Locals I Love is back and I finally have the first interview of 2015, picking the mind of American blogger in Bologna, Sarah Dowling of The Italy 365 Project. In case you don’t know what ‘Locals I Love’ is, this is an ongoing series on the blog aimed at showcasing real people, living and working in Italy (and beyond). Sharing their stories is especially important as many look to this country as a sort of ‘dream’ place without knowing many people who truly live, work, cry and experience this life firsthand.
I was thrilled to interview Sarah because her blog is such a rich wealth of information for people, from how to get health insurance to what words you need to know in Italian. Plus by knowing her, I have more motivation to go to Bologna for a weekend and discover this town so close to Florence.
Name: Sarah Dowling
Profession: English Teacher by day, blogger by nights and weekends
Favorite drink: Caffè Macchiato
How long have you lived in Bologna and where are you from originally?
I first came to Italy in the summer of 2012, just after I finished grad school. I spent my first two months living in Florence, while attending a TEFL course. Then in October I decided to move to Bologna because I was offered a good teaching position there. At the time, I was a really disappointed that I had to leave Florence but I quickly learned that Bologna was equally as beautiful, in its own ways! I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia although I spent 5 years studying in Providence, Rhode Island.
What brought you to Italy originally and how do you like it here?
I suppose the thing that brought me here was my passion for Italy and all things Italian. Growing up with a Sicilian grandmother, Italy has always been a part of my life. During college, I became even more obsessed with Italy! I was minoring in Italian and participated heavily in my college’s Italian club.
I worked at an Italian bakery in Providence’s “Little Italy” district and spent a semester abroad in Florence. After graduating, I started ItalyProject365.com with the intention of staying in touch with my “inner Italian”. A year later, I decided to make my dream come true! I honestly didn’t think I would be here for more than a year, but I haven’t found a reason to leave yet.
I love living in Italy, although it’s much different from from what I expected. My first time in Italy was when I spent 4 months studying abroad in Florence. It was a wonderful, dream-like experience but it was drastically different from the experience that I had when I moved here permanently. Life in Italy is very much agrodolce – bittersweet. There’s the sweet (the food, the relaxed lifestyle, the historical cities and beautiful scenery) and there’s the bitter (lots of disorganized bureaucracy, corruption, lack of efficiency). So I embrace the sweet and accept the bitter and just try to enjoy it all!
What are you up to in Bologna? Work, daily life, passions?
Professionally speaking, I’m an English teacher at a private English school for adults. It’s a great job because I basically get to talk with Italians all day long (they are a wonderful source for advice on Italy), but also because the school I work for has a really young, fun and energetic atmosphere.
When I’m not teaching, I’m either blogging or in the kitchen. My blog has changed a lot over the years and I enjoy writing about everything from Italian traditions to advice on moving to Italy. Still, the thing that really gets me excited is cooking and learning about Italian food traditions. At the moment I’m trying to improve my photography skills (particularly food photography) and I hope to start blogging a lot more about Italian food!
What annoys you about Italy? Tell me the truth!
Sometimes Italians can lack an open mind. Of course, I’m not saying this is true about every Italian but I often hear Italians scoff when they hear about something that’s foreign to them. Like, they can’t believe it when I tell them that putting bacon on top of a maple glazed doughnut is actually pretty tasty! Or they think that macaroni and cheese is a sacrilege to pasta. These are some lighter examples, but I have also experienced a lot of negativity when it comes to race, religion, immigration and diversity. Italy is a very traditional country and although there is beauty in tradition, there is also quite a lot of ignorance.
Do you think life in Italy is for everyone? Why does it work for you?
It’s definitely not for everyone. It might be a wonderful place to visit for some, but that doesn’t mean you should move here. I’ve met several people who lived here for a year and then decided to go back home because they weren’t happy here. For some people they just don’t like being away from home, for others it’s that it’s too difficult to stay here legally or that they aren’t satisfied with their job options here. As a foreigner, you’re going to face a lot of struggles because you don’t have the comforts of home.
For me, living in Italy has worked so far because I really want to be here. I’ve had my fair share of struggles but I think I’m so passionate about Italy and so fascinated by Italian life that I guess I’m able to look beyond the difficulties.
What advice would you give a newbie looking to move to Italy?
