A Travellerspoint blog

#3 : Villainy and Bad Company

Day 2 and 3.

overcast 22 °C

Where am I heading when I sleep?

The hows and whys of any given situation never cease to fascinate me. How can an action, so simple and plain, combined with a plethora of settings of every kind and shapes, bloom a certain effect, oftentimes so far away from its original roots? And why, in the first place, should such a consequence even be linked to this or that cause? The past, present and future - man-made contraptions that succor making a bit of sense from the destiny and causal sequence of any individual; for most of us they only endlessly sizzle and fizzle, stuck as a dry meatloaf in the oven of that cuisinière Fate, without any realistic hope of ever being tinkered with. For the most voracious and ambitious gourmet, however, this viand is by all mean not a subject for unsolicited laughter. Suiting their sophisticated palate has become their lifelong goal and they will not stop devising the cleverest of deceits in order to distract the Lady in charge from her ever-abiding stove; modifying then at will the seasonings, ingredients and shape of that cruel patty. The most culinary accomplished ones out of them prepare a complex meatloaf that encompasses the whole of an individual's taste of joys and sorrows, resulting in an intangible gob that yields to the teeth and sends forth umami flavors to the buds with an irresistible je ne sais quoi that resounds the richness of its precious components.

Possessing, back in my youth, that same conceited longing for knowledge and self-determinism that so characterizes the truest of gastronomes, I tried to devise mechanisms to deceive Fate and found out as my first ammunition the philosophical school of Logic. They stated that the mastery over causality could be achieved through the analysis of the very structure of the causal sequence, and I, so thoroughly young and naive, had believed them. I turned my boyish gaze toward the professors of that prestigious school of thoughts and filled my mind's wheat basket from the scant pours of so-called "truths" they so benignly imparted us, blissfully unaware that the sciences and tongs required to thoroughly understand the fragile butterfly called Life would expunge the few colorful specks of vitality that so gracefully marked it. These professors, in their sublime reverence, would assert before the throng of students present that if A and B were to hold true, that it would be inconceivable for the sheepish C not to inevitably follow in their wake. We would clap our palms together in awe and shake hands with one another as we proclaimed ourselves then, "masters" of the art of Logic. At the end of our laborious training, we had officially became pedants that could successfully recite without fault "to say that that which is, is not or that which is not is, is a falsehood; and to say that which is, is and that which is not is not, is true" which could make credulous absolutely anyone - including ourselves - to the absurdities we would then utter. We had crippled ourselves and were sadly still babes in the wilderness, not one step closer to be meddling in the cooking of Fate.

Somehow remembering now that strange episode of my life, I cannot do otherwise than to ask myself what could have been the chain of actions that lead me to being presently seated in a coffee-shop in the middle of Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, casually sipping an espresso as I contemplate with great attention my roommate concluding the selling of drugs to a long-time customer. Was it Fate that made me inadvertently become the accomplice of a thorough miscreant? Am I to be blamed for the consequences of such a bizarre adventure, considering my complete lack of any practical experience? These, we will soon find out.

Also, yes, respectable readers, I do hear you complain right now : it would, like you say, assuredly be "more interesting to dwell on the subject of what lead my roommate to even sell drugs in the first place" but this story remains unfortunately about my fiction and not his, I, your humble poet, being mostly unaware of the probably very singular thoughts currently nestled in his skull. Let us then proceed accordingly from the beginning.

I woke up at midday from the night where I broke my bond with the friend of my roommate, the Demonic Duke, having rested a well-deserved, heavenly 12h. Upon opening my eyes, I immediately met the sight of four familiar faces : four identical obese men with their eight small scrutiny eyes, staring at me without respite from their frame like a lurking spider hanging from its web. It made me realize that I was still in Italy and that my heart and body were world's apart, separated by the immensity of the Atlantic Ocean. I nevertheless managed to drag myself out of my room, taking en passant fifteen biscotti from the kitchen - since it was practically the only choice available from the sparse Italian breakfast that came as an amenity with my Airbnb listing - and promptly threw myself out of the apartment without having devised any plans whatsoever. The absence of any immediate objectives or constraints really is a luxury in a world so overworked and belated. I managed to enjoy from it a worthy 20 minutes of delight as I strolled placidly through the enchanting streets of Bologna, until the realization that I found walking sharply unpleasant struck me like lightning to a solitary tree up a hill. The premature sultriness of this 24th of May caused from my body some unsought exudation as my social anxieties arose from the proximity with other members of my kin whom I had trouble interacting with. In short, my exploring Bologna felt, then, very similar to dancing on red-hot fiery magma : first off all, I did not even knew how to dance; second off all, the magma was burning my feet; and third off all, why should I even dance on magma in the first place?

