Secret #1 – Whispering Wall
“Here let’s go this way first.” Captain Vegbro takes us away from Bar Vittorio Emanuele and towards the Palazzo del Podestà, the 13th century fortress we’d passed on the way here.
We stop in an open area with an arched ceiling and four pillars. There’s a cool fresco of four saints or something on the ceiling.
“This is one of the seven secrets of Bologna. You stand in that corner and you go over there.” MacKay and I take up two of the four corners and Simon goes to another. He tilts his head up towards the vaulted ceiling, “Can you hear me?” Ha. The sound travels along the roof and lands square on my dome. “Yes!” He points at James. “Yeah, I can hear you.” “Haha ok well…” and Simon goes to the other corner opposite James, “How ’bout now?” “Oh yeah. Super clear.” “Pretty cool?” “Ya.”
“So this is the whispering wall. It has something to do with leprosy in the middle ages and not getting too close for confession. They’d do it here so that they could stand apart and still hear each other but not let others hear.” “Although, apparently that last part doesn’t work so great.” “Haha no maybe not. Ok, let’s go to this cool bar.”
Osteria del Sole
Cap V takes us out the East side of the plaza, down a street and turns into a more narrow street that’s lined with tables and folks sitting outside eating. This is cool.
“Ok we just need to get through this mob.” “This the place? Bizzeeeeeeeeeee.”
We head inside and things open up a little. It’s an older looking spot with long bench seats. Tons of random stuff on the walls. Looks like you can bring your own food in here.
Our informant offers this little tidbit, “This is the oldest bar in Italy.” “What? Really?” “Supposedly.” “Well that’s.. very cool.”
“Bartenders are landing some heavy pours on the wine.” “Think I’m leaning towards beer. There’s a good one you should try.”
Some people are wearing what look like wreathes of olives around their heads. “What’s with the wreathes?” “Oh those are graduation wreathes. You can say ‘Auguri!’ to them. Or just say ‘Congratulations’ haha.”
We nab some beers and go out to a back patio. Soon after, Simon’s wife Cheryl flies through the door and joins us.
“Jonathan!” “Heeeeeeey! It’s been a coon’s age!” Big smiles, big hugs.
She pulls away, “A coon’s age? Did you say a coon’s age?” “You don’t say that? Thought it was a Maritime saying.” “Coon’s age? Don’t think I’ve ever heard that one.” “Like dog years but a racoon… maybe? I actually don’t know where this expression came from.” “I think you made it up.” And we briefly discuss the merit of a coon’s age as a metric of time only to find that neither of us know how long a racoon actually lives.
I’ve known Cheryl since high school as well. Actually, she has looked exactly the same the entire time. I think she’s discovered the secret to not aging. “So good to see you! Welcome to Italy!” “Ya, great to see you guys. This is awesome!” “It is! We’re so excited you’re here!” If a bottle of sparkling rosé suddenly turned into a person, it would be Cheryl.
We do some catching up over a drink and a table opens up. Nice. We plop down and swap stories about our trip and hear about them living here in Bologna. Seems they like the place and its proximity to lots of other great spots. They’re getting to explore Italy and Europe in general with Bologna as home base. Sounds pretty bad ass to me.
One of the wreathed graduates comes over to our table with a tray of waffles and offers them to us. I’m floored because not only do the waffles look like the ones my grandparents used to make, this girl is also wearing the bacon costume that Queenie was wearing in our faux engagement pic from Japan.
I take a waffle, “No way! So my girlfriend has the same costume. I have one that is an egg.” I pull up the pic on my phone.
“Oh yes! My girlfriend is wearing egg one. Oh oh, I find her!”
She rushes off and comes back with a little live wire in the matching egg outfit. I show her the pic, “Oh we can do this! See, we will do it too.” And the girls do a dramatic recreation of the proposal pic for us.
I mean, the poses aren’t quite exact, but the party attitude more than makes up for that.
I show them the pic and they’re laughing their heads off. We’re all chuckling over how silly it all is. They ask about us and we tell them we’re old friends meeting up for a drink. “Picture of you? Old friends.” “Yes yes, please!”
“Yes. Good.” They take off to deliver more waffles. We’re finishing up our beers and the question of another round floats about. “You guys want to go to this wine bar Cheryl and I like.” “Nah fuck that!” “Haha ok.” “Of course. We’re up for anything.” “Alright, let’s do it.”
