Our apartment is on the third floor (no elevator) over a scooter repair shop (really really noisy) on a lively road in the old town of Bologna. We are embracing city living like someone eating wasabi for the first time—it makes you gasp but gradually you find you like the unnatural sensation of your body on fire. We have a line of little shops on the ground floor; florist, antiques, hair salon, tobacconist, bar, fruit and veg, and down the road a Slowfood tea shop and fantastic salumeria.
All these little stores are very conveniently located although the hours take some getting used to! Shops in Italy casually close for business in the middle of the day for “lunch” and re-open in the afternoon until the evening. But the “lunch” hours can vary from 12-3 or 2-5 or 12- the rest of the day if the owner feels like it. We are learning to do most of our shopping in the late afternoon and plan nothing for Sunday because the whole city shuts down.
Our family’s hours have adjusted to the Italian schedule in unexpected ways. I know we are really over jet lag (we’re on our third week here so I can’t use that excuse!). The kids rarely wake up before 7:30 or 8:00 then we get a slow start to the morning and head out for an activity be 10:00. We enjoy a late lunch and on the long meandering walk back to our apartment in the afternoon, find a gelateria (we are still in the research and testing phase—too soon to have claimed “our favorite” gelateria) and get home in time for Reading. We meet up with Josh after his course work or interview and head out for a late dinner at 8:00 and don’t get the kids to bed until 10:00 or 11! So sleep is pushed back to make room for adventures and Reading during the day.
I need to mention Reading with a capital R because this is the first trip we’ve taken with the children where they BOTH need to have a book at ALL times. Reading has become the default activity. I’d like to say its because I selected such interesting and choice fiction for them to have on the journey. We ordered five books for them each—in anticipation that we would not be able to find English kids books during our trip) and packed them—hauling books is a bigger sacrifice than you know when one is tight on luggage space. Anyway both kids are so voracious that we have run out of reading material at the beginning of week three. What to do?
Bologna is home to one of the oldest European universities. In a city of 240,000 people over 80,000 of them are students. This lively population LOVES books so we are in luck. We were highly motivated to discover a bookshop and walked all the way across town to one with English books and bought another haul. I was rather emphatic that these books would have to last and I am doling them out like sweets, to be savored and not gobbled. Max’s response to the rationing of reading books: “Don’t worry about me reading them too fast. When I get to the end of the stack I will just start reading them all over again.” So I will have to content myself with that and happily think that this is a good problem to have. Perhaps a good but a challenging problem to have!
When Max was asked “What would you like to do today?”—the answer “Stay at the apartment and read” made me want to scream. Even now, I sit here writing at the table at the moment, it’s like Josh and I are alone in the apartment except the sounds of pigeons cooing on the terrace and the light flipping pages from the couch. In the morning we greet the early bird readers with a cheerful hello, and there’s silence from their book-cave. We drag Max kicking and screaming (literally some days) back from the fantastic world of wizards or heroes so he can join us for dinner, and we have to tie him to the chair so he’ll sit through the meal. The book is calling! It’s a delight to see this hunger for words, and a challenge to balance that appetite with the fabulous foods of the real world Italy.