Fountain of Breasts – Bologna, Italy

Bologna was intended to be a figurative and literal cleansing of the palette. Figuratively in that my head had been zapped into meltdown by the things I had seen in Verona and Venice, and I wanted to give myself a little break before diving into Florence and Rome in what was sure to be a full-on brain smear. Literally in that the food in Venice was so disappointing that I wouldn’t have fed it to a starving goat. I was keyed up for some good old fashioned, authentic Italian cooking. The kind, you know, that Italians eat. Bologna served its purpose marvelously.

Palazzo Comunale o D'Accusio
Palazzo Comunale o D’Accusio
But before any of that wonderfulness, there was the objectionable matter of dealing with my accommodations. If you’re a betting man or woman, you have probably laid odds that after my thorough shredding of the Hosteling International affiliate network into microscopic scraps of derision back in Lyon that the karmatic backlash would result in my being doomed to an existence in HI misery for all eternity. If that’s how you laid your money, then you can go ahead and quit your job. Bologna had nothing going in accommodations other than the HI hostel without blowing a month’s worth of my wine budget on a hotel. The well worn HI blueprint was in full swing in Bologna. Located five miles out of town, on a seldom serviced bus route, detention center décor, a breakfast that only a sweat shop worker could love, and lengthy rules that bordered on insulting.

There was a new development in the men’s bathroom arena in Bologna. The ejector-seat toilets. I was familiar with the ejector-seat toilet concept thanks my many years at YMCA summer camp. You ladies may not know what I’m talking about, so I’ll elaborate. Due to the embarrassing number of boys/men that never learned how or when to lift the toilet seat when they let fly with a Number One, the Idiot Prevention Crew at the toilet development lab decided that since us males couldn’t be trusted to lift the seat up on our own, they would create a spring-loaded toilet seat so that it was always up unless you took matters into your own hands, or butt cheeks as it were, to bring the seat down for Number Two related visits. While I’m sure this was welcomed as revolutionary by public bathroom officials, the timing, hand-eye coordination and pure annoyance involved in getting your ass down on the spring-loaded seat before it recoils back up, while keeping you pants from touching the repulsive floor area in front of the toilet is the stuff of award winning, hidden camera video shows. In fact, knowing how blasé the Italians are about showing unmentionables on television, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they had a weekly segment devoted solely to ejector-seat toilet clips on “Italy’s Funniest Home Videos.”

By the time I hit Bologna, I had scratched Pisa off my list of destinations in Italy. What the tourism board in Pisa doesn’t want you to know is that almost every city in Italy has a fricking leaning tower. Bologna has two. Unfortunately they are side-by-side, about six inches away from each other and the neighboring buildings were not built with photographers who wanted to get both buildings into one frame in mind. How rude.

Piazza Maggiore
Piazza Maggiore
From the twin, leaning towers I moved into Piazza Maggiore (directly translated, “Major Plaza”) where I saw what is now one of my favorite sights in Europe. Breasts! Naked breasts are everywhere you look in Europe, but Italy is the undisputed titty king. To Italians, seeing bare breasts is like seeing a nose. Boobies are all around, all day long and the Italians have long since become desensitized to them. Boobs are on prime time TV (shows and commercials), in magazines, on bus stop poster ads and obviously live and in person at all beaches and parks. But, the most gratuitous display I have ever seen in Europe is the fountain in the center of Bologna’s main square, Piazza Maggiore. The fountain has a statue on top that appears to be of Poseidon, the god of the seas, but just below him are four women, one on each corner of the fountain, leaning back, emphatically squeezing their bare breasts and launching an unholy squirt of liquid out of their nipples into the fountain. I was stunned that something like this was featured in the center of the main public square! This knocked me back more than the late night porn on regular broadcast television. Man, I love Europe!

The other main sight in Piazza Maggiore, though far less pleasing than the fountain, is the massive San Petronio church. It was difficult to be impressed by San Petronio after the sickeningly large and ornate churches/cathedrals in Milan, Verona and Venice. I started an internal deliberation on whether or not to bore my readers with yet more pictures from inside churches, but that debate was ended by the giant picture of a camera with a red circle and cross over it at the entrance. I breezed through the church quickly and apathetically before moving on.

