Bologna: 1000 Years of Academic History

November 29th, 2011 § 0 comments

The Universit√° di Bologna is the oldest, continually operating university in the world (in existence for more than a thousand years) and its 85,000 students still dominate this city of soaring towers, medieval buildings and glorious arcades.

There is no formal graduation day as in the United States. When a student passes his or her examinations and successfully defends a dissertation, he or she is granted a degree–and that’s graduation. What follows is a rollicking custom which brings the middles ages alive in the cobblestoned streets. The graduate is dubbed “dottore” (doctor) by friends, adorned with a laurel wreath (as was the custom hundreds of years ago) and often dressed in ludicrous costumes. HG saw some attractive young female graduates crammed into baby carriages and indecently sprayed with white paste stuffed into pierced condoms. Rough fun. The graduates are followed around the city by crowds of friends who sing “Dottore!! Dottore!!” followed by obscene anatomical and scatological references. The graduate is the butt of a lot of irreverent fun — the continuation of an age-old university tradition.

This doesn’t mean that learning is not respected in Bologna. At the city’s museum of medieval art, HG was moved by the beautiful tombs, some six centuries old, of famous scholars and jurists. Usually, such magnificent works of medieval art have religious, imperial or martial themes. But, here in Bologna, men of learning have inspired great artists.

A significant man of learning is HG’s son-in-law, Professore Massimo R. The Professore has brought his unique digital display of the Garibaldi Panorama to the Sala Borsa, the great public library in the center of Bologna. It is an exhibit that is both learned and dramatic. The electronic wizardry and research scholarship of Professore Massimo and his Brown University students has brought the remarkable history of the Italian hero, Garibaldi, and the unification of Italy to vivid life. Anita Garibaldi, Garibaldi’s great- great-grandaughter, visited the Panorama (extensively covered by the Bologna daily newspaper). Next week, there will be a presentation at the University of Professore Riva’s latest book, “The Future of Literature,” a scholarly study of the impact of electronics on literature. When not busy illuminating Italian culture, the Professore researches the best regional restaurants and local wines. This bore delicious fruit recently, when the Professore led HG and family to a restaurant in Ferrara that served an exceptional bollito misto. An HG report will follow.

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