October 10-20, 2016: When I Realized I Don’t Like My Classes

So I have now come to the realization that I dislike all my classes this semester. I picked wrong and was required to take boring introductory classes. But that’s not to say that I don’t like studying in Bologna. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my activities outside of class.

I’ve been craving Chinese food. Non-Italian food is pretty rare in Italy, much less good non-Italian food. I tried Wok Around, an Asian counter-service place whose menu is a combination of Italian, Chinese and English. It’s funny seeing Chinese with Italianized spellings. The food was actually not bad, and it’s decently cheap and close to my apartment. I also have an Asian supermarket on my street, run by a Vietnamese family. The first time I went I didn’t see it, but my second visit I found the elusive oyster sauce, my savior and preferred flavored. I also bought some gyoza dumplings, to remind me of Japan. I was really desperate, paid almost 7 euros for a bag. I guess I won’t do that anymore. I’ll have to find a cheaper brand.

Being at Hopkins in Bologna, I haven’t really had to expand far outside our Hopkins bubble, much like being at Homewood. We are a self contained community within but separate from the city. But I did make a non-Hopkins friend, introduced to me by Monica, who I worked with over the summer in Japan. She put me in touch with her friend, Roxana from Brown who is also studying in Bologna this semester. We met for aperitivo  and hit it off. We must’ve spent three hours there, time just flew by. She takes her classes in Italian, so I think she just appreciated having someone to speak to in English. We were at Le Stanze, which is a cool restaurant that used to be a private chapel. It still has frescoes on the high ceilings.

I’ve been working at the CCSDD doing research, and by at I mean from the comfort of my room. I don’t actually have to go into the office. But I went to the office one day so I know where it is. It is one street over from school in a building that also hosts some sporting club. I thought it was a gym and couldn’t possibly be the office, but it’s just the offices of the sporting club, not an actual gym.

I also attended a lot of talks hosted at SAIS on Monday and Thursday evenings. In the first half of the semester, I was going to at least one per week. And then later on, I got lazy or the talks got more boring. They’re really hit or miss. Some of them are interesting, some of them aren’t and some of them have big names that can’t speak or interesting topics made boring by a bad speaker. There’s lots of talk on the Brexit, and those are usually pretty good. One speech was by the mayor of Bologna, who speaks no English. His speech was in Italian with an interpreter. But you had to get a headset to get the translation. Brave me, I tried to understand the Italian and I got some of it here and there. But I wasn’t really paying close enough attention. I do know that he is a communist, as might be expected in Bologna. And he defended communism. Another speaker was from the University of Minnesota, an expert on Tajikistan. Normally, I probably wouldn’t have attended the talk, but it was hosted by the CCSDD, so I attended and went to dinner with my boss and the speaker and Professor Gilbert afterwards. It was quite intimidating. I felt like I wasn’t really smart enough to give an opinion among intellectual professors. And they were all pretty conservative. So I was not really prepared to defend my liberal opinions to them. My boss did correctly predict a Trump presidency, unfortunately. I had three courses at Leonida, which was apparently frequented by intellectuals like Umberto Eco. I had a divine orange chocolate mousse.

We also had our first bad day. It rained all day on Friday. It was just pouring non-stop, but I guess that was the first real rain we had since I arrived back in August. You can actually mostly walk under porticoes. So it’s really awkward. You walk under the covering and don’t need the umbrella, but then you need it when you cross the street to the next portico. So instead of opening and closing it each time, you sort of hold the umbrella off to the side while you’re under the portico.

The Hopkins Board of Trustees had their annual meeting in Bologna this year. So the Deans and President Daniels all came to Bologna with the big shot trustees. I was invited to the reception, as the representative for International Law. All the student coordinators, Student Government, and then one representative per country was invited. They have this weird obsession with their country diversity here. It didn’t even occur to me to dress up for this event. And it was raining so I didn’t feel like going back home. So I just went as I was. They brought out the good food and wine for the trustees. They had the good ham, not the lower end prosciutto we normally have. I talked to one of the trustees’s guests, who was a Peabody donor. And I talked to Dean Wendland who I had met a couple of times in Baltimore. The Europeans were a little shy when it came to networking. I am not good at networking, but according to them, Americans network more easily and naturally. Go figure. when the trustees left for dinner, we were left with the food.

