distortion were meant to show the swing of emotions that comes with living in one of the biggest cities in the world where I guess one could feel lost among the sea of people. I admit, I laughed a bit, and turned to our friend and told him that I didn’t remember New York city looked like that! We had good fun poking at this modern spectacle, but I respect the fact that it is an introspective work meant for the artist.

Museum of Modern Art

Our tour guide took us around and showed us some of the artists other works including what looked like (and were) blocks of cement. There were also 9/11 “memorials” and some long blue stick along the ground not to mention the tribute to Michael Jackson. Regardless of how dumb all of this sounds I found the tour quite interesting. Our guide was great and lively. It was a lot of fun to be involved in the conversation, even though I only made comments to the people around me even explaining the 9/11 memorial to Italians. And, in fact, once a guide talks to you about the meaning of the piece and invites you to understand it modern art can be quite interesting! I loved the tour and had a blast learning about the art around me (she wasn’t as good as Rocky in Florence, but that would be impossible). After we finished the tour of this artist we were released to look at the rest of the collection. There was an entire room, crowded with paintings. Some of them were fantastic and intriguing while others left much to be desired. But that’s the way with all art. It can’t all be good! I left with a new found sense of appreciation for modern art, something at which I have chided my entire life. I never did find out what the spacemen and luggage mean…
Once we had finished we saw Mirco in the lobby. At that point it was close to 11:30, I think, so we decided we had had enough of museums and chose, instead to go to a bar. We had a lot of fun talking, of course, about American life versus Italian life, about the completely different university systems, about sports and just talking. I can follow conversations in Italian much better than I could a month ago, most noticeably when I’m not directly involved in a conversation. Still, when I get tired my Italian suffers and by the end of the bar my brain was finished. We went home and to bed in anticipation of our big day in the morning.

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