There are quite a few differences between the two cities. In Portland no one has a body. Americans don't touch other people - it's actually illegal. They only seem comfortable with touching strangers if they punch them or audition for porn flicks. Italians, on the other hand, have bodies: screaming bodies, hairy bodies, bodies that crave attention. You see a lot of cleavage in this country - the Grand Canyon of the Madonna, as Dante might have put it (well, maybe not). The Italian men might not wear shorts but they are more than happy to show off their chest hair.
Italians are also more aggressive in traffic than the polite Portlanders. Actually, Italians love to drive their cars into you while they scream vaffanculo - that's why it's such a healthy people. No one is passive-aggressive - everybody is just plain aggressive.
Back to Bologna.
Right now I'm in the university district browsing through books I wouldn't dream of buying, watching foreign students with their heads full of passato remoto. The area is a little sedated. It's August after all, and the rich Italians have escaped to the beach or the mountains. Bologna is one of the hottest places in Italy in the summer. And one of the coldest in the winter. I walk around, admiring the buildings, smiling at the nuns browsing through their La Gazzetta Dello Sport. (There's nothing like soccer players that can make a nun drool.) But when I want to use a computer at an Internet cafe, I run into trouble. A big sign says: "According to a new law concerning terrorist and pedophile activity, everybody needs to show their passport."
"But my passport is at the hotel," I complain. The clerk behind the counter shrugs. Dandruff is growing on his shoulder.
"I'm not a terrorist, I just have an accent," I beg, looking around the cafe to see whether any one is sending coded messages to their friends in Yemen. But everybody seems innocent. A girl is emailing her lover in Catania. An immigrant shouts at his sister in Ghana from a small sweaty booth.
I smile and hand the clerk my id from Portland State University claiming it's more valuable than any passport. He nods lazily and I drown myself in spam, emails, and gossip from Copenhagen. An hour later, I walk out into the red city, down crooked streets, admiring the palazzi, the street lamps, and the stray dogs that leave small droppings in artistic patterns. It starts to rain but Bologna is full of Gothic covered walkways that makes you feel like a monk wearing Bennetton.
The Italian language has always been an upper to me. It's like a drug that makes my mouth water and my body come alive. Some people need red wine, I just need a dose of Italian adverbs and I can go on for hours. But God knows, my Italians has become rusty. So I think back on my glory days - back when Italian proverbs would roll out of my mouth like pearls - back when the locals lined up to hear my jokes while they laughed behind my back. Oh yes, those were the days ...
It starts to rain. After all, Bologna is Portland's sister city, so I take my pale girlfriend by the hand and move south. To Arezzo, Perugia, Spello, Assisi, and the most overrated city in the world, Florence. We have a few Saints to meet up with. More about that later, amici, nemici, tutti.