We leave Osteria del Sole and are back in the narrow roadway. Cap V takes over again, “Here this way. We’ll find another secret.”
Secret #2 – The Three Arrows
Simon takes us through another plaza, “This plaza is called the Seven Churches.” “Oh? Why’s that?” “Is this a serious question?” “Is this the secret?” “No this is just seven churches lol.” It’s the Basilica di Santo Stefano with several churches clustered together.
We turn and follow Cap V through a small interior area with some shops and whatnot. Things look closed up. “And this area is the Three Arrows.” “This is the secret?” “Almost.”
We come out the other side and Simon gets us to stop so he can relate the secret story.
“So apparently there was a rich guy way back when in Bologna who found out his wife was being promiscuous. He hired three assassins to kill her. But when they drew their arrows the wife saw them and dropped her clothes. Seeing her naked caused the assassins to miss their target and she got away.” “Cool story, bro.” “Now look up.” We all look up. Sure enough, in the wooden rafters above us are three arrows. “There are the arrows.” “Huh.. look at that!”
Secret #3 – The Broken Vase
We make another turn and keep moseying towards the wine bar.
A little further along and Cap V stops us again. “Ok look up at these towers.”
“So apparently, at the top of the tallest tower, the Asinelli Tower, there is a broken vase on the roof. But no one has ever found it.” Ever skeptical MacKay pipes up, “Ahhh so how do they know it’s there? And how do they know it’s broken?” “Hahaha ya good point! I think it was placed there to symbolize… something.” “Let’s go find it!” “Ha, well it’s closed right now.” “Perfect! Let’s get up there!” “There’s a great view up there. But also, there’s a superstition that students shouldn’t climb the tower until after they are done their studies. Otherwise they’ll fail. But when they’re done lots of students climb the tower.”
Instead of scaling the tower in the dark to look for a broken vase we continue on to the wine bar.
Medulla Wine Bar
Simon takes us up the steps into a cozy place called Medulla Wine Bar that has a suave living room feel to it. Seems like they’re regulars here. The server knows them and we get seated at a round table with some wine menus.
“Do you guys like blends?” “Yep.” “Wanna get a bottle to split?” “Yep.”
We pick up a Grenache/Syrah/Barbera blend from Bruna called Pulin. It’s good.
We sit with our drinks and shoot the shit like the old friends that we are. Just four folks from Nova Scotia getting wine crunk in Bologna. Naturally this turns into MacKay telling us about when he was banding ducks in Ecum Secum.
“…pretty easy cuz you rush them and they fly up about 6 feet and then play dead. Defense mechanism for wolves.” “Does that even work?” “Fucked if I know, but it sure makes em easy to band.” <roll laugh track>
We finish the bottle and refill it with laughter. Safe to say MacKay and I are super tuned up at this point after drinking on the patio in Florence all day and then again on the train ride here. But we’re on a secret mission and we muster some goon rally to finish the job.
Cheryl on the other hand has to get up at 5am to teach. We decide to walk her part way home en route to the next secret.
Secret #4 – What’s Behind This Door?
We’re back under the arched walkways again heading in.. I don’t know which direction. Did Simon say he lived near Neptune? I dunno. But we’re headed somewhere alright.
“Ok here.” Simon stops us on the sidewalk and points to a tiny door in the wall. It’s got a little padlock on it but looks open.
“What do you think is behind this door?” he points at MacKay. “A huge pile of porno!” “Hahaha ok… ahh ok. How about you?” “Ahhhh theeeeeee Virgin Mary!”
Cheryl’s just shaking her head, “Wow, you guys really came at that from different angles.” Simon reaches for the door very dramatically, “Noooo, it’s not a pile of porno or the Virgin Mary. It’s…” and he flips the little door open to reveal…
“…ah fuck, it’s dried up hahaha.” “What are we looking at?” “Well there’s a canal back here, like the ones in Venice, but it’s all dried up.” “Is it sometimes full?” “Well not really full, full. But yeah, there’s usually more water. That was kind of anticlimactic wasn’t it?” “Still pretty cool.”
We walk up to the next intersection or so and Cheryl is off. “Great seeing you, Jonathan!” She jumps up for a hug goodbye, “So glad you got to come visit us!” “Me too. Super fun. Great to see you. You gotta come back to California some time. We can all swap into each other’s clothes at the bar again.” “Haha yes! That was super fun. Ok have fun. Don’t do anything too stupid!” “Wawa gaga?” “Oh gawd… Exactly!”
