I ate my first macaron today, and it was almost a transcendental experience. This was one of many occurrences today where I was transported outside of myself in a way Italy does best, whether in the form of a vibrantly painted medieval manuscript, or a hot pink macaron tantalizing visitors from behind the window of a Bolognese bakery. I wanted to start my blog by documenting my macaron experience because it was the perfect end to a day of intense intellectual and cultural experiences my classmates and I had on our third day in Bologna (and since this is Italy I just have to talk about food somewhere on here!).
We started off our day at the Universita di Bologna with the beautiful and charming RAM staff, learning about the history of the University and manuscript cataloging. Professor Francesca Roversi Monaco gave a lecture about origins of the University, focusing on its significance on the city’s identity throughout the centuries. The birth of the university is a complicated subject because not only are there no official documents revealing its official foundation, but it is intertwined with Bologna’s political, social, and economic history as well. Dr. Monaco emphasized that the University’s apperance in the eleventh century was spontaneous; it was not created for any one specific purpose by any one particular person. This might explain its continued importance to Bologna; the University was able to grow from many different directions at once throughout time and adapt to outside pressures and changes.
One comment of Dr. Monaco’s that I found particularly interesting was that many professors of the University wielded considerable political power throughout the medieval period. This coincided with what I saw yesterday outside the magnificent Basilica San Francesco: two elevated stone tombs that our guide informed us once housed the remains of two professors. Such dignified tombs suggest an importance that stretched far beyond mere academic influence and prestige.
My classmates and I next learned about proper manuscript cataloging from Dr. Flavia Manservigi, and we received a surprise afterwards when we were invited into the personal office of the RAM staff to look at some medieval documents in their collection. This was my first time in direct contact with a manuscript this old, and I think my fellow UMass students shared in my excitement and awe with the opportunity to touch and closely examine these documents. This made me think about how even though technology has made it possible to view documents such as these online, it cannot replace direct evaluation, particularly because we are able examine the document from different angles and using other senses besides sight in our evaluation (and yes, I do admit to smelling one of the documents, although the result did not exactly meet my fanciful expectations; it just smelled like an old book.)
We also had the opportunity to use some of the things we learned from Dr. Manservigi when we visited the State Archive of Bologna after lunch. I think all of us felt truly privileged to receive a private tour of the archives and to see some of its most valuable medieval documents. I was even able to momentarily forget the incredible heat of the non-air-conditioned archives building when our host revealed a beautifully and intricately decorated medieval miniature; its gold leaf shining as if freshly painted.
Although it would be easy for me to continue with descriptions of the treasures our group was fortunate enough to see in the Archive today, I will conclude by stating my appreciation for my fellow classmates, our teachers, and this city. So far this trip has been a wonderful combination of learning and discovery, and like my macaron experience, I remain hungry for more.