I like alleys. They are the backdoor to everything.
~ Brian Azzarello
I’ve been visiting a little back alley in Bologna for over eight years now. There isn’t much to it—a cobblestone street, a barred window or two, a few doors, a zillion motorcycles, and a lot of graffiti. It’s not pretty, but it has its purpose: It’s a great way to cut through from Via Castiglione to the Piazza Santo Stefano area.
Cutting through it is how I originally “met” it, to tell the truth. On our first visit to Bologna in 2013, Mike and I took a wrong turn going to a restaurant, ended up on Via Castiglione instead of in Piazza Santo Stefano, and luckily had a map that showed the alley. If not, we might still be wandering around in search of Grassilli. Little did I know that the alley would become very important to me in the coming years.
In August 2014, I came back to Bologna alone so I could attend Italian language classes at Cultura Italiana whose classrooms just happened to overlook the alley. Every morning I walked down the alley, turned left, and entered the centuries-old building. I also would walk from my apartment to Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main piazza, by cutting through the alley.
During my time in Bologna, I talked to Mike (and Riley) daily via Skype or VIper, internet-based programs that allowed subscribers to call or text free when in a Wi-Fi area. One afternoon during my first week there, the Wi-Fi went down. I had no way to communicate with Mike (or anyone else). Apparently, a phone company workman was working on something in the road by the apartment. He cut the wrong line unknowingly, and by the time anyone reported it, he was happily on vacation since it was August.
My now-good friend, Giovanni, allowed me to go to his B&B to use that internet, but since the cut line affected the whole street. Because it was August, most workers were on vacation, and the line was going to remain dead until September, Giovanni told me.
I had read somewhere that there was free Wi-Fi in the Piazza Santa Stefano which was about a quarter of a mile from my apartment. There very well may have been free Wi-Fi, but I shuffled through the entire piazza trying to find where it was hiding and never did find it.
Alley to the Rescue
I decided to head to Piazza Maggiore—about another quarter of a mile away—to see if I could use the city signal there. I watched my phone as I walked down a little alley, and I noticed I had a pretty strong signal from an unlocked connection about half-way down. I dialed Mike.
Success. Of course, the connect was not the best since I was in an alley and the connection was God-knows-where. Any slight move on my part threw a huge wrench into our ability to hear one another.
“I can’t hear you,” Mike often said. “Don’t move. I can hear you perfectly well now. Wait. Did you turn your head? You’re cutting out. I can’t hear you any more.” I was getting irritated with him. If anyone should complain, I thought, it should be me. I was the one who was sneaking around Bologna in search of a connection while he was comfortably ensconced on his La-Z-Boy in Las Vegas.
2015 and Beyond
The following year, Mike spent time with me in Bologna, and I had the opportunity to “introduce” him to the alley. “Call Me Maybe” was still pretty popular at the time, so we had fun with it by taking photos in the alley. I’ve continued the tradition in the following years.
I know Al E. appreciates it.