After Piazza Maggiore I was at a loss as to what to do. Lonely Planet was vague, which usually means there’s not a whole lot going on. I stopped in the tourist office just off Piazza Maggiore and other than some musicals and theatre events coming up in December, they didn’t really have any suggestions for me either. I finally decided to invoke the Venice Approach and just circle and crisscross the city center in the hopes of stumbling onto something cool. This brought mixed results. While Bologna is a pretty city and full of character, it isn’t exactly dripping with the oh-wow moments. I spent a perfectly pleasant, but largely forgettable afternoon wandering the city.

Both nights in Bologna, I walked from the hostel halfway back into town to a restaurant that the night clerk recommend and I was a very happy man for it. The Fattori restaurant was obviously suffering from a weak customer base, being located out in the middle of nowhere like they were (both nights I went there, there was only one other table of dinner customers, besides mine), but they had fantastic pasta and the prices were about as cheap as I have seen in all of Europe. A heaping plate of mouth-watering pasta was five euros (less than $6). On my first visit I ordered the Penne Vodka, which was pasta with a vodka based, tomato cream sauce with bits of ham, mushrooms and shallots mixed in there. It was fantastic.

While I ate in orgasmic pleasure, the 50-ish owner/waiter/busboy guy switched off the amusing techno radio station that he and his wife were enjoying over by the bar and zapped on the television hanging from the ceiling directly over my head. To my utter consternation, he flipped to a channel that was airing an Italian soap opera. This was even more tactless than the techno, but I didn’t suffer for long. The show ended quickly and a soccer match between Italy and Denmark came on. Italians are as serious about soccer as they are about their cell phones. The owner forgot all about me as he became instantly enrapt with the action on the TV, even though they were just going through the introductions. A moment later, a lone man burst into the bar door and scampered breathlessly to a stool without even saying hello to the owners and swiftly fell in the same television trance as the owner. After the intros they played the national anthems of both countries. The Danish anthem was played dutifully and solemnly, then the Italian anthem came on. You could clearly hear the Italians in the stadium maniacally screaming the words at the tops of their lungs. I glanced over to the bar and saw the recently arrived man mouthing the words, quietly and intensely while the owner had stood up at attention, with his hand over his heart. I misspoke before, the soccer obsession in Italy is second only to its near-ludicrous levels of national pride.

Italian Car or Toy?
Italian Car or Toy?
By the time I had downed the Penne Vodka, my stomach was nearing maximum capacity. I wasn’t hip to the Bolognese tendency of giving huge first plate portions. In Milan and Verona, the first plate was just a petite appetite whetter, a preview for the big second course. Well, in Bologna the servings were much larger and in the customary Italian way, I had ordered all my plates at the beginning, so I had a second course coming of grilled chicken with herbs and some unidentifiable sauce that was tangy and yummy. By the time I had forced down the grilled chicken and the 50 centiliters of wine that I needed to wash it all down, I could barely draw a deep breath, much less get the momentum going for a brisk 25 minute walk back to the hostel. Even after all that food and wine, my bill was less than $15, which is a whopping bargain anywhere in Europe. On my second visit, knowing better, I only ordered a first course (the tortellini, which the Bologna region is credited for inventing), so I would have space for the dessert, a wickedly scrumptious tiramisu, that was so saturated in booze that it was lighting up my tongue even after warming up with two glasses of the house sparkling white wine. I had to tour four cities to find it, but I had finally experienced the small, inexpensive Italian restaurant that people had been regaling me with stories of for so long.

When I left Bologna, I was feeling so content and rejuvenated that I literally skipped the four blocks through the rain to the bus stop. The HI nightmare aside, being in the non-assuming city of Bologna had been the precise recharge that I had been hoping for. When you travel for an extended period of time, there’s a lot to be said for the occasional stop in a non-demanding city with minimal tourism and tasty affordable food options. Plus, there was that fountain.