It was at that moment that I noticed on my right a bicycle-shop by the name of RiBike. I instantly fancied myself riding a racing bike down the tallest hills of Italy under the sun's hospitable warmth as the balmy winds would dishevel my semi-long greasy hair and soothe my wretched apathy away. With it, I would stood taller than anyone else. My intuition was calling. I had to answer it. I entered the shop with overflowing resolve, did not find any racing bike under 900€ and dejectedly faced the reality that the cheapest of decent bike was in fact 4 times over my budget. Still steadfast on fulfilling this hazy fantasy, I pointed to a brand new black and green Titan Brera at 200€, asked to test it outside the shop and then bought it without further ado. The shop's owner, a brawny man in the middle of his thirties with flung back slicked black hair, sunglasses and a sporty t-shirt and camo trousers, recognized in my zeal and odd behavior an atypical prospective customer. He asked for my name and origins and then amused himself for some time by teaching me the how-to of the bicycle, initially with a grizzy Italian accent, then with an adjusted, fairly understandable one. I then bid him farewell and exited the shop with my prize in hand, hectic as a cockroach under a sharp light considering how profusely my finances now bled. My hands secured on the two handlebars' rubber grips and my posterior comfortably adjoined to the padded leather saddle, my feet now spun frantically the plastic pedals of my two-wheeler as I accelerated and my heart dashed and thumped against my chest. As I carelessly flew along the cycle line, an unexpected gust of wind dangerously lurched my vessel to the right but only a swift clench of the dependable rim brakes of my bike was needed to obviate any injury to my person. I felt joy in something so simple, somehow.

Since I was by now famished, having survived only of biscotti and chocolate tender-bars for the last thirty hours, this bliss had to be suspended for at least a couple hour while I dined on something actually salubrious. I promptly went to the nearest COOP, where I found out what my diet would be comprised of for the next three months in Italy : pasta! I imagined myself a common Italian bachelor and bought six different types of pasta for half a euro each, some vegetables and fruits here and there, and the cheapest 3€ bottle of what seemed to me like red wine. I got stopped by the cashier when I was about to pay because I had not yet stamped and weighted the greens. In what backward society is it required by the customer to stamp and weight his own veggies. Its just an invitation to fraudulent behavior! I could have easily weighed a fruit for half its actual load in order to pay half its price. Evidently I would never had done that since I still possessed in my heart the naivety of a schoolboy. In the end, the cashier kindly sorted out my life's problems for me which made me curse my own callowness in shame.

After that, I took my only friend the Titan Brera to the third floor of my abode and locked it on the railway with my cheap bike lock. After a while of solitary cooking, the Duke entered the kitchen in the company of a young couple. He explained to me that these lovebirds were to occupy for the night the third room of this shared household, which could now officially be called a hostel. The beau of that pair, a boorish rustic in his early twenties, commented benignly to me, using mostly his hands and a few simple English words, on the agreeable scent that transpired the sauce of my slow-cooked chicken fusilli : "Oh allo! ...You cook? ...Smell good!! ...We eat too!!" I squinted my eyes at him as I was initially distrustful of such an open display of friendliness and because I erroneously though he had actually asked for a bowl of my hard-labored for pasta. But I then deduced from his strong accent and clear inability to speak English that he was in fact from France and that we could communicate more effectively in his mother-tongue. He was rejoiced to be able to speak freely thus and made me understand that he worked as an operator in the Var in Provences-Alpes-Côtes d'Azur, a place I had never even thought existed, geography having never been my forte.

