In my “A is for…” post, I hit so many possibilities for this “B is for…” post. Blogging, bouncing baby books, blank walls. But my heart is telling me to write a love story about Bologna.
I am in love with Bologna.
If you’re thinking about the lunch meat, you clearly have never met me, nor read any of my blogs, or even looked at the picture at the top of the page.
(However, you may be acquainted with my younger son, who loves a good bologna sandwich or three.)
I mean the Italian city! I love the city.
Perhaps it was because I began researching Bologna as the setting of my novel with no hope of ever going there. For two solid years, I ran through the streets using Google Maps, trying to get a feel for things. I wrote semi-blind, doing as much serious research as I could, pouring over paintings, books, maps, memoirs, whatever I could.
By the time I got there, I knew it like the back of my hand. And the reality of it was so much more extraordinary than the computer version.
Perhaps it was because I’ve never been to Europe and have been obsessed with it most of my life. So my inaugural trip there already had a soft place prepared in my heart.
When I say I love it, it feels like an understatement. Put it to you this way. While there, my sons and I also visited Venice and Florence. They were both amazing, almost overwhelming in their beauty, their history, their culture. And yet, I couldn’t wait to get back to Bologna, because it felt like home.
One of the places we visited was the Sanctuary of Corpus Domini, the Poor Clare convent that was home for my character Emilia at the beginning of her story. I walked around the place, reverently, silently, knowing I was ACTUALLY THERE, where Emilia lived.
Okay, Emilia wasn’t real, but the place was.
So, while I stood with my mouth hanging open, a man who had been sitting in the pews came up and started talking with me. His English was so-so, my Italian even worse, but we were still able to share our mutual love of the place. He walked us around, told us about the paintings, the artifacts, the tomb of Laura Bassi, one of Bologna’s first woman professors, the severe damage the building took during World War II and the ongoing efforts to restore it.
The man was so generous with his time and knowledge, and I was so awestruck with the place, I didn’t even think to ask him his name or who he was.
On Christmas day, we decided to hear Mass at the Sanctuary. I was so excited, not only about listening to the nuns sing the mass, but because the mass was printed out for us and I could follow it even with my weak Italian, maybe improve my language skills in the process.
And guess what. As the procession came in, there was my tour guide–the priest of the Sanctuary. Of course! He was wearing a coat in the cold building when I met him, so I don’t know if he was wearing a collar. (I don’t think he was.) But I felt silly that I didn’t guess who he was. And even though we were unable to understand most of his homily, my boys and I left feeling blessed and very impressed with how Christ shone through this kind man.
A week later, we came home from our trip. I spent the last couple days there crying over the prospect of leaving, and I’m getting weepy thinking about it even now.
So the question was, did going there in person make a difference in my book? Honestly, very little! I guess I did a good job with the research, as far as the objective presentation of Bologna goes.
But did it change my heart? My God, yes. And I suspect that love will come through more in my second novel, which is underway now.
The two weeks in Bologna changed me in a way I can’t fathom. Words fail me. It was like falling in love. Even when it’s over, you’re not the same. I hope in my heart that love affair with Bologna isn’t over, and I’ll see it again. But in the meantime…
I have laid out another story in the Journeymen series that is about this love. It’s called The Fortnight, and while it has some characters from the other novels, it is a standalone story. It is about an American woman and an Italian priest, and the friendship and affection they share for each other, and how it affects them both long after their two weeks together is over.
At least my character, Windy, has the good sense to find out the name of the priest she meets–Pietro.
No, this story isn’t anything like what happened in Bologna, and I hope readers don’t misunderstand my intent. It’s just that I hope personifying those days when I made Bologna my home will be the best way for me to share with you how much they meant to me.