It was a Sunday afternoon in Bologna and I was suffering. My friends and I had been out the night before until approaching five. This had left me feeling somewhat deflated and in need of lift. Coffee at around 11h00 had had little impact. So too had the rather lavish we had consumed - neither the fantastic variety antipasti nor the huge pizza I ate could get me into gear. I still felt wretched. Because of this, my friend Sergio decided to raise my spirits. He said, "Paul, let me show you the funniest statue in Bologna". I was not 100% sure what he had in mind, but I decided to follow him regardless.
As he began his work as an impromptu tour guide he explained why the statue would be funny: "We are going to see the statue of Neptune. In many ways this is just a normal statue. But, if you look at it from a certain angle it looks very different." This confused me a little, so I asked him to explain. As he began to do so, a mischievous grin flicked across his face, "Well, if you see it from a certain angle the hand looks magic".
"How does it look magic?" I asked with a degree of confusion entering my voice.
"It looks like Neptune has a BIG penis."
This little tit-bit stopped me in my tracks. He went on to explain that if you stood at a certain angle behind the statue, Neptune's hand appeared from behind his leg looking remarkably like an amply-sized member.
Simply put, that was a side that - with my infantile mind - I had to see. So, we made our way to Bologna's main square post-haste. Sergio proved to be 100% correct. We stood there and giggled like schoolgirls. Looking around us, it was clear that we were not alone in rather juvenile senses of humour as there were plenty of other people standing in just the same spot.
After a couple of minutes of giggling and smirking, Sergio moved off to join up with our other friends whilst I snapped a few photographs. However, as I endeavoured to get just the right angle for the perfect shot, I was distracted by a far more sober and less heralded sight. About 20. Away from the statue is a wall that is covered in black and white pictures. I had no idea what it was, but the rather patchwork style grabbed me on an aesthetic level and I decided it would be a good idea to investigate. It turned out to be a far more sobering sight than the statue, but was nonetheless extremely interesting. Even though the caption was only in Italian it was relatively easy to work out that each of the photos was that of a member of the Italian Resistance killed during the Nazi occupation in WWII.
The sight was a sobering firstly because there were so many pictures. Each was smaller than a standard post-card and yet the collection of them was the size of the billboard. It was also a deeply arresting sight because it featured actual photos. Many memorials tend to list names - or anonymous nationalities where names cannot be confirmed. This tends to de-personalise the whole experience. For example, the cemeteries in the Somme are haunting places, but this is caused by the sheer heart-breaking scale. They are simply row upon row of graves and huge walls full of the names of soldiers whose remains were never found. However, in that situation, it is impossible to put faces to the names.
The wall was almost hypnotic. It created a sense of investment with the cause and with the sacrifice made by the men (The pictures were predominantly of me) in the pictures. Even though it was a memorial to partisan fighters, the men involved seemed sober and sensible. They looked like school teachers, doctors and bank managers. It was a fascinating little piece of history. As I stood and stared, Sergio came across to speak to me.
"It is not quite the same as the penis. But it is a very beautiful thing. We are very proud of these men".