La Dolce Vita
The egg yolk in my dish looks so orange to me, almost bloody, I can't help but wonder how many tattoo travelers pass though this place and do not notice how rich in color it all is. I stare at it, flopped over the darkest green asparagus I have seen in a long time. The smell of aged parmesan cheese wafts through my nostrils; I am in heaven.
As I eat, I consider the white of the egg is almost as pure a color as that of the tiles that cover the walls and floor of the Restaurant Diana--a stark yet warm eatery that sits midway between the tattoo expo site and the town center on the Via Independenza, the main thoroughfare and traffic filled artery that courses with the transient life of Bologna (Pronounced "Ba-lone-ya").
Lunch time in Italy starts at 1:00 PM and runs through until 3:00 PM. The Italians take their tattooing, family, friendships, and eating time very seriously, and everything closes during lunch time except the trattorias (Small informal family style restaurants) and the restorantes (Fine and expensive ones).
I fill my stomach, then follow the shop lined Independenza south. It leads me to the heart and soul of Bologna--the Piazza Maggiore, saddled by the Piazza Nettuno, two large open squares that dominate the cultural life of the place. They are near a football field in size. Here people gather all day, but incredibly, on Sunday mornings I have witnessed it filled to capacity. People hug and kiss, talk of life, laugh and cry and talk some more.
Yes they talk to each other, an idea of community long since lost to America. We did at one point in history have our downtown areas where families would shop, walk, and talk of life, where politicos would converse on soap boxes and rant of government corruption and where small local tattoo shops would be open. We no longer have the human contact here. We have been emotionally nullified by the mall. That is why I think so many of us that travel to tattoo events around the globe: miss the real color.
I guess the closest thing America has to the piazza now is the internet, albeit sterilized from human physical contact. Even our major tattoo events have been increasingly distant in human terms, and less of a feeling of camaraderie exists now among the attendees than in the past. They have become, it seems, no more than a moving mall of tattoo merchandise.
That feeling of tattoo family could be rekindled for you if you attend the next Expo here in Bologna. I certainly felt it in attendance at the third annual 1995 Tattoo Expo. For three days in December people and artists converge on the Palazzzo Dei Congressi. This spanking new building of twenty years houses one of Europe's best tattoo conventions. Its interior reflective of grand '70s expectations. It has sloping white ceilings and a huge, open, and warm-toned foyer that affords a view of the whole show as you walk in. My only real complaint as a participant in the Expo is that, while the Italians have held onto more human traditions than we, they are not hip to our ideas about health. People all seem to have two cigarettes in their hands. Not much ventilation was to be had either, making the overheated working conditions a bit rough on the eyes throat and lungs. Through the billows of smoke, the mass of people flashed their pictures and talked a lot while hugging and kissing. The crowd pushed in, and filled every possible inch of space in the hall. The color of life and tattooing in Italy could be seen everywhere you looked.
Event organizer and host Marco Leoni, a well known figure for the past eleven years at American conventions, who looks suspiciously like the portrait of Caravaggio, the Venetian painter whose face dominates the front of the 100,000 Lira bill. (about $63 US) is running, the night before the event, in true entrepreneurial fashion. Buzzing around waving his hands in the air, barking Italian curses. While the floors of the Pilazzo Dei Congressi are being covered with gray felt to resist the onslaught of 8000 members of the public that cram into the show in its three-day run, the booths for the tattoo artists and exhibitors are being assembled. On the second floor, Luca, of Body Decorators Tattooing, in Bologna and his cohorts, including Gippi Rondinella, author of Mark Of Cain, from Rome, are putting together an interesting exhibition of tattooist paintings, traditional tattoo materials, and exploration photos from the South Pacific, India, and Asia.
I can sense there is plenty of excitement in the Palzzo Dei Congressi and the old town tonight for this year's Expo. Posters, the main method of youth communication in Italy, are plastered on every available space, shouting out Expo! The small town is vibrating with the coming Christmas holiday, the streets are lit up with all sorts of fanciful decorations. To be sure, before and after the Tattoo Expo, there will be a feast for the eye and plenty of things to do.
