That basically explains my excitement before this Saturday, when I’m going to attend the Bologna Pride, organized in the city since, many years. When I discovered how gay-friendly Bologna is, I was truly surprised (positively of course). And it’s not the only city in Italy, where the Pride is being organized this year. There are actually many of them: Rome, Turin, Milan, Bologna, Verona, Catania, Palermo, Naples, Genova, Perugia Pavia and more (see all the locations here: Onda Pride).
It’s seriously shocking for me how many people attend the prides in Italian cities. Looks to me like the Roman one attracted much more participants than the Equality Parade in Warsaw this year (they took place on the same day). See for yourself:
It’s funny to think that Italy, the country of Vatican and the Pope seems less conservative and catholic than Poland. It’s sad for me to say so, but Poland is still in the tail of Europe when it comes to gay rights and while in Italy the legal situation is no different it looks to me like the Italians will anyway be the first to take a step (or more) forward. Well, at least the nation’s attitude is much friendlier.
An experienced volunteer speaking here (8 months and still going strong):
1. Don’t expect anything
Whatever you might be expecting from your EVS, it’s gonna be totally different: people, places, work — you name it. Believe me.
2. Be ready for everything
Judging from my experience it’s better to prepare yourself for the bad stuff. It’s gonna come. I’ve met many volunteers doing their EVS in Italy and learned about all kinds of problems. Of course it doesn’t concern only Italy. No matter where you go, you’re going to face some obstacles and it’s better to be ready. Then of course it’s nice to have also the positive suprises and I had those too. They fortunately make a healthy balance with the bad stuff which makes it all worthwhile.
3. Count only (or mostly) on yourself
There are volunteers working within organisations doing EVS since many years and there are those (like me) that work withing organisations that are still a bit “virgin”. Everything has it good and bad sides. The EVS programme in general is not perfect (and in my opinion is still quite far from it). Sometimes you will encounter grave problems and you will find out that the people who are supposed to be there for you, are not able (or are unwilling) to help you. In that case it’s important to have support from people who are close to you and not give up. It’s difficult, I know. In the end you are in a foreign country, you don’t know how things work, where to go, how to deal with things. I would really like to say that you’re not alone, but sometimes you are and you have to make things work anyway. Contact your relatives back home, your sending organisation, the national agency if you must. You have rights, remember about it.
4. Don’t let yourself be a slave
As a volunteer you will be bound to do all sorts of things. Things that maybe were not written in your contract and yet your organisation makes you do them (if that happens, report it!). It’s important though to know your own rights and know that you’re there mostly to learn and to develop your own skills, not to do jobs of other people for them. You are also not being paid crazy amounts of money (which anyway depends on the country you’re in) and you are not supposed to be held responsible for any projects just by yourself. In any case, you have your contract behind you and you are protected by it. And that leads me to the last thing:
5. Respect yourself
Don’t let yourself be used (or even abused) at work. Depending on what your project is about you will have to do all sorts of things — also things like cleaning, washing, dealing with peaople difficult to deal with (in my case it’s usually drunk people…). But it’s important to not force yourself to do things you don’t feel okay with or that you despise. Forcing yourself to do them is going to reflect not only on you, but also on the people around you. Remember, you’re there to challenge yourself, yes, but also to have a positive experience and to learn.
OK guys, I have to confess something. Even though I’m living in Bologna already since 8 months, I still meet new people that ask me what I’m doing here, where I’m from and for how long I’m staying. And that last question has recently started to be an upsetting one, since it makes me realize, that my project ends in two months.
Yes, I have only two months left.
It’s difficult to think about it, because I have already sort of established a life here, I have found my nisch and friends, I have finally figured out the labyrinth of streets in Bologna’s city center, I started travelling around a bit. I know where to go to listen to a nice concert, where to find good ice cream, where to order best pizza from… Heck, I even have a fidelty card at the supermarket!
How do you leave a place that has almost become your home? A place you already feel you belong to? A place where hairdressers are freaking expensive and where people have no idea what traffic rules are, but at the same time a place where your heart is, where ragu’ comes from and a place where you got so deep into the language of the locals that your own friends back home tell you that you speak your mother tongue with an Italian accent!
And last but not least: what do you do after you come back? You drown yourself in memories, in habits you can no longer practice, in depression because you’re once again in a situation of not knowing what to do next, how to proceed with your life.
But let’s not get too sad. In the end there are still two months ahead of me and I better use them well. So what there are 35 degrees in the shadow outside? I’m gonna go and play djembe in the park all day this Sunday! I’m gonna travel around Tuscany, I’m gonna eat more pizza and gain even more kilos (yeah, I already gained 4 since I arrived here…). And I’m going to feel wonderful doing all that.
