The Pianist In the Piazza

The night was swarthy in the piazza, and small groups of us sat, scattered about on the baked stones listening to the frantic notes played by the pianist on an electric keyboard. There was an urgency in their high pitched trill, like time slipping away as we grasped at its ethereal tendrils.

And my days here in Italy are, at last, drawing to a close. This trip has lasted longer than most, revolving as it did around the days at my conference. But, still my free time on this journey has been ample and busy, seeing landmarks and sights. Today, instead, there were no more boxes to check and I just wanted to be in my place.

I started the morning crossing town through familiar alleyways to the oft-visited obstetric museum. They sometimes rearrange things here and I am always hoping for better photos from which to teach. Plus, I go each time with a hope that some of my photos that disappointed me in retrospect will come out even better this time around.

But there is something more about this museum for me – something incredibly special and sacred. It was an accidental find when I first stumbled in, and I treasured it’s clay models from the first moment I saw them. I teach from them and encourage others to go. Today there were two other physicians there, neither of them obstetricians, and it was fun for me to listen in on them and watch them finding and identifying the various conditions depicted.

I can only spend so much time here, and once again found myself beyond the walls of the museum. I turned to the south west, following Via Zamboni back to central Bologna, past the two towers, and back to the criss-crossed ancient streets of the Quadrilatero, with its markets and vendors and mongers. My missions here were beckoning.

My first stop was at Tamburini Market, where I sat at the lunch counter and partook of the roast pork and potatoes. The food here is almost criminally good, and it is bordering on ridiculous to think that it comes from a lunch counter. I will be back here again someday. I always come back here.

Then, after lunch I made my purchases of tortellini, cheese, and balsamico, treasures to take home with me, and dropped them off at my hotel. Over the last few days, I had decided that some work that has hovered over my head for weeks now was now due at last for my undivided attention. My mind was rested and my mindset was right.

So it was, that on a balmy Bolognese afternoon, I sat at a high table with my iPad and an Aperol Spritz, tapping out the words of a letter, reading through, and editing with verve. Bologna is a university town, so in a sense, I guess this entire picture is fitting.

As the shadows lengthened and bleached whites took on golden hues, the evening called me away from my writer’s reverie to Osteria dell’Orsa, where many students and travelers find themselves inexpensive meals of tortellini in brodo served in massive bowls. I sat at the communal table nursing my bowl and wine, when an American student sat down across from me. It turns out she is from Ann Arbor, and will be in Torino for the rest of the summer studying Archaeology. We spoke of many things, including my recommendations for dining here in town.

Eventually I excused myself and wandered into the Bolognese evening to find my final gelato of this trip. I returned to my hotel and packed the last of my bags, but still wasn’t ready to go. That’s how I found myself in Piazza Maggiore listening to the pianist, trying to extract the final minutes of magic from this journey.

Well past 11pm, the pianist continued to play, his notes echoing from the walls around the square. I knew the song, but couldn’t remember most of the lyrics. One line stood out, though, late on this balmy June evening. There were a few words that I could recall without question …

“Lights will guide you home”

And I stood up, deposited 5 euro in his case, and turned to the north, walking up via dell’ Independenza to my hotel, the sodium lights making awkward shifting shadows and the words of the song echoing about my brain. It was time, at long last, to return home.

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