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I try to occupy all my weekends in this easy semester to go travel and do things in Bologna. The hardest part is planning ahead, because there are so many weekends and so much to do. One Sunday, I went with Roxanna to the Modern Art museum MAMBo, which is hosting the David Bowie exhibit traveling from the Victoria & Albert Museum. We should’ve made a reservation, because the line went down the block and moved very very slowly. But I had already set aside Sunday for this exhibit, so we waited…for three hours! It was a great exhibit, but not three hours good. We were in line longer than in the exhibit. And when you get inside, you get on another line, which is just inexplicable. I don’t understand how they could be so inefficient. You walk around the exhibit with a Sennheiser headset blasting David Bowie tunes as you see costumes and manuscripts and objects from his life. The exhibit is actually really well done. They’ve been advertising all over the city. The headset senses where you are in the exhibit and changes the track, though it didn’t always work perfectly. The last room recreated his concert experience, with lights covering all four walls along with costumes behind the walls and projections from his concerts in 360. It was really cool. I sat in there for 20 minutes.

Afterwards, I ventured for the first time far beyond the wall. We went to the other side of the train tracks to go to this park where they were having a finger food festival, which was sort of like a fair-meaning lots of friend things. They had live music, which was not very good. And they had lots of food stands, which were good. It was my first time really immersing myself, because everyone there was local.

It also got really cold much earlier than we were all expecting. They don’t turn on the heat until October 15, so we all suffered for a couple weeks. I took out my comforter and took out a thicker jacket. The Italians wore their bubbly jackets even in September when it wasn’t really warranted yet, but it’s the style. Except North Face sort of pegs me as an American. I was supremely thankful when were able to finally turn on the heat.

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The courtyard outside my ground-floor apartment–I thought it looked very European

 

 

 

Professor Cavina had a local trip in Bologna to see Santo Stefano, a collection of seven connected churches. I had been there before on the original walking tour, but it was good getting her take on it, because she is a much better guide. At the Cremeria Santo Stefano, I got a gelato sandwich, meaning three scoops of gelato smacked in a sweet foccaccia. It is incredible. I have since found a closer place that does it for cheaper, but how brilliant is that?

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Piazza Santo Stefano with the classic porticoes (the mayor lives in that building on the right, as do a bunch of SAIS students)

 

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Will, Gianna and I went to the Cinema Lumiere on the other side of the city to see the new Tom Hanks movie, Inferno. It takes place in Florence, so it had its world premiere there and it opened in Italy before the US. The movie is ok, but we were just thankful that there was a movie in English. They have some respect for movies at the Lumiere. The Cineteca di Bologna is world renowned for its film restoration efforts. So they show lots of classic movies in the original language. Other theaters in the city dub them into Italian. There is a long history of dubbing in Italy. The Italian Woody Allen and Al Pacino actually became quite famous. They consider dubbing an art. I think it’s annoying.

I have been watching all the presidential debates. The first one, I went to Gianna’s apartment at 3 in the morning–and the streets were still full of people in the middle of the week in the middle of the night. Walking back around 5 was quieter, but I actually felt safer with less people in this case for some reason. Evan came over with his TV, walking through the streets in the night with a flat screen TV in his hands. A little suspicious, thankfully no one stopped him. The second debate, I smartened up and just watched it in my bed on my computer. And I had every intention of watching the third debate, but I missed it. My alarm has been kind of wacky. I generally haven’t been waking up with my alarm. I’ve been kind of woozy this week. And haven’t been doing my work because there was just so much. That might sound counter intuitive, but it makes sense. Instead, I saw the third debate at a watch party at school. They watched it at a more normal time.

And finally, I had my first round of fingerprinting for my residency permit. It has only been two months, and they’re finally moving a bit. Little did I know, there are three rounds of fingerprinting at two different venues! Because bureaucracy and inefficiency is really just at its finest in Italy. We got around fine without our permesso anyhow. I even paid an extra fee for the permesso that they later revoked. And I’m never getting that 80 euro back. I’m really mad about that, as is about half of the class. They had trouble reading my fingerprints because I always have issues with that. The place was far and it was raining. And the guy behind the counter was mildly racist. They’ve never really learned to be ashamed of their racism here, so they are quite open about it. I’ve gotten countless ni haos and konichiwas. And even ignoring him, he repeated himself as if I had to dignify his ignorance. It only gets worse, but that’s for another post, I think.

 

 

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