The soup festival finished more than one month ago and I promised myself that after that I will take some days off in order to really enjoy the fact I’m in Italy. And so I did: I went first to Rome for 4 days and then to Sicily for a week (yes, I’m trying to excuse myself for not writing here for a month).
While I decided that I’m not a big fan of Rome (even though I enjoyed some of the sites I visited), I have discovered that I’m crazy about Sicily. Me and A., we went to visit one of my EVS friends, that is doing her project in Catania and while we were there, we also took time to travel around. In this way we were able to visit many places, among which Taormina, Aci Castello & Aci Trezza, Siracusa and Palermo.
When I was walking around trying to understand and grasp the Sicilian accent (well, more like: trying to understand anything at all), A. was mostly struck by the low prices of basically everything. In fact, one of the highlights of our whole trip was the visit to a market (and later on also to a fish market), where basically a kilo of whatever fruit or vegetable costed 1€. And in the mornings we were always suprised when we were walking out of a bar with a pastry as big as my head, a coffee or a bottle of water, paying not more than 1,50€ for everything. So yes, when I’m rich and I can do whatever I want, I’m gonna buy myself a house somewhere in Sicily (preferably close to the sea) and I’m gonna spend every spring there (you heard me: spring).
And having that beautiful picture in mind, I leave you with a video I made at the market in Catania. They could sing opera with those voices!
Fun fact: in Palermo people thought I’m from Milan judging from my accent while speaking Italian. Ci sono quasi! ;)
Aaaaand it’s over! The festival came and went while we worked our asses off to make it all happen. It was pretty crazy, the months or preparations, hours spent on the computer managing the inscriptions, promo materials, alel the comunication. Then of cours hours in meetings, finding the volunteers to help us, preparing the decorations. But we did it and on Sunday 19th, the Salgari street in Pilastro district dilled up with thousands of people that wanted to try all the 100 (and more) soups competing for the 1st prize.
On that day I also had the great pleasure and honour to perform with my friends from Djembe-Ta and we really made it count! Our performance was more than 1 hour long and you could easily that people enjoyed it. Here you have a short excerpt from our show, the mix of three different versions of soko rhythm:
Then of course, we had A LOT of cleaning to do, but who will remember that when in some time from now we’ll talk about this year’s edition?
There are some things you should never offend when it comes to the Italian culture and the first one of them is pizza. This is where McDonald’s fell. As you might know, this year’s EXPO is in Milan. It’s theme is Feeding the planet, Energy for Life. So, as it is somewhat related to food, McDonald’s has become one of it’s main sponsors. Recently it has come to my attention that the company released a TV commercial, that I think was not really thought through. Check it out yourselves:
An Italian kid that prefers Happy Meal over pizza? That’s a blasphemy (it’s already big coming from me, imagine the outrage of Italians). I mean, generally food at McDonald’s fa schifo, but even if it doesn’t, it could NEVER be better than a true Italian pizza. McDonald’s, what were you thinking? Of course, it was not necessary to wait long for a response:
It’s even more hilarious because of the language – the kid is speaking in the napoletano dilect (Napoli is of course the place where pizza was born). Dear McDonald’s, everyone makes mistakes, but this was just stupid…
Here we go with the second part of my very precious pieces of advice about life in Bologna (or Italy in general). Hope you find it useful and remember it’s my own opinion (as always)!
1. Be clever about shopping
Not only about how to spend as little as possible, but also how not to get pissed standing in the line in the supermarket. There is a simple solution: go to the supermarket during lunch time (which in Italy means around 12.30-14.00). I can guarantee you that there will basically be no one there. Just you and some other foreigners that are either as smart as you or they just have lunch at a different time of the day. This rule applies to the whole country, not only Bologna I guess. Just check first if the shop you want to go to is open during lunch time…
2. Carry a map of the city
You will always look like a tourist, but at least you won’t get lost. I have a good sense of direction and in most of the places I visited I could find my way around quite easily, but Italian cities are particular. Streets are narrow, rarely paralel to each other which would make it less difficult after taking a wrong turn and then it might be tricky to find the plates with their names (go to Salerno, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Believe me, it’s better to have a map, even after a couple of months when you think you don’t need it anymore.
3. Do your laundry in the evening and/or on the weekend
It’s something that I still don’t understand completely, but you need to know that using water and electricity in Italy is a bit like parking in the city center: cheaper in the evening (usually after 20.00) and on the weekends (ok, in Poland&Italy parking in those days/hours is completely free, but you know what I mean). For some reason you spend less, so it’s a good thing to schedule your laundry time cleverly. Of course it can happen that on the weekend your laundry machine is getting a hiccup from all the work (you, your flatmates, your flatmates girlfriends/boyfriends), but anyway, it’s cheaper. Keep that in mind.