And of course we start pumping our fists and chanting “Boys night out! Boys night out!” as she walks away shaking her head.
“Most places are closing over here. Let’s walk to another part of town.”
We stroll westward and hear some music. Looks like there’s a place that’s still open. “Ahh this place is cool. Never know what it’s called.”
Cool place indeed. Nice wooden bar top with a well stocked bottle collection. Soft lighting. Me likey.
We sally up to the bar, a trio of unbanded ducks that don’t know how to play dead. Sounds like there’s live music in here somewhere. Three seats right at the bar, perfect.
The bartender starts in Italian and quickly switches to English. “What would you like?” I decide that being all-day-drunk is not nearly drunk enough, “Do you have any mezcal?” Slight eyebrow raise from the tender, “Yes we do. They are good.”
“Interesting. I’ve never had either.” “This one then.” “Three please.” And he grabs the one with the cowboy hat and pours three shots of it.
I hand one to Simon and now he’s raising an eyebrow, “We’re doing shots?” “Nah just sip on it. It’s mezcal.” “Mezcal? Don’t think I’ve had mezcal before.” “No? It’ll probably taste like an earthy ashtray, you’ll love it. Or hate it haha.” I hand the other one to MacKay who instantly gives me the stink eye but doesn’t decline.
It actually has a weird soapy kind of taste to it and only a hint of smoke. “Whoa. Ok this doesn’t taste like a lot of mezcal I’ve tried.” “I wouldn’t know. Definitely interesting. Not sure I like it or not haha.”
We follow these with some traditional G&Ts for good measure.
The guy next to us seems interested in the new ridiculous people in the bar. He introduces himself as Alberto and wants to know what I think of Bologna.
“Well I’ve only just gotten here this afternoon. I like it so far. Nice enough, just enough dirt. Ahh… feels honest, not trying to be something else, not touristy really. It’s kinda perfect in a way. Just right. Like the Goldilocks of Italy.”
Alberto’s just laughing. “Goldilocks. Good review. Goldilocks will work.” “Bolognalocks?” hahahhaha
As the mezcal cooks our tummies the shitshow continues to deepen.
I make my way to the bathroom and find a whole other room filled with folks watching a two piece band. It’s quiet and cozy in here, just a small room making an intimate setting to watch.. whoever that is.
When I come through the doorway everyone turns and looks at me. I feel awkward now, navigating a crowded seating area like an intoxicated elephant. The bathroom door is insanely squeaky too and I feel terrible closing it as it’s louder than the guitar and vocals thing going on almost right beside. Daaaaah!
We move from the bar to some seats to make way for other clientele. We’ve got a round of mojitos going now. We kick it for a bit talking about the trip some more and things Simon and Cheryl have seen since living here. This is mixed with the usual tangential nonsense, fits of laughter, and cockamamie bullshit.
When this place shuts down we’re as good as gooned. It’s getting late but there’s still some hope left when Simon says, “There might be something open on the other side of town. I dunno.” “Let’s find out.” So we saddle up and get back out to explore.
“Condom machine on the street? Very handy.” “Haha ya. Oh! That reminds me…”
Secret #5 – The Staff of Neptune
We’ve come back around to the main square and Simon is leading us off to one side of the Fountain of Neptune. “Ok here. Look at Neptune.” “K. What am I looking at?” “Anything seem funny about this angle?” “Hmmm I dunno.” “His left hand is hidden behind his…” MacKay sees it, “…and it looks like a giant dick!”
Priapus would be proud, “Yep. That’s a sweet God cock.” “Haha yeah. They call it Neptune’s Erection.”
The statue was designed by Giambologna who we keep seeing pieces from (and who’s actually Flemish but was based in Italy, late Renaissance). A model of this was submitted for the plaza in Florence but the commission went to the one we saw by Baccio Bandinelli. I think erecting the Giambologna in Bologna is quite fitting.
This area looks cool lit up at night. Just a handful of late night stragglers in the plaza.
We follow Neptune’s Erection to the North side of the city now. We walk through empty streets with the bardar’s frequency range blipping on max. Seems a foolish waste of time really but even just walking is nice. Lot’s of excess energy to diffuse. Might as well get lost.
Secret #6 – Fontana della Ninfa
We find a spot that’s still serving and pop in. Unfortunately there’s only time for one round before they are closing up shop too.