This predominantly medieval city of Bologna, was in the 13th century one of the ten largest cities in Europe. It was then called Bologna "La Dotta," the learned. Its university to this day considered to be the leading institution on European law. At the mouth of the main drag the, Via Independenza, or Street Independence, so named because of Bologna's ability to remain independent from its much wealthier and stronger neighbors, such as Florence, sits the vast open square that is the Piazza Nettuno. Just to the right of the Piazza Maggiorie, or Major Square. The physical center of the city and its activity, as it must have been in Roman times. It is now surrounded by buildings that include, at the south end a grand gothic structure called the Basilica Di San Pietro, and the palace of the notaries, including The Palzzo Bianchi, the first permanent site of the university; The Palazzo Del Podesta, with it's Medieval bell tower, and the soaring Gothic interior of the Basilica di San Pietro.
Are you looking to really understand the meaning of gothic design for your art? Well, here it is. All together they create an awe-inspiring scene. Towering in the first square, the Piazza Neptuno you can find the fountain statue that commemorates it's name. The Neptune Fountain, built and designed by a Florentine based Artist named Giambologna. Neptune is in grand scale and its base has bronze mermaids unabashedly squirting water from their breasts into the pool
below. Everywhere you look there are inspirations for new tattoo designs, the place is alive with art.
Another amazing aspect of this walking town of Bologna are the porticoes that cover every sidewalk. Arched roofs cover every path; each sidewalk is tiled and lined with shopping of every description, from the finest of shoes and leather to dazzling jewelry shops, making it pleasant even in the worst of wet weather. When you come here next year, don't miss the "Due Torri," Two Towers. Bologna has its own version of the leaning tower, except their are two and both are leaning toward each other in a potential Italian embrace. The one that was built in 1109 by the Aisinelli family is available to climb and provides a breathtaking view of the city and surrounding hills.
One thing you need not concern yourself with in Italy is food. Since the 13th century Bologna has also been called" La Grassa," or "the fat." Consider that lasagna, tortelloni, tortelline, and spaghetti la Bolognese, really ragu, or meat sauce and of course bologna (pronounced "Ba-lone-ee"), better known in Italy as mortadella, were all invented here. Bologna is considered by many in the world the gastronomic capital of Italy. Most folks don't go out to eat until after 8:00 PM so there is no need to fret when coming out of the
show at 11:00 PM. Directly opposite the congresso is the Pizza Pino a monstrous pizza and pasta joint. There will be plenty of food to choose from. I have twelve more pounds on to prove it.
Excursions to some of the greatest Italian cities are also within easy reach by train. Access to the world's greatest collections of art are less than two hours away. In fifty-
five minutes you can be in Florence and visit the Ufizzi Gallery, filled with high Renaissance art, including Botticelle's "Birth of Venus" (or "Venus on a half shell" as Americans call her). To the north in less than two hours by train lies Venice, and the gondola ride of your life.
Tattooing has exploded in here the past ten years since Gorgio Ursini organized the first tattoo exhibition in Rome. As a result there are tattoo shops in every major city in Italy. All of the artists are happy to meet and share ideas with foreign travelers. Lest we forget where Machiavelli was born and think the tattoo community here is in some fairy tale place, let's say it is not without its color wars. There is a contentious international school of tattooing just getting started in Florence. With good reason, this is causing a major rift in the tattoo scene. Perhaps the time is right for an APT extension in Europe. Certainly tattooing cannot continue to be unorganized in the world and flourish.
My advice is don't miss Tattoo Expo next year. And while you are in between the tattoo expo events, look up from your plate of eggs and see the beauty and grace of Italy. There is an old saying: "Every artist steals his ideas, but the sign of a great artist is whom he steals from." Here you can steal from the best.