He and his fiancée began preparing some kind of a sauté with cooked Risotto rice, and for some unknown reason placed raw cucumber on top of the meals. I was shocked by the quarreling flavor profile of that amateurish meal and difficultly kept to myself the ever-misplaced cooking advice I desperately try to impart at every social gathering. We spent the evening discussing as I acted as a translator for the Duke and the French since they had troubles communicating effectively. I thought it the perfect moment to open the bottle of red wine I had previously bought - which somehow turned out to be sparkling white wine - and shared it with the present company. For dessert, the swain shared with us a bar of chocolate-nougat he had in his backpack. As he was distributing me my piece, he leaned closer and softly boasted that he had gracefully purloined it from the local COOP minutes before coming here. He even added that the crime added a certain tang to the chocolate such that he would only eat chocolate bars he had stolen, being himself a deft pilferer.

Notwithstanding the obvious moral erring of such transgressions, I could not stop being intrigued by the satisfaction he exhibited from having committed that petty larceny. He had accomplished nothing objectively worthwhile by so doing : the coarsest of small-time thief could in fact have done better. Yet he had felt alive during that moment. The excitement of its undeniable reprehensibleness combined with the courage necessary to achieve his machination : this proceeding had actually created value in him which elevated him so much higher than where I stood at that moment. I answered him with a distant, empty smile as I pondered the reasons justifying his actions, unbeknownst even to myself that this chance encounter would greatly shape the rest of my trip in Italy.

I went to my room shortly after and poorly slept that night because of the thoughts that hissed and wrangled themselves together in my head. The next morning I felt pretty exhausted so I meditated in my room until 13h, at which point I went to the kitchen for lunch. When I arrived, my roommates where, to my great surprise, searing salmon fillets with rosemary, citrus and butter; sautéing fresh asparagus in the frying-pan ; and simmering Spanish rice to perfection. I was impressed. As they were thus assembling their meal, they invited me to lunch with them and shared me their intention to promenade in the city-center of Bologna this afternoon. They wished for me to be a part of their camaraderie, to which I immediately acquiesced, having nothing better to do that day than to experience a part of their Italian life. I grieved when they told me we would take the bus to go there because I would have to leave my beloved bicycle home alone but soon after rejoiced in the thought of experiencing the public transports of Italy for the first time. We headed to the closest bus station a hundred meter from the house and waited there a couple of minute with a dozen other bystanders. Being not yet familiar with its proceedings, I asked for some information from the Gargoyle. He answered that I had only to follow them and that the buses where "free for us today" with a suspicious sneer. I was unable to ask anything else since the bus was already coming to view.

I followed them as they entered the bus from the rear door and casually sate in the two only seats still available. The common people were entering normally from the front door and punched a ticket in one of two machines situated near the front and back of the vehicle. As two elderly ladies were coming closer to them from the front, the two swindlers erupted from their seats and gallantly proposed them their places, to which the ancients praised them for being such considerate youths. I was fascinated by such a performance of wit and trickery as I now began to understand their machination. Now upright, the Gargoyle discussed with the other commuters, using his reputation and innate charms, with the objective of obtaining their vouch in the case that a part of their artifice should go astray.

I stood in the bus without having paid for it. This situation, so petty in retrospect, combining itself with the saying of the French guy from yesterday had instilled in me a taste for deceit and foolhardiness. I had left Québec to fill the void of my mundane existence and such an art provided me exactly with the kind of chills I intently sought. There still subsisted in me a struggle between the scorn I felt for the depravity of these actions and the excitement and novelty they provided me. A passing demon would whisper me "To what avail the pretentious morals and ethics you so cling to if their very essence only smothers away the very first sparkles of passion you so desperately long for?". To which a passing angel would rebut : "Remember that passions are ephemeral and love is eternal. Your morality and sensibility make for who you are, and it is through them that love can be perceived". To which I would retort "Your dichotomies, just like you, are antics of the past. Go and bother someone else. I'll do what I want". I had to cast aside these kooky phantoms since the Duke alerted me of our imminent disembarkation from the bus.

We found ourselves next to the Basilica di San Francesco, a splendid church in a part of the city-center I had not yet visited. We strolled the streets, seeing such wonders as the birth house of Guglielmo Marconi, a part of the Roman Theatre, Il Mercato delle erbe, and some of the numerous towers and beautiful palaces that characterize Bologna. We then headed to a popular flea-market called La Piazzola since to buy kitchenware there was one of the main reason of our excursion. The lower classes of Bologna reunited themselves in that open market of about half a square kilometer of area and exchanged goods, colorful baubles, used clothes, rare antiques, fake jewelries and whatnot at affordable cost. Soon after we arrived, the heavy clouds that hung all day finally teared up which showered everyone present that was not taking shelter under the tents provided by the merchants of the flea-market. As we were thus tarrying for the rain to pass, browsing the brick-a-brac and discussing with the shop-keepers, the Gargoyle swiftly opened an umbrella that stood upon a counter, feigned admiring its appeal for a second and simply walked away unobserved with it. This was done while the Duke haggled with the merchant for a saucepan - which he did not even buy in the end - and while I appreciated the unraveling of these simple but effective frauds.

