“Meet me at the bell tower!”

This weekend was blissfully uneventful. I made my way through an entire P.D. James novel, borrowed from the tiny CIMBA library, in two days. I also picked up Paul Theroux’s “Chicago Loop” and an Elizabeth George mystery, though I doubt I’ll have any more time to read for pleasure again before the travel week, when I’ll have time to fill on plane trips and train rides.

Photo by Jill Kimball
Photo by Jill Kimball

The only breaks I had from solitary, transfixed reading were during meals in the cafeteria–in which there were only six of us, because the vast majority of people had headed to Cinque Terre and Oktoberfest or were participating in a leadership program on campus–and last night, when we hired Fabio, a local cab driver, to take all of us to Bassano del Grappa.

We were surprised at the size of Bassano. It was a legitimate city, the same population as the city of Santa Cruz packed into a smaller geographical area. And it was Saturday night, so everyone was out on the town.

We went to Bassano specifically to meet up with Jake, a resident intern and fellow student who’d spent a day in Venice. When the cab dropped us off at what seemed to be the main traffic artery, we called Jake and he told us to “meet me at the bell tower.” We rolled our eyes. Between Paderno and Crespano del Grappa, which had a combined population of 6,000, there were four bell towers. Imagine how many there were in this comparative metropolis.


But somehow we found our way into the city center, where there was a strange and noisy car show going on and where hundreds of Italians had converged. We stayed there for a while, but wandered back to the main artery and at the end of the night found ourselves at a hip new-agey bar that served drinks in all the colors of the rainbow and was decorated with neon signs that read edgy phrases like “a new way of thinking”–in English.

The bathroom was the only distinctively European feature of the place. The plumbing was complicated and quirky enough that I had to step on a pedal on the ground to wash my hands at the sink.

But I can’t forget the funniest part of the night: the city’s tiny amusement park, right down a few flights of steps from the historic center. All the familiar rides were there: the Pirate Ship, the chairs suspended from chains that swung out when they spun in a circle, the contraption in which people stand inside a circle, strap themselves in, and spin around and around. But the rides all seemed to lack the safety features we Americans have come to expect at our amusement parks. The Pirate Ship, at each end, had cages in which Italian teenagers could stand instead of sitting in the benches–except there was no safety equipment that strapped them in; they simply had to cling onto the bars of the cage for dear life. The spinning ride had no safety features at all–just benches where the kids sat (and fell) as they spun–and, even more alarming, two teenage girls stood in the very middle of the circle as it spun, stumbling to keep their balance.

There was also a crude soccer game set up in which, if you kicked the ball into the right net, you could win a variety of prizes: a jersey from your favorite team, a team scarf, a $10 phone card and, perhaps most disconcerting, a bottle of Spumante wine. (I should mention that all the boys playing this game looked somehwere between the ages of 12 and 15.) Jake hit the ball right into the center and the man gave him his prize: the Spumante. We all laughed.

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