A Place Where I Belong

Navigating my way out from deep within the caverns of Bologna Centrale involved getting lost. The train station has now been much redone from my initial visit a decade ago, and they need to work on the signage here. But the misdirection only added to the anticipation that resonated through my bones and into my heart and soul.

You see, the conference finished up today and I have a day and a half left in Italy. In considering how to spend these last precious hours, I weighed the idea of returning to Milan, from whence my flight will depart on Monday. Or perhaps, I thought, I should visit someplace new entirely. Either of these choices would have been entirely logical

Then again, as I have said before, there are some special places in this world that hold an inexorable allure for me. These are irresistible locales that eternally beckon my return; cities and sites where the energy that imbues the earth ignites my spirit with a luminous vigor. Florence was once such a city, and in a sense it still is. But there is another location nearby whose call is now stronger and whose song I simply cannot resist.

I have, at times, directed my journeys impractically, but necessarily, through Bologna. Dan understands this, and when I suggested that I might return yet again to her colonnaded streets, he said, without hesitation, that it is what he would do.

Therefore, after the conference ended, I made only one last stop in Florence before leaving town. You see, I made a discovery last night: While awaiting Jane and Phil, I had found an Antica Pizzeria da Michele here in Florence, an outpost of the original pizzeria from Naples. I have been there repeatedly and it is a gustatory memory that, like Bologna, summons me ever back. I have even planned some of my voyages through Naples just so Dan and I can eat there. It was almost compulsory, then, that when the conference wrapped up at lunch time I headed directly to da Michele.

This involved breaking a personal rule, it turns out, as I have advised many a friend not to eat pizza in Italy north of Naples. But an exception was granted, and it was perfect. The balance of high quality ingredients, the char on the crust, and the wetness (almost sogginess) of the center. We can’t get its like at home, and I will go back to craving it until I make my next trip to Naples (or Florence, it would seem).

An hour away, I eventually found the route out of the train station and crossed the street to the Starhotels Excelsior hotel that sits nearby. It isn’t my absolute favorite place to stay here, but it has many advantages and I have returned here repeatedly. It was the first place I laid my head in Bologna, and because of that it has earned a special place in my heart. At the desk they welcomed me back and gave me a top floor room with a view of the station.

I deposited my luggage and then into the streets of the ancient city I dove, having only one possible itinerary. My feet led me assuredly to the south, down the length of via dell’Indipendenza. My footsteps know know these sidewalks and these pavers well, and they stride them without fear or hesitation.

The street spans the distance from the train station to the Piazza Maggiore, like a sinewy muscle stretched taut under load, straining to pull them together. I meander along its length, my heartbeat quickening as I approach its central origin, where the due Torri finally emerge to the East.

Something clicks, I breathe and pause, and I feel a completeness inside of me. I belong here.

It feels right to wander among the markets of the Quadrilatero, amongst the vendors and locals preparing for dinner. I consider lustily the cheese and the pasta, the veg and the salumi, and the meat and the fish. The breads and cakes tempt me. Mentally, I am taking notes of things that I want to take home with me, and which stores will be open tomorrow (a Sunday).

The afternoon is late, and there is little to “do” other than nourish my spirit, so I went to the Mercato delle Erbe only to find it closed. I had suspected this might be the case, but I was ready and instead stopped at a nearby supermarket for some espresso pods I can’t easily find at home.

And finally, then, I came the pinnacle of this day: dinner at da Bertino e Figli, a classic Bolognese family restaurant. I recommend this place to others, and I return here whenever I am in town. I sat outdoors and had a simple dinner of Tagliatelle Bolognese, with its delicately balanced flavors. I washed this meal down with a light fizzy Lambrusco, the likes of which just aren’t available back in the States.

And then, under the fading late twilight hours of a cool springtime that has lingered too long and is finally withering into a hot summer, I returned at last to my hotel to rest and recover.

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