We arrive in Bologna after dark. Claudia and Giovanni, friends from 25 years ago, are expecting us. They said that their driveway would be suitable for our Emma, but after a failed attempt, resulting in breaking the remote closing mechanism of the gate, we decide to park up half in and half out of their side entrance. There too, we only have about 5cm each side, between the van and the gateposts!

How beautiful it is to meet friends who you instantly connect with, picking up the threads of 20 or more years ago, as if no time has passed in between!

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We spend a couple of days in Bologna, soaking up the atmosphere of the town centre with its rich colours and many arched Arcades, sharing food and playing games with Giovanni and Claudia and visiting Roberto, the violinmaker, also a friend from many years ago. Roberto is fascinated by recently invented instruments, such as the Hang and the Christal Bachet. Here is a video of both of them being played together. Roberto also takes a look at my mother’s violin, which he deems a nice instrument, the sound of which, he says, could be greatly improved with a new bridge and tail, but first I should learn to play it better. Fair play…

One evening, Roberto takes us to a fundraising concert in aid of a violinmaking project in Cuba. A Cellist called Giovanni Sollima is the performer for the evening. Neither Frank nor I have ever seen a Cellist like this. His playing ranges from sublime to the wildest we have ever seen on this instrument. He is also a great raconteur, but unfortunately we don’t understand much of his rapid-fire Italian chats in between pieces, which often have the audience in stitches. After the concert, everyone moves to a place a few hundred yards down the road. We get to meet the maestro and his tour organiser, Chantal. Sollima is from Sicily, so we get a whole raft of recommendations, plus an invite from Chantal to go horse riding on mount Etna! However nice it is to be surrounded by friends and to feel the strength of connection across the years, we yearn for the peace and quiet of the countryside, so after three nights in Bologna where our sleep is punctuated by passing trains and we are woken every morning by a chorus of yapping dogs, we decide to leave. Giovanni’s brother Coradi tells us of a place we must go and see, called Parco Storico di Monte Sole. Coradi is like the gatekeeper to personal and collective memory. He remembers everything, even the bombing and subsequent liberation of Bologna in the second world-war, when he was only a 3-4 year old child. He tells us that the Parco Storico di Monte Sole was the site of heavy fighting in 1944, when the U.S. army, helped by the British and Russians as well as partisan Italians, fiercely fought the Germans. The Germans punished the Italians for their partisan activities by massacring large amounts of innocent civilians in the little villages (all in all more than 700 – the largest massacre by the Germans on Italian soil). Today, there is a memorial route through the park, commemorating the events. A ‘Scuola di Pace’, open for most part of the year, offers conferences and courses on the topic of peace, as well as being a meeting place for nations at war.

We arrive in the dark, to a beautiful starry sky.

For more photos of this chapter, go to flikr

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