Thursday, June 16, 2011

Plus ça change,...

... plus c'est la même chose.

Some of you may have noticed an article in the New York Times last week about Bologna. Entitled "36 Hours in Bologna," the special section takes the reader on a virtual tour of the city and offers a step-by-step travel plan for visiting the capital of the Emilia Romagna region.

Those of you who will be moving here to study next year will want to read the section. No need to memorize the addresses if you have a printer or can save the link.

As I trawled for last week's article, I noticed that the New York Times had run a special section on Bologna three years ago. It was as upbeat as last week's about the city and offered a very different itinerary. This, too, is worth reading.

So I was quite amused when, thumbing through a guidebook that I bought 30 years ago, I found a newspaper clipping, yellow with age, with a full-page article on Bologna from ... the New York Times.

As some readers know, I attended SAIS Bologna in that era. I had purchased the guide before arriving here, and someone had taken the trouble to send me the article -- headlined "What's Doing in Bologna" -- before my arrival. I can't quite recall who sent me the article. Is that my sister's handwriting filling in some missing words? These are the kinds of details one forgets after three decades.

Don't feel you need to read the article from 1981. But if you're as nostalgic as I am or just like history, here is a copy. My apologies for the quality of the reproduction. If you want to read it, you will have to rotate the view or else you'll put your neck out of joint.

The author's 'permesso di soggiorno'
from 1981
Despite the passage of three decades, certain things remain immutable in the New York newspaper's view of Bologna. You'll hear other visitors mention the same: arcades, gastronomy, left-leaning politics, the student population, the fact Bologna remains off the tourists' well-beaten path, tortellini in brodo, le Due Torri, Santo Stefano, Piazza Maggiore.

Some things have changed. Piazza Maggiore remains packed at almost all hours -- but it is no longer almost exclusively men discussing politics and calcio. Some hotels have collected dust while others have become fashionable.

One surprise: it seems that as the number of restaurants has grown and there is a bigger selection, in some cases meals are no more expensive today, even in unadjusted terms, than they were 30 years ago.

Of course, on my limited student budget, I was not able to dine in Bologna's restaurants in 1981-82. To be honest, it didn't spoil my year one bit.

Nelson Graves

Tomorrow: DVDs, odds & ends ahead of 2011-12

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