I go down to breakfast early. The hotel staff person, who resembles in every way a Sicilian grandmother greets me and asks if I want my cappuccino. Yes, yes, thank you. I am in a hurry. At 7:30, I will be taking a cab to the airport.
You were here with your daughter yesterday? She smiles.
Yes, but she’s not here today. She had to catch a flight before dawn.
The Sicilian grandmother (maybe) frowns. She’s alright? Nothing happened?
I nod. She’s alright. She just needed to get back before me.
My daughter -- my guide, my cheerful friend.
Last night after dinner, she (the poor student) reaches quickly for her credit card and pushes it at the waiter. No, take mine! -- I’m waving mine as well. He looks at both of us and takes mine. Let your mother pay – he says with a smile. In those four words, he shows his understanding of family. This is how it works. Kids grow up, but mothers will always want to make sure they’re eating well.
At the airport, I look at the screen. About a third of the outbound flights are canceled. I panic. Why are they cancelled? Did my girl take off okay? She, of course, would laugh at my worries. She has dealt with travel issues on all continents of this planet. Mostly without me to guide her through them. But she has a tight connection! I ask an attendant what's happening. Seems that Bologna ground airport staff are on strike. Of course. I cannot remember being in Italy when some branch of the transportation industry was not on strike. And the early flight to Paris, did it take off? I ask. Yes, yes. Don’t worry.
What are they talking about? To be a parent and not to worry? Has anyone figured out how to do that? (Has she landed In Paris yet? Did she make her connection? And what about my older girl – how will her morning proceed? What will she be eating for dinner tonight?)
Monday, our last day in Italy, starts slowly. We stroll up the wide boulevard in search of lunch. Prosciutto and melon, prosciutto and cheese – the combinations are predictable. Will I manage to go back to a lunch-free existence after days of sweet melon and thinly sliced Italian hams?
I look up at the tall trees shading the terrace of the café. Chestnuts. A full canopy of chestnuts.
I don’t know a city that isn’t improved by the presence of chestnuts. But wait, does Bologna even need improvement?
Her squares are gorgeous (if empty now, as in the heat of the midday sun people keep to the shaded loggias).
And the colors! Yes, the red, and the marigold yellow, and Sicilian orange.
Nor can Bologna’s foods be improved upon. Indeed, I doubt that the stores selling her foods can be any better.
And maybe it’s the heat that slows things down here, to a calm and friendly pace, but somehow I don’t think so. I think it’s just that people like each other. And they have a lot to say. And they like a good espresso. It’s a stellar combination.
So we walk the lovely streets and we look inside stores and we study the faces of the old churches.
And we very carefully pick our ice cream place because it is going to be our last gelato and it better be a good gelato since we have such fond memories of Rome’s gelato!
Oh, it is good. More than good. Over the top great. A new “best”! (La Sorbetteria Castigliana)
I order three scoops. The flavors are intense and very Italian: ricotta and figs and honey, pine and walnuts, lemon and cream.
We’re intrigued by a fairly popular variation on the cone. I ask someone – what are you eating? What is that? He laughs and his girlfriend answers for him: la foccacia!
Italians take such pleasure in their ice cream. Like an espresso, it is quick and dirty. On the run. You pause, you buy, you eat and you continue walking. We do the same.
Up one street, down the next, weaving in and out of loggias, entering shops, glancing at racks, leaving again. Grazie, arrivederci. Damn, this country has style!
And now we are at the towers again. I keep thinking – grassa, rossa, towers, tortellini, tagliatelle, tits… It’s all here – the loggias, the monuments, the tits on the monuments…
Evening. The waiter asks if he can pour the Prosecco. He picks the dinner wine for us, but foodwise, we know what we want – the thin ham, yes, that, and the meats – with mushrooms, with balsamic, yes, we’ll have all that, sure, but really what we are most in need of right now is a big bowlful of tagliatelle bolonese.
The final and most satisfying comfort food that Italy can offer us. Take this memory with you, take it and bring it into focus on the February night in Wisconsin or Boston, when the temperatures will be 100 degrees colder than here, on this day.
The dish is perfect, absolutely perfect.
As is our trip here.
As is our late night walk home.