As new songs in a foreign tongue float through my head, I realize that music may be one of the most enduring parts of my abroad experience. Songs are powerful memory capsules; for me, a particular song can grant a flashback that returns me to familiar surroundings, close friends, and strong emotions of the past. Each new (and necessarily catchy) song I hear makes me increasingly aware of my submersion in a new (pop) culture. As the Italian music scene is heavily reliant on the American music scene for material, I often find myself in a moment of strange connection, when, while experiencing something completely new and foreign, I hear a familiar song from my previous, non-abroad life.

For instance, I heard the familiar synthesizer solo of ‘Forever Young’ by Alphaville as I rode into Bologna on l’autobus with my friend Hannah. We are co-workers at a summer program with a peculiar tradition of a musical canon – a list of songs from the 1980s that must be played at every dance. One of these is ‘Forever Young’…

Forever young, I want to be forever young
Do you really want to live forever
Forever, and ever

Not a top hit, but it has significance for the two of us because we’ve danced to it nearly a hundred times, outside, in a summer evening, on a dry patch of grass on a small campus in Lancaster, PA, with hundreds of awkward adolescents swinging back and forth, arms slung over shoulders, singing the memorized lines aloud. And now, Hannah and I were on a cold bus, together again, zooming down an Italian highway and loudly discussing our months of travels – hers around Britain and mine around Italy.

Another instance of this happened because I haven’t been able to stop listening to ‘La Camisa Negra’ by Juanes, which has played each time I’ve gone to the Mexican restaurant Café Caracol. As people finish their dinners at Caracol on Saturday nights, they step up onto the tables and the music is turned up. By the time I arrive with my friends, the restaurant has become a platform of rough wooden tables. There are only narrow aisles below the dancers for wait staff and a thin group of spectators. The Juanes song is fun and loud. Tonight, my roommate Derya found a second song by Juanes and it followed ‘La Camisa Negra’ on her iTunes playlist. Suddenly, I remembered a long, Sunday night drive back to Dickinson after a weekend trip Montreal last winter. Two of my friends had studied in Mexico the previous year and were relating memories from their experiences as we listened to some of the music from their time away. When the Juanes song ‘Fotografia’ came on, they started to sing loudly in Spanish and argue about the real meaning of the song:

Cada vez que te busco te vas
Y cada vez que te llamo no estás
Es por eso que debo decir que tú sólo en mis fotos estás

And now, I hear this song again, and I remember them. And I also feel a tiny bit excited that next year, I can seem so bilingual when I sing a full song in a foreign language and can argue over its meaning.

More than any other facet of “abroad-ness” – like local news stories or regional lore, or slang, or images in art and publicity – music surrounds me through so many of my experiences here. I put it onto my MP3 player and mouth the words of it during train rides. I sing it with my roommates in the kitchen while making dinner. It plays at clubs and bars on all my nights out. And next year, or maybe farther in the future, I’ll find my little collection of songs from my year and have these memories agin.

I’ve been here a little over a month and I already have seen so many amazing things. One that particularly sticks with me is the festival of San Petronio, the patron saint of Bologna. In the early evening of October 4, my friends and I met in Piazza Maggiore, the main square of the city, to get the “free dinners” being handed out in tents lining the commercial side of the piazza. We stood in a dense line but it moved quickly while eavesdropping on some Italian conversations around me. The “free dinner” was more a sampling of Bolognese products – a bottle of l’acqua naturale and a sandwich with mortadella. This only meant some water and a baloney sandwich, but it just seemed so delicious and novel as I ate mine out of the white paper wrapping. We went back for seconds and then walked to a gelatteria to pass the time with some gelato before the fireworks.

