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Pictures from Bologna and Florence

I’m keeping all of my pictures on Picasa. I’ve just uploaded the first batch, which has some shots of Bologna and a few shots from my day-trip to Florence yesterday. I had some time to spend at Villa La Pietra, NYU’s villa in the hills above Florence, before some lecture and some meetings. I’ve been an ambivalent photographer but I’ll try to do more consistent in the next month.

From Bologna and beyond

View the entire slideshow here

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first few weeks in Bologna

I’m writing this post take a break from my normal nonna daily activities of making winter minestrone (using Norman’s recipe!) and reading my 15th century lady poetry. Hopefully my few readers will excuse my absence from the blog. I just finished a long overdue essay on Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (Vultures), which had been weighing me down for a long time. I’ve felt really settled and happy in the past week or so.

Here are some highlights.
#1: In New York, I sweat a lot. This may have to do with the fact that I drink half a pot of hot coffee before I hustle to teach my NYU undergrads in the morning. In Bologna, I don’t sweat at all. That might be because my apartment is kept a chill 58 degrees, or it might stem from the fact that I am not guzzling half a gallon of piping hot American coffee that’s highly caffeinated. (Oscar, I miss our coffee breaks!) Maybe Italians are highly aware of this link and in fact avoid multiple servings of coffee to keep their sweating under control.

My coffee routine is pretty fun, though, and it happens every morning. And I don’t sweat! Italians really don’t drink one coffee after another. In fact, if you are at the bar and drink a cappuccino, and then ask for, say, a caffe macchiato, they give you a strange look as if you just asked them for a vial of rose water. I have a favorite bar near my apartment on Via dell’Independenza where I get my cappuccino and brioche . The barista, a cute little fellow who looks like an overgrown member of a boy band judging by his 90‘s earring and use of hair product, likes me and has learned my ways of double servings of coffee. Begrudgingly, he supplies me with my second, while winking excessively, as if to say that he *knows* what’s up. This serves to only further my shame. I try to avoid this type of intercultural contact.

I just can’t take the shame so my routine has changed. I still go to my favorite bar, but I now go to my second tier supplier of coffee, a slightly ramshackle joint with an aged collection of mints and gums and strange pink terracotta everywhere, after I get my first cappuccino. There, I get my caffe macchiato and stand at the bar, thus avoiding my shame and getting my critical second coffee.

Why are they so against me drinking two in a row? Is there something pathological about serial coffee consumption?

#2: I was browsing what has become my favorite bookstore, EATALY (which has a good selection of literature and philosophy in addition to having a bar, an enoteca with €3 glasses of Nebbiolo as well as a sandwich stand that has my favorite gorgonzola and pear sandwiches), when I saw that Benedetta Tobagi, who participated in the DENUNCIA conference I co-organizd last year, was presenting her new book, Come mi batte forte il tuo cuore,  published by Einaudi (fancy!) the next day. Benedetta gave a great paper at the conference about ways victims of 70‘s terrorism in italy have voiced their own “denunciations” of political practice that leads to extremism. So I took Marisa, my friend who has just arrived to do her own research in Bologna, to see Benedetta speak.

Benedetta’s father, a respected journalist for Corriere della Sera was killed in such terrorist attack so her work has an incredible personal resonance. She had lots to say and handled the questions from the respondent really well, even though he was the typical Italian 50 something paunchy academic, dressed in the usual uniform of a corduroy suit. He tried to make it about himself and his own thoughts but Benedetta was so strong that he wasn’t much of a bother.

My life here has a nice consistency: coffee, cooking at home, long walks (Bologna’s center is so small there is hardly any need to take a bus), and fightings teenagers for desk space at the public library.

The teenagers are completely obsessed with making out in public, so I’m planning a future post in which I only take pictures of teenagers making out in public space.

I’m also working on a photo-essay of all the best graffiti I’ve seen here, so stay tuned.

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First few days in Bologna

After a harrowing trip from Paris that involved surrendering 288 euros to a totally crappy budget airline called “EasyJet”, a bus and a train, and one klonopin, I arrived in Bologna last Friday. The city has an appeal that’s not super obvious.  I’ve always loved it. It’s dark and its historic center has a lot of medieval architecture.  The porticos create echoes as you walk, and a gray humidity pervades the city.  The food is incredible.  Besides Turin, it’s one of Italy’s more bookish cities due to the university.

The first few days have been great.  My roommates Sabrina and Gaspare are wonderful and funny.  Here begins the photoessay:

Nicolaus Copernicus' studio

Via Galliera

My neighborhood.

On Sunday, Gaspare, Sabrina and their friend Ivano took me to lunch outside of town to the hills above Bologna.  We ate at Fienile Fluò, an old hayloft that has been converted into a restaurant, theater and performance space.

Ivano and Gaspare


Lunch was a tagliere of cheese, meets and olives, tagliatelle al ragù, a contorno of cabbage and chocolate cake.

