We may give the impression that life is smooth sailing here in Italy, and, for the most part, it is. Every train has run exactly on time, and most tourist reality conforms to its web site details.
But sometimes language nuances defeat us, as well as the people who think they are communicating with us. We got to our rental apartment in Bologna exactly when predicted today, but had 40 minutes of waiting for our hosts’ designee to show up. This was based on an email saying our hosts were out of town, but that someone else would meet us. After leaving voice mails on all phones we had numbers for, we were just about to start looking for a hotel when a perplexed man opened the main door and seemed surprised to see us there. No, they were home all the time, waiting for us to buzz their apartment. They aren’t going out of town till next week!.
First of all, you would need to know that these apartments often have off-site owners, so who knew the owners live next door to the rental apartment? Secondly, we only had their first names, so seeing their last names on another bell didn’t really help us in a 10-flat building. But no, “we – meaning Jo and Don – misunderstood!” They were much nicer than the French would have been regarding our stupidity, but I was about to rip the luggage apart for a Valium. Maybe I just got up too early today.
Next, it was off to find the tourist office. I refuse to bore you with how difficult it was, except to say that people standing directly in front of it were unaware of its location. Very subtle use of typography. Also, today is some kind of festival, and every museum is open and free. Imagine the crowds.
So, we have done the tourist office thing, gotten some tickets for tomorrow, and gone grocery shopping. No more will be said about this city, as I know nothing about it yet, except where the tourist office and the grocery store are located.
But, now that we are finally in our apartment, things are looking up. Enjoy the view of our inner courtyard. It has a calming effect.
Don’s Food Corner
We’ve hit Bologna, the birthplace of many of Italy’s most famous dishes. That includes Bolognese sauce — or as it is referred to here simply as ragu. The traditional pasta preference for this ragu is tagliatelle — the rather wide ribbon-style pasta. The city of Bologna declared an official recipe for the sauce in 1982, but reportedly it would be hard to find two samples that taste the same. We’ll be putting that to the test over the next several days.
Our first try was in a neighborhood restaurant that happened to specialize in fish dishes. Jo had the tagliatelle ragu as a second course after a shrimp cocktail. We asked before ordering if the shrimp were going to be coming with the heads attached. When we were assured that the heads would be missing, Jo went for it. While the shrimp (tails) were fine, they were swimming in a Russian dressing type of sauce.
I took on a platter of cold mixed seafood — mussels, shrimp, little sardines, octopus and squid. All perfectly done. Not a rubbery specimen in evidence.
For my second course, I tried linguine with shrimp and calamari. The two shrimp were so gigantic that they were draped over the mound of pasta. These included not only heads but what appeared to be claws like mini-lobsters. I had to tackle those monsters into submission and ended up with far less meat than you would have expect with things that large. (Or I didn’t know how to eat them properly, leaving behind some delicacy to the probable horror of the Italians sitting nearby.) The shrimp/calamari was tied together with a light sauce that featured tiny oven-roasted cherry tomatoes that had been halved. Very nice, but the portion was so large that I couldn’t finish it. (Am I sick?)
And the verdict on this first taste of ragu in Bologna? We’ve had this exact version before, surprisingly at a modest little Italian restaurant at our corner in New York. We traveled to Bologna to find out that what we were looking for was right in our backyard? Hmm. We’ll keep tasting other interpretations.