Today’s Comment of the Week: Advice for the Study Abroad Student Headed to Bologna!

Wonderful Reader Corra22s, commenting on Object #12 – Tickets to the Premiere, writes:

As a current twenty-year-old soon-to-be studying abroad in Bologna (a whole year early!), I really enjoyed your reflections and your hilariously illuminating recount of class relations.

I was wondering if you could give me any advice or suggestions for doors I should try to find. As you said, there are so many! (I’m still TWENTY.) It’d be fun to have a place to look forward to finding, a challenge of sorts.

TWENTY! She’s TWENTY! (You’ll understand the importance of this if you read the story.)

Okay, Corra22s, the first thing to say is that you are indeed a very lucky person, because studying abroad in Bologna is one of the very best things a person could ever hope to do. And the second thing to say is that advice from old people like me to young people like you is pretty much always annoying because it always boils down to the same basic thing:

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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #12 – The Tickets to the Premiere


It was during my study-abroad year in Bologna that my friend Roberto and I decided to write a musical. Not just for fun, not just for some school play or party or anything immature like that—no, we were going to be great and famous writers of musicals. Wilson & Benedetti!

And why not us? Roberto had been playing piano for a million years and had perfect pitch. I had just written a poem. We had both been IN musicals. We liked WATCHING them.

This is all it takes, people. Twenty-year-olds studying abroad have boundless optimism. None of it’s earned, of course, but that’s okay. It’s just there.

One problem: all the good subjects had already been taken. Our predecessors had covered everything we could think of. We needed a theme. Needed a setting. Some kind of story. Luckily, as the word guy, I had a brilliant idea:

ME: I’ve come up with an idea for our musical. No one’s ever done it. Brand new!
ROBERTO: Excellent! What is it?
ME: Okay, so I’ve been reading a lot of Simone de Beauvoir. Just finished The Second Sex.
ROBERTO: Um, okay…
ME: And I’ve been reading a lot of Nietzsche. Some interesting combinations there.
ROBERTO: You want to write a…Nietzschean feminist musical?
ME: With bouncy tunes!

It’s embarrassing now to think how excited we were. Embarrassing to think we even tried. But can you blame us? We were twenty years old. TWENTY.

Think of life as a world of doors. When you’re young, you’re told you can open any door. Right? Just find the one you want…and walk right through! They’re all open to you! We tell college graduates that, even though it’s really not true at all. And five-year-olds? Forget it. With five-year-olds we lie and lie and lie. You want to be a movie star? See you on the big screen! An astronaut slash professional baseball player? Godspeed, little one.

For two twenty-year-olds, roaming through Europe, living like carefree kings on Eurorail passes and a stipend, fueled by red wine (legal here! a whole year early!), well, what were going to dream of being? Accountants? Dental hygienists? Of course not! We would be writers of a musical. Naturally. Of course.

We took a picture to commemorate the day we began:

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The Futurists in Fat City

Umberto Boccioni via The New Inquiry

Just the other day it was the discovery of Charlie Chaplin’s novella. Now comes another article about Bologna:

Diners at the Bologna location were dubbed “experimental passengers,” seated in a room that resembled a fuselage, and served dishes named for an airplane’s various gear. Engine noises blared in lieu of Wagner. The experimental passengers came away from the experience unnerved and disoriented yet impressed by its beauty.

And which group was behind this onslaught of sensory and gustatory sensations? The Futurists, of course:

The Futurists wanted their cuisine to discombobulate. They imagined the Tavern of the Holy Palate not as “a simple, ordinary restaurant,” as Futurist luminary F.T. Marinetti writes, but as “an arts centre holding competitions and organizing Futurist poetry evenings, art exhibitions and fashion shows instead of the usual post-prandial coffee evenings or dances.” They designed their eatery to disorder the senses, to unmoor the eater from his everyday habits. All of this discombobulating, disordering, and unmooring they believed advanced a risorgimento, a wholesale remaking of Italian thought and culture.

Has there ever been such an Italian shift to a movement? Because really, what does food have to do with Futurism, other than the fact that no good Italian movement can survive without good Italians, and no good Italians can survive for long without good food. Here’s their attempt to justify it:

Despite their zeal for industry, machines, and automation, Futurists considered food one of the more effective weapons in the fight against tradition. Because it engaged the body immediately, it presented the fastest way of transforming the mind. And a mind transformed by modern food, the logic went, was a mind sympathetic to a modernizing agenda.

This is comical, and I wish I could laugh. Unfortunately, the Futurists are (as usual) one of the most misguided groups ever. They remind me of young boys eager to play war, not realizing they’re in way over their heads:

Soldiers about to get “into a lorry to enter the line of fire” or go “up in an airplane to bomb cities or counter-attack enemy flights” may wish first to enjoy a “Heroic Winter Dinner” consisting of three fairly involved dishes. First comes “Drum Roll of Colonial Fish,” a mess of fish, bananas, and pineapples eaten to a snare’s accompaniment. Then comes “Raw Meat Torn by Trumpet Blasts,” a single cube of beef marinated in rum, cognac, and white vermouth, given an electric jolt, and plopped atop a bed of red pepper, black pepper, and snow. (The dish’s presentation was meant to suggest an aerial view of a winter battlefield’s trenches, corpses, and spilt blood.) Ripe persimmons, pomegranates, and blood oranges offer a palate-cleansing interlude before the meal’s finale. Dubbed “Throat Explosion,” it consists of “a pellet of Parmesan cheese steeped in Marsala.” Immediately upon eating this “solid liquid” even the most reluctant warriors  – or “meat to be butchered,” as the Futurists urged them to call themselves – felt courage enough “to rush like lightning to put their gas masks on.”

Ugh. Every time I read about the Futurists, it’s the same thing. I laugh. I shake my head at how ridiculous they are. I get caught up in their enthusiasm for about two seconds. Then I wind up wishing I could go back in time and try to shake them out of it.

You can read much more about the fascinating Futurists and their feasts in Christine Baumgarthuber’s piece in The New Inquiry.

The Novella and the Tramp

Do you recognize this man? (Hint: He’s a genius.)

If you guessed “Charlie Chaplin, film star,” you’re partially right. The correct answer is “Charlie Chaplin, film star and novella-ist.

The Hollywood Reporter has the news:

The only book Charlie Chaplin ever wrote has been restored and will soon be published by an Italian film restoration institute.

Floodlights, which the silent-film icon completed in 1948, was adapted into the 1952 autobiographical film Limelight. The film and the book both tell the story of a struggling comedian and a despondent dancer who lean on each other for help.

Which Italian city came to the rescue? Why, it’s our old friend:

The 34,000-word book, which was nearly lost to history, was discovered and restored by Italy’s Cineteca di Bologna, which reported it was “pieced together” from handwritten notes and typed scripts and vignettes by Chaplin biographer David Robinson under the auspices of the Cineteca di Bologna, which will publish the book this year.

Thank you, Bologna! Not only did you give me a year of pleasure as a study abroad student (and many fine subsequent visits), you are now giving the world a lost piece of a great twentieth-century mind. Will it be any good? I have no prediction – other than the book’s length puts it in good company.

And that the guy who created this has the kind of empathy that every good fiction author needs: