From Bologna, Italy . . .

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

Believe it or not, your mother was young once.  Well, I'd like to think that she's still young . . . but in returning from my 10th year reunion of graduate school in Bologna, I realize that the years are going much more quickly now, especially since your arrival.  If I had to pick the most care-free year of my life, apart from maybe my preschool years, it would be the year I spent here a decade ago.

Bologna is a gorgeous town---enough history to give it gravitas, enough decadence to make it fun. But our year had its dark moments as well.  Only a few weeks after we arrived, the twin towers fell in New York, which not only cemented us as a class, but redefined the subject matter  of international relations that we were in that very place to learn.  Ten years later, the bond of that experience is still holding us all together, mostly in a positive way. I enjoyed seeing my classmates so much---many things (and many people) hadn't changed a bit.  One day you'll see what a gift it is to be given a few moments back from a time you remember fondly.

Bologna is one of the great gastronomical capitals of Italy, and many of the products you probably take for granted like balsamic vinegar, parma ham, and parmesan cheese, come from places just around the corner.  Eating and life, like politics, are taken very seriously there, so unsurprisingly, I walked away with a lot of lessons that related to those very activities.

  • The most charming places frequently aren't the most known - there is no better example than Bologna itself of this.  While Venice, Florence and Rome all have their merit, often you'll find them so packed with people that you can barely see what you came to see.  In Bologna, you'll find a handful of tourists at a maximum, but yet, the food, the art, and the architecture are some of the best.  And a short car ride will bring you to some of the most charming towns you'll even know from that region.  Take the time to find authentic pockets in your travels, they are world-class because the world doesn't yet know about them.
  • Good products don't need to be complicated - when you have something good . . . really good . . . like fresh mozzarella, or fresh pasta that was made with quality ingredients and great care, you don't need to do much to it to keep it really tasty.  Sometimes, it's best to enjoy things for what they're meant to be.  Simple isn't always boring.
  • Always own a beautiful pair of walking shoes appropriate for cobblestones - this is true for just about anywhere in Europe where you'll be on your feet (which is just about everywhere in Europe) but this seems to come up the most in Italy because there is such a core belief that even the functional has to be beautiful.  Good walking shoes don't mean ugly, utilitarian things that you just throw on your feet.  Comfort can be beautiful, but it takes a long time to find.
  • Pumpkin, sage, and butter go together - This combination is a staple in this part of Italy.  And it always works.  Remember this when you're stuck for ideas during Thanksgiving season.
  • Appreciate the art of the aperitivo - This is a beautiful tradition all over Italy, but in Bologna, they up the ante of the pre-dinner cocktail with their  little bites and morsels that go above and beyond (although truth be told, I find Venice does this pretty well too).  The whole notion of the aperitivo is to slow down and appreciate what's in front of you and to enjoy good company, even if sometimes it's just your own.  And if you're already in the business of all this enjoyment, remember that sometimes it's worth paying for the view.  Even if it means a little extra.
  • When in doubt, choose prosecco - Whether it's an aperitivo or a cocktail hour or anything else, if you're in doubt on what to ask for, you can always count on local bubbly as a safe bet.  Nearly everyone will have it, it's light, it lends itself to slower savoring, and it's just the right balance between cost, a nod to your host country,  and worldliness.  You'll find that you will have your own favorite go-to's eventually, but I think every lady hesitates about what to order at some point.  Just keep that in your back pocket.

Our next reunion in Bologna will be five years from now---I know it will be here before I know it.  Seems like it would be the perfect time to have you join me--- I hope your kindergarten class will be able to spare you for the trip!

All my love,

Mom