When we returned, the piazza had been blocked off and people crowded under the porticos to watch a hot air balloon lifting into the sky. Remembering the event, I see the hot air balloon as unbelievably massive and, due to the wind, bobbing dangerously close to the buildings. Really, it was just a standard, rainbow-paneled hot air balloon but it seemed unreal in a crowded piazza, filling with fire and pulling its lines taut. Because the balloon failed to lift directly upward, the hot air was released and the balloon began to descend upon the crowd. Suddenly, there was a rush of people. People rushed to fold the balloon, people rushed to move away from the dropping fabric of the balloon, and people ran to grab a good spot for the fireworks which would immediately follow. I ran with the third group.

The fireworks began as the masses settled. I found myself with my three housemates in the center of the piazza. There was classical music and fireworks shooting off the roof of the piazza’s government building. We nudged through the easy crowd of couples and babies on fathers’ shoulders and stood at the police gate – the very front row of the display. Directly ahead were three men in orange standing at a computer screen – presumably controlling the fireworks. A girlfriend of one of the men was sitting in a beach chair smoking a cigarette. They were about 15 feet from the firework launch site.

The fireworks were thrilling. During fireworks shows, I typically repeat how beautiful they are as I look up into the sky and gape, but during this show, I had to limit the talking and gaping so as not to get ashes in my mouth. Because of the near launch, the fireworks exploded directly above and the ashes dropped directly onto the heads of the spectators. Watching fireworks in the U.S. is like watching them on TV. Here, I felt the pop and had to dodge the heavy, still-smoking ashes.

This past week was the first week of fall semester. Throughout September, we had our intensive period. Each morning, we had a two-hour Italian class and most afternoons, we had a tour somewhere within Bologna. During this period, I learned a lot of the history – we saw the canals, the art museums, the frescos of a palace – but this was not a lot of self-directed orientation. My Italian life is leisurely, but here I have real life tasks, like the laundry and grocery shopping and, without a routine and with the awkward business hours here, these tasks were frustrating. Now that classes have started, I can get my work done with plenty of time for fun/engaging the world.

This weekend was not what I had hoped: I had wanted to take a day trip to Pisa or Verona and go out to some new places at night. But Friday was hopelessly rainy and I came down with a cold, so I spent most of the weekend camped out on via Mascarella, inside the apartment. The highlights are the following:

• Chinese food. Danielle and I went out for dinner on Friday night to a ristorante cinese. I realize I will get no sympathy, but Italian food gets tiring after a while! Chinese restaurants are the same as those in the States – same pink tablecloths and hot fried rice – but fried dumplings are ravioli fritti and Chinese tea is served looseleaf, which I really liked.

• Clean laundry and new faces in Lava Lava. After a week of roaming around Spain with only a large backpack and then a week of rain, I really needed to do my laundry. On Friday night, I met up with Danielle and Derya in our local laundromat, Lava Lava. In line with our trend of meeting strange people, there were three gypsies (and a baby gypsy) doing their laundry. While they waited for it to dry, the teenaged boy gypsy sat on a washing machine wearing a long skirt and an open leather jacket. His bare feet stuck straight out and he smelled. The gypsies weren’t terrible – they were rude to the store owner and walked around to the other customers asking for money – but it wasn’t dodgy. However, I laughed when I compared my experiences at Lava Lava to Parkesburg’s Neat N’ Clean. I don’t think the friendly little store attendent there would ever have to go berserk about a band of gypsies throwing their baby around the laundromat.

• A play directed by my professor. On Saturday night, my friends and I took a bus to the community theater outside of the city to see I sognatori (The Dreamers). It was directed by our Italian professor, Elena Galeotti, and it was beautiful. There was just enough dialogue that I could follow along but didn’t feel too mentally exerted.

• The wine bar. Ellen took Danielle and I to a southern wine bar off of via Ugo Bassi after the play. I had red wine off the daily list and a dish that was like a tortilla with soft cheese and dried tomatoes and olives (only ridiculously more tasty that it sounds). I enjoyed the wine but I’d really like to get a taste for fine wines, so I can be not only more snooty and an expensive date, but also because there’s so much around here.

I’m almost always posting new photos on Webshots. I sucked it up and paid for the extra photos. But now, I can put up 3000!