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IN PURSUIT OF MORTADELLA

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Eastercon 2018 was held in freezing Harrogate. Cleverly (ha ha!) we flew from Spain via a jolly night in Paris to Leeds-Bradford airport just a taxi ride away from Harrogate. After Eastercon we’d be able to fly from Leeds-Bradford to Pisa in Italy, whoopee, to photograph its  Museum of Human Anatomy (special permission to visit already granted to us) followed by Florence to admire its Slashed Beauties and other dissected anatomical waxworks in La Specola—followed by Bologna to learn all about Mortadella which is similar in size and colour to a limbless body although containing no bones nor visible organs, simply small pearly cubes of throat fat scattered throughout. Delicious. I tell you no baloney.

Alas for Best Laid Plans! Heavy early April snow shut Leeds-Bradford airport, marooning us. Sodding Ryanair would only offer us a flight to Pisa five days later or to Bologna the next day from far-distant London Stansted. At vast expense (not to Ryanair) we overnighted in Leeds then coached for 7 hours to distant Stansted and finally we landed late at Bologna to take a train to Florence to jump back into our planned itinerary.

Pisa by now was a write-off and our extraordinary permission to visit its Museum of Human Anatomy had expired. Yet we still had the Slashed Beauties of Florence to admire, which spread inspirationally throughout Europe from the original La Specola workshop of Clemente Susini during the 1780s.

Due to a stern guide being in charge of our visit, ace cameraperson Cristina couldn’t cross a barrier to get a better angle while avoiding bad reflections. So here’s a Slashed Beauty from Vienna, pictured from a more privileged angle—oh yes we’ll be heading for Vienna before too long.

(This photo is by Joanna Ebenstein who runs the Morbid Anatomy blog.)

La Specola also contains some wonderfully morbid waxen momento mori and baroque plague scenes within boxes the size of small dark aquariums, in wax by Gaetano Zumbo, long may his name buzz.

But enough about Florence! Our true destination was Bologna and the world’s biggest food theme park, 25 acres of Italian food culture known wittily as Eataly. Who cares about skipping Pisa? Bologna is full of leaning towers, of which this is merely one:

Bologna rejoices in umpteen kilometres of urban arcades decorated by corresponding kilometres of crap graffiti by egotistical imbeciles. Probably the daubers gravitate to Bologna due to its great University famous for cultural revolutions from 1088 onwards including the first woman professor of Physics in the world (Laura Bassi, in 1732, who thereafter needed to attend the annual carnivals of public dissections, I merely mention), student strikes from earliest times as regards the curriculum and the quality of professors, via rebellious 1968, to 1977 when “numerous shops and luxury restaurants were looted; side by side with young proletarians, old pensioners could be seen fleeing happily, pushing handcarts full of delicacies. For once in these streets and squares people were communicating…” Dante and Petrarch, Paracelsus and Marconi and Umberto Eco have been on the staff.  Alumni include Copernicus, Erasmus, Pico della Mirandola my favourite Renaissance neoplatonist, the controversially murdered film-maker and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini

Of course we checked out the cemetery in Bologna:

where two dead kin consult on how life had turned out for one another:

 

and where a great memorial from the subterranean up to the sky pays homage to Italian partisans who fought to help liberate their city from the Nazis and their Fascist puppets in April 1945. (Poles were the actual liberators, despite their own territory having just been given away by Churchill to Stalin.)

 

In town the barking rabbits of Bologna guard a tomb:

Terracotta rhinos and other fantastical animals (made by Claudia Cuzzeri) are on sale:

Wine bars in Bologna are full of illumination for the seeker:

Bologna also has its medical shrines where an ET of our own world sits waiting patiently, pensively:

And in Eataly a triumphal arch of tomato tins awaited me:

I had a tricycle-cart to ride around on, since Eataly is HUGE:

Cristina took an illuminating course on pasta making while I supped at the Poretti pub. Poretti (long since swallowed by the Carlsberg group) produce a wide range of splendid beers. The more mundane ones are starting to penetrate hotels worldwide. Within Italy seek out Poretti, especially the Porter, almost an anagram.

When we visited Eataly, more horses and hens were outside in their pens than people were within the huge mall:

Eataly is on the outskirts of Bologna. A dedicated bus runs there from the railway station for foodies coming from other parts of Italy, yet daftly no visitor already within the city will find it at all easy to reach Eataly by public transport. As for getting back afterwards…

Within the city we signed up for a 3-hour Mortadella adventure on foot, starting in the main square from in front of the redoubtable statue of Neptune whose thumb sticks out naughtily, erected (ha ha) between 1564 and 1566, a gift to the tourist trade. Neptune’s trident inspired the logo of Maserati luxcars, first established in Bologna in 1914.

I shall name our guide Marco. Marco di Mortadella, who subsequently deleted his advertisement from the internet, alas. Caring little for the meaning of “in front of” Neptune, Marco loitered off round the side, but we finally found him along with an Austrian mother and daughter, charming fellow adventurers. Dashing Marco, with Renaissance hair and a belt of bling, was passionately Bolognese and a great guide as to how to order different sliced types (small, middle, and large which is best) of mortadella in the local speciality shops senza fare uno sbaglio. Marco took us to a mysterious door in a central foodshopping alley marked in Italian “Enter Only If You Drink” which revealed a unique windowless local pub where you could eat your own picnic provided you washed your food down with a glass of wine:

Only three old codgers were in there when we arrived, and they soon went away. We had the secret place to ourselves in the very centre of the old town, much damaged during WW2:

(This photo is by Fabio Franci, who combines old & new photos of exactly the same parts of Bologna).

Viva Marco! He led us to a private place right in the gastronomic heart—that’ll be the right atrium.

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