Back out we go and continue Northwards. We come to a large park area in the center of town, Parco della Montagnola. There are castle ruins here and a good view of the city. Handful of sketchy types around but our size and gregarious behavior seems to be keeping them at bay.
On the backside of it we find an ornate staircase leading down to a fountain.
Sweet octopus, horse, nymph combo.
Simon suggests we get up on the statue for a picture. This seems like an excellent idea since we’re annihilated and there’s only one measly barricade blocking it.
We climb up onto the slippery surface and across the fountain into position. Let’s class this thing up a bit.
We’re chuckling as we dismount and Simon is coming back towards us laughing too. “Oh wait, wait. One more right there.”
“Yep. That’ll do it.” “Alright where to?” “Dunno. Nothing looks open.”
I flip a coin into the fountain and we hear a door unlock in the distance.
Secret #7 – Jessica the Prossie
We follow the sound and actually find something that is still open and still serving drinks. It’s a weird triangle shaped place that’s a bar, pizza place, and has an upstairs lounge. That’ll work. “Three gin and tonics please.” And we head up stairs.
Now that we’re settled somewhere MacKay seems to have found a new energy reserve and the dG&Ts are refilling at quickening pace. Feels like I’m just getting started on one when he’s already off down the stairs and back with another round. Simon’s shaking his head, “This guy’s a maniac.” “Lightspeed to the danger zone.”
Simon and I have a dude hug fest, it’s been a while since we’ve hung out. He’s happy to have an old friend in the new(er) place, and I’m always happy to meet up with friends along the travels. There’s a lot of history so we spill some stories on MacKay’s eager eardrums.
I must be getting the most in the bucket though cuz after a few more rounds I’m starting to feel like I’m not keeping up with conversation. Or maybe that it’s conversation I don’t care for? I’m drifting in daydream land barely paying attention. Wait.. wait… what are we talking about? Flat Earth? These two are talking about flat earth? Like it’s true?
“Hold up. Hold up… you don’t actually believe in this shit though, right?” “Actually a lot of it is hard to refute.” I sit up and stare at MacKay, dumbfounded. “What’s hard to refute? The curvature of the Earth? That you can see from airplanes? That the Greeks knew about thousands of years ago? That we can see on the face of the moon during an eclipse? The moon goes around the Earth, it shifts position everyday. In an arc. We know this?” “We only ever see the one side of it.” “Ok, that’s true. But are you fucking kidding me man? The dark side of the moon. The Pink Floyd one. The Chinese just landed a rover on it. It exists.”
These guys are not flat earthers, I think they’re just debating for the fuck of it. But Simon is on board with this shit too, “We’re just saying there’s a lot you could debate..” “But what’s the point? We work at a fucking mapping company. We have satellite imagery of the entire globe. Their flight paths are on a round object. We didn’t base astrophysics on objects being flat. Or is just the Earth flat? Why are we even talking about this?!” “Well.. explain it to us, you did physics.” “No! No, I’m not going to sit here and give an astrophysics lesson in some fucking truck stop piece of shit place at 4 in the morning to prove that flat earth isn’t a thing. That is stupid. Fuck! What is up with you guys?” MacKay and Simon look at each other a little shocked. “Ok man. We were just talking about it, that’s all.” Well it’s fucking stupid. Fuck this!”
And I’m up and stomping down to ground level obnoxiously irate at the topic. I go outside to get some air. There’s a girl out there having a cigarette who immediately comes over to me. She says something in Italian and I just shake my head. “What’s your name?” Her hand’s on my leg already. Great. A prostitute. “Name’s Kobra.” She slaps my thigh. “Cobra. Ha! No it’s not.” “Yeah. It is.” “Ok Cobra.” “And you?” “Jessica.”
I’m not interested in this prostitute for sex reasons but it is a nice change of pace from easily debunkable conspiracy theories. I keep one hand in my pocket on my phone and wallet in case she has alt means of making money too.
Unfortunately, as much as the change in conversation is nice, I don’t think it’s going to be what I want either. I mean… she’s on the clock. And she wastes no time. “Do you have a hostel or something.” “Ya.” “Let’s go there.” She’s pressing against me and leaning in for a kiss. Fuck sakes.
“Can’t. Gotta go.” And I peel off and spin back to the bar. I hear her say “Cobra..” and immediately start giggling to herself over saying the name.
