So in what appears to be an annual event, I distract myself from the bitterness of another festive season on my own by opting for a few days in Italy. Not Venice this time, nor any of the other Italian favourites I’ve visited over the years, but to the city of Bologna about which I knew very little before visiting.
What I did know was the history of terrorist terrorist atrocities carried out by mysterious networks during the “lead years” when fascists and communists fought each other’s ideologies, and also that it’s famous for its food culture and the world’s first university. These latter facts form the central elements to the Michael Dibdin novel set in the city from which I’ve bastardised my title in which Aurelio Zen is almost an incidental figure to the tussle between an academic who is thinly veiled reference to Umberto Eco, and a TV chef whose PR machine is much greater than his actual talent. You can take your pick for the inspiration there.
Dibdin clearly didn’t take this novel to seriously (even sending up his own leading character when the academic discusses writing a novel featuring a nosy French detective called Nez) and the city is not painted in the same detail as Venice in Dead Lagoon, so I arrived relatively ignorant, spending three days walking around mostly within the bounds of the original medieval walls.
What I found was the radical politics expected of a student city, a few very exclusive shopping streets, plenty of food and drink, history, science, art, jazz… and canals! This is no Venezia, but hidden below the streets is a network of rivers and canals that have been mostly build over. My own hotel took its name from this fact and made me welcome by providing a picture of Rialto in my room.
So join me in exploring Bologna in a few more Italian posts.