We joined back further away with the Gargoyle and then proceeded to a small flower stand who was shepherded by a defenseless old man in a white apron. The wolf - my roommate - found to his liking some white roses and asked for a bouquet. After the man had cut the stems and arranged the filler, my roommate shammed changing his mind and asked for a bouquet of red roses instead. The hapless old man was confused and asked what he would do with the other one, to which the Gargoyle roared his dissatisfaction while seething a billow of sophistry and veiled insults to advocate his cause, saying such nonsense as that he was the client and desired the product he wanted. The old man's bastion had been breached and he dishearteningly resumed his earlier work for a red rose bouquet. Having completed it again, he asked payment from the Gargoyle, who refused to disburse for it, saying that the price was too high for its poor craftsmanship. In the end, after much more rebukes and haggles, he got the bouquet for half the price of one. I pitied the forlorn senior as I watched him take a broom and dismally sweep the floor near his counter, eyes fixed to the ground. Something incredible then happened : he noticed a sobbing girl with her mother, walking hand in hand near his counter, to which he immediately fetched the unwanted bouquet and offered it to her. The lassy's troubled face progressively cleared up as she understood what was going on and her big smile illuminated then even the florist's despondency. They all resumed their days with renewed glee as I regretted having ever thought about deceiving people in the first place.

The rain had stopped, which made us resume our journey to a certain small shop where the girlfriend of the Gargoyle worked as a tobacconist. Her dog, a noisy and ill-mannered Barbet, somehow had the permission to stay inside the store. My roommate presented her the beautiful bouquet he had just extorted, which made her shrill with elation. The hound joined in the commotion and barked even louder still. The girl admonished her animal quickly before hugging it and resuming her earlier demeanor which made the pooch resume his torture. My head was splitting. I was not having a good time. I abhorred her and the dog. I'll spare you the details.

Some time after, we went to the cultural center and most important location of Bologna : Piazza Maggiore. This square, situated at the heart of the city, comprises the best sights and spots of Bologna, like the Palazzo Re Enzo, the Palazzo D'Accursio, the Palazzo del Podestà, the Basilica di San Petronio and the fountain of Neptune. I was bedazzled by the life and culture that emanated from this square : children were laughing and playing with their parents, students were studying on the stairs of the church and under the portico of surrounding Caffè and tourists like myself were photographing all of it. There was a race taking place the next day in the streets of Bologna which explained the preparation and brouhaha that permeated the city. I decided to register for it and after doing so, joined with my roommates at the café Vittorio Emanuele. The Gargoyle had ordered me an espresso, to which I was thankful despite my dislike of coffee. I politely tasted it since I reasoned it to be a part of the Italian experience and found it not so awful in the end.

While I distracted myself in such manner, a shady individual in his early thirties with a long brown jacket came near our table and embraced with the Gargoyle. They exchanged few words and performed strange gimmicks before bidding themselves farewell, both oddly satisfied of that meeting. The Gargoyle then announced that it was time for us to come back home. He had two hundred euro bills in hand which he promptly hid in his side pockets. Wait wait wait hold on a second! What had happened? I reconstructed the scene in my head and remembered the highly trained and suspiciously long handshake they had exchanged before their hug; the preoccupation the Gargoyle exhibited before their meeting; him declining my offer to sit while we sipped our coffee, and the wary left and right glares so characterizing of evil-doer he had done after the encounter. For that amount of money it was definitely a trade of an illegal substance! My my my! This was too much wickedness to behold in one day. My head was spinning. I was ready to faint. We returned home in the same fashion as before, after which I locked myself in my room, having had enough of their corrupting way of living. It seems I really needed to find myself some better company.

Virtuous reader, see you again in an indefinite period of time!


Posted by KrimFiction 08:45 Archived in Italy Tagged food church bologna italy bicycle literature pasta logic thief crimes causality

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