A day spent wandering through the city streets of Bologna. In the province known as 'the Stomach of Italy', Emilia Romagna's capitol city is clearly enjoying the bonta' - a word that I've heard used far more frequently in Italian than it's English equivalent: bounty - of its varied and generous cuisine. Around the central Piazza Maggiore, the incessant clatter of cutlery and of coffee-cups rings through the little side streets. University students stand about looking gorgeous in the dappled sunlight under the frescoed vaults of colonnaded walkways. Coming from Cagliari, this city feels so Northern and cosmopolitan. That said, there is no Big City rush about this place. It seems absolutely acceptable, thank goodness, to dawdle in front of each bakery.
The bakerys' windows are stuffed with with Bolognese pastries and breads, crunchy and rich with strutto and coccioli (lard and pork scratchings-type pieces of pork), as well as hand-made fresh pasta, panettone and colourful and delicate Viennoiserie. Though I thought that bakeries down South offered quite a range, theirs would look somewhat limited next to the dazzling choice offered here.
Right at the start of this trip I realised that, because I'm used to paying so little for my food in the UK, I find all food in Italy expensive. This place, however, seems to take the (expensive) biscuit. Entering a supermarket and feasting my eyes on the beautiful way that everything is packaged, I note the international choice of foods. I always feel rather disappointed that Britain's contribution to the world of food is always Instant Porridge Oats, to be eaten 'for slimming'. Queueing behind a fur-coated Signora who pays €11.45 for tinned Brussels Sprouts (I'm not sure which bit of this sentence not to italicise), I decide that I can live quite happily on the bread and fresh cheese that Luigi gave me yesterday, and settle for un'etto (100g) of garlicky Mortadella di Bologna.
Yesterday at Luigi's gave me a lot to think about in relation to the distance between producer and consumer. I'm a bit humiliated that my home country (that's Britain, I'm not foolish enough to narrow it down to Wales) is hardly represented on the international food scene, in terms of recognisable traditional products, and I find it maddening to be told all the time how bad the UK's food reputedly is (“You don't have any good bread in your country, do you?”). However, I realise that it's not my problem, or rather, I'm only responsible for doing the best that I can without a 'mea culpa' for the past and present dross. I don't want to make something to be sold in Bologna, I'm looking far closer to home. I saw, in Luigi, the immense satisfaction of being personally in contact with the people eating his bread.
Since the beginning of this trip, my interest has leaned more and more towards an interest in a quality of life rather than simply the qualities of bread. I have found delicious bread at every stop, but I wouldn't want to take it home with me, even the loveliest, longest-lasting pasta madre loaf. It was never my intention (even if I were able) to recreate recipes that I've encountered here, back home. Far more important, I feel, to be in and of my own community. At the moment, and in the best way, my inspiration is coming far more from the bakers than their bread.