Piazza maggiore

Biblioteca dell'Archiginnasio

I just started studying at the Archiginnasio. It’s cute.

Send me your questions!

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This guy has forward momentum!

I arrived in Paris on December 30th, somewhat sleepy but also jubilant that my adventure was beginning after a few months of planning. Paris was exceptional, mainly due to the presence of Anna, Antoine and Niegel.  Niegel had flown in from New York to treat himself to two weeks of vacation after a busy fall working Fela!. When I arrived with three bags and very sweaty armpits, he was hiding in the shower and surprised me. Anna and Antoine had been in Paris all Fall, living in the 10th arondissement and teaching at Paris8. They themselves chronicled their adventures on their video blog, Bonjour Y’all.

I am always a bit stupefied when I first arrive in another country, due to the abundance of new stimuli in the new place. My mind goes into overdrive as I try to process all the new visual information. I seem to read every advertisement. Every square of sidewalk attracts my attention. And every shopwindow seems to present some product that, while completely similar to those you find in New York, for some reason feels different. I can barely talk, it seems, for the first few days. In Paris, for example, this took the form of meal after meal in which I just listened and looked out the window and plied the pages of the menu. Call it jetlag, melancholia, nostalgia, or whatever, this stupefaction is something to which I’ve grown accustomed. I will quote Avital Ronell

Paris was pretty incredible but my narrative powers are failing me so how about I just itemize my sensations?

  1. French bread is seriously about 3 times better than bread you find in Italy.  I’d say between Anna, Antoine and I we ate about a baguette each a day.
  2. Parisians are much more aggressive than New Yorkers. The tension is super palpable.
  3. Niegel, the self-proclaimed “Magical Negro of Paris,” should be on The View.
  4. I enjoy how all authorities (the police, bus and metro ticket controllers) band together in groups when they give out tickets in order to not get beaten up.
  5. Jardin des Plantes.  No wonder Foucault wrote The Order of Things.
  6. I love how Antoine speaks English really loudly and obnoxiously so that everyone thinks he’s american.
  7. French people love to stare at you, and sneer at the bright colors you’re wearing. But if you stare back, they’ll cut you!

Here are a few selected photos from Paris. The whole album is located here.

New Year's Eve. That champagne costs as much as a baby! Thank, Niegel!

On the Jardin des Plantes.  Antoine, a great afficcionado of the animal kingdom, took me to the Mengerie where they have an assorted “collection” of cute furry animals that I guess dates back to the days of Enlightenment classification.  You can watch this video to hear my semi-austitic laugh and see some wallabies jump around.

We had yet another encounter with the animal kingdom at the cafe attached to la Grande Mosquée de Paris. This time it was a fat bird that only wanted our baklava.  Here you will also see my fine autistic facial expressions on display.

Antoine and Anna also conspired to sneak me into the National Library without a card, a beautiful modern building with an enchanted cedar forest inside!

Bibliotheque nationale de France

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Hi! I’m Jonathan. I might be your friend or family member!  I might be your ex-boyfriend! I might be a fraud in cyberspace!  Regardless of our relationship, you are reading my blog right now.  I am a graduate student at NYU who is taking some time away from New York to actually do my work. I’m an Italianist, so my travels are taking me to Bologna where I hope to do some research and not get too fat. Before I arrived in Bologna just a few days ago, I spent some time in Paris to acclimate myself to the rigors of life on the continent.

In order to better organize my thoughts (which usually take the form of a frayed mess), I decided a FAQ would be the best format. If you feel I’ve left a critical question or issue out, please e-mail me and I will add it if I deem it as important as you do.

What will you write about? I feel that reportage is agonizing and difficult to keep up, so it will only be loosely informative or diaristic. It will mostly be visual, I think, and I think I will also write about my work on here when I feel I am encountering some sort of blockage in my academic writing. I generally want to detail what I am experiencing, but am reticent of claiming this as a record.

Will all this blog’s posts boast this self important, quasi earnest tone? Hopefully not.

Why is this blog called “Dotto e grasso”? Good question, self! Bologna is known in Italian popular culture for its three trademarks: food (Emilia-Romagna is known for its gastronomy), education (Bologna is the seat of the oldest university in Europe) and communism (it has long been the most left-leaning city in Italy. For that, it is called la grassa, la dotta e la rossa; or , the fat, the learned, and the red. I am keen on the first two, and ambivalent about the third, hence this name for my blog.  I also was interested in the name “BLOGNA” but some clever guy or girl seems to have already taken it.

Will I be able to comment on it? Absolutely not.

Please remit other questions so that I can include them.  Perhaps, instead of leaving comments, you can e-mail me questions every now and then and I can answer them in my posts.  It will be like Savage Love, or maybe Dear Abby, but only transatlantic and thus more spicy.

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