Know why you want to move to Italy and know that if you really want to stay here, you’re going to have to persevere. There will be moments when you have to push your way through a crowd and be persistent (both literally and figuratively!).
Three finds/places everyone should know about in Bologna?
Oh that’s a tough one! I’ve written a lot about the secrets of Bologna and I think there are many special things here. I guess if I have to choose three, the first would be Torre Prendiparte – a fascinating medieval tower that has been transformed into a hotel in which every level of the tower is a different room. The view from the top is one of my favorites! Unfortunately, it’s not always open to the public. You usually have to book a night there in order to enter and because you basically rent the whole tower, you have to spend quite a lot! Nevertheless they sometimes have aperitivos there during the summer or other special events open to the public during the year.
Another place that something really unique is Osteria del Sole (http://www.osteriadelsole.it). It’s the oldest osteria in Bologna (open since 1465) but there’s a catch: they don’t actually serve any food. They only serve wine, while customers must bring their own food. When you go there, it’s not uncommon to find a table full of Bolognesi drinking wine and playing scopa. If I go there, I usually go to Simoni Salumeria first (just around the corner from the osteria) and pick up some fresh mortadella, salami and cheese to have with my wine! It’s a cheap, authentic way to enjoy the best of Bologna.
The last place is the Archiginnasio. It’s an old library that was part of the university many years ago. My favorite part about this place is the anatomy room, where university students used to go and sit and watch he professor as he dissected a cadaver in front of them. You can still see the dissecting table and sit where the students used to sit. There’s also an old library in the Archinngasio, full of some really old books. I feel like I’m at Hogwarts whenever I go there!
Awesome tips Sarah, I’m saving them all. What’s the weirdest thing you have seen/experienced in Italy?
I don’t know if it’s the weirdest but I once saw a guy riding a bicycle, smoking a cigarette (in mouth), holding an umbrella (in one hand) and talking on the phone (between ear and shoulder) all at the same time. It was pretty spectacular.
I’ve seen that many a time, also once involving a dog. What can you do here and nowhere else?
For me Italy offers a multitude of different cultures between very few kilometers. What I mean is that the difference from one city to the next is astounding, particularly when it comes to things like cuisine, language, agriculture, and traditions. For example take Bologna and Florence. They are only about 100 kilometers apart. In Bologna you’ll find Tortellini in Brodo on almost every trattoria menu, people who speak Bolognese dialect, and medieval architecture, while in Florence everybody is eating steak, speaking differently and there’s Renaissance art everywhere. Even the weather can be drastically different. It could be muggy and rainy in Bologna and perfectly sunny in Florence at the same time!
How did you make friends and assimilate abroad– was it difficult?
The first few months were quite difficult to meet people. I remember feeling so depressed when I moved to Bologna because I know absolutely no one! Fortunately, I met a lot of people at work. Those friendships led to new friendships and so on. I don’t think there are any special tricks for meeting people, it just takes time.
Italy is full of amazing food, what is your favorite dish and foodie hideaway?
I’m a huge fan of Southern Italian cuisine. I mean I would basically move to Sicily if it wasn’t for the multitude of problems that exist there. I love dishes like Pasta alla Norma (pasta with tomato sauce, eggplant, and hard ricotta cheese) and Parmigiana Melanzane (Eggplant Parmesan). Still if I had to choose only one dish it would be a simple one: Pizza Margherita. I prefer the style of pizza from Naples and the high the quality (buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce, fresh basil, woodfire oven), the better. There are a lot of good pizzerias in Naples, so I won’t even attempt to name my favorite but that’s definitely the place I’d go for my last meal on earth!
If you had to do it again (start a new life abroad) would you and why?
In another Italian city, yes, but I don’t think there’s any other place in the world that I would consider moving to. At least not at the moment.
What would you tell yourself looking back to the first year living in Italy?
Nothing. I think what I experienced in my first year has got me where I am now…and I’m happy where I am now! I think everyone has to experience Italy in his or her own way and create his or her own “Italy story”.
If you had to make up a tagline for the city of Bologna according to Sarah, what would it be?
Bologna: the only place in Italy that managed to seduce me involuntarily.
Understanding the beauty of Bologna requires only two things: time and an appetite for curiosity.