I get back upstairs to my G&T and sit back with Simon and MacKay. “…and the way the towers fell. Basically straight down..” “Yeah, like any demolition, right?” This is what I’m listening to now. And the gold being moved under the buildings. And the perfectly intact passport.. and… and… I only last another minute. “9/11 now? Would you guys fuck off with this shit!” And they both take back and look at me. MacKay’s the first to speak, “You’re pretty spicy tonight, man.” And Simon is backing that up with, “Ya, you really drunk or something?”
Pffffftttt…. well…. ya I am really drunk. Fuck this though. And I go back outside. Jessica the prossie smiles and comes right back over. Ah fuck. “Change your mind?” “Nah. Just need some air. Friends are being idiots.” “Oh? It’s not you being idiot?” Haa…This actually makes me think for a second.
And she’s on me again. “Ok ok. Back to this, ya?” She’s definitely attractive. Good thing I’ve got that bacon and egg engagement pic already queued up from earlier in the night. I show her that just to see her reaction. She loves it. She’s laughing and grabbing my phone. “It’s great!” Fuck, of course. She doesn’t care if I’m with someone or not.
I catch MacKay coming outside to check on me. He takes one step out the door, sees me laughing it up with a prostitute, and immediately spins back inside, full clip. Great. This night’s burning up. I actually start laughing at the situation now. It’s ridiculous. Conspiracy theories and hookers. Jessica thinks we’re having a funny moment together and pulls in again to seal it up. Nope. Nope, I’m out.
On the way back I get stopped by a shady guy. I look passed him and see Jessica’s reaction to this and it’s obvious they know each other. She stomps her foot and spins away disappointed. What’s going on? He pulls out some tinfoil and peels back a layer. Cocaine. He doesn’t say a word, just lifts it, looks at me with eyebrows raised.
I start drunk parsing. Ahhh ok, so the pimp is annoyed she’s not closing and he’s moving on to the next logical vice? I just throw my hands up and walk away. “Nope. Nope!” “Ahhhg friend!” “Nooooooope!”
I go back up stairs and find the boys are out of the conspiracy zone. Simon is now guiding James down a carefully crafted set of questions. Ah fuck, I guess I knew this was coming. Simon’s turned vegan since he moved here and I think this is basically a yes or no decision tree where you can’t help but admit that killing animals and eating them is wrong.
MacKay seems fine to go along with all of this but for some reason I’m just fed up with it all. “Can we stop, please? Can we stop doing this?” “Doing what?” “You’re leading my friend down a charted path. It’s a logic trap. There’s only one outcome.” “What do you mean?” “You’ve had this conversation before, right?” There’s a pause. I keep going, “This is a predetermined thing. You’ve practiced this. You’ve done it before.” “Yeah. Does that matter?” “FUUUUUCK!”
I get up and go back down stairs, unnecessarily furious with it all. Jessica looks up again confused and motions at me. I shake my hand no and she stays put. The guys are right behind me this time and MacKay again is saying, “Dude. What’s gotten you so fucking spicy tonight?” I’ve never heard the descriptor spicy to label someone’s mood before. “I don’t know. Drinking all day probably.”
Simon has some worry in his eyes, “Yeah man. What’s happening?” “I just don’t want to talk about any of that stuff. I dunno. I hate it for some reason. Or that I came all the way to Bologna to just argue conspiracy theories.” “We don’t have to do that. Obviously I’d rather just have fun and be happy. Let’s just do that.” “Ha! Well ya, that sounds pretty reasonable.” “Ok, let’s do that. You know I love you, man. I don’t mean to upset you.”
I feel foolish now with my childish temper tantrum(s). Yeah, why am I so spicy tonight? I spin and give Simon a hug. Known this dude for years. Fuck, this is stupid. I think I’m the one that’s an idiot here, actually. Prossie was right. “I love you too, man. Glad we got up here to Bologna.”
It’s a long hug. A meaningful hug. The kind that only comes around once a decade or so. It feels good. I think its making Jessica the prossie cry.
Nah. She’s looking at the ground and smiling. I sense there’s more to her than meets the eye.
“Alright, let’s just get out of here.” “Fine by me.”
I give the signal and with a toss of her long black curls, Jessica summons us a Silver Sabine Seahorse. It swoops down to pick us up and we ride a fernet beam through the stratosphere and off to the Corona Borealis. There we consult with Bacchus and some satyrs. We have a few good laughs and get home just in time for bed.