It is dark out and there is a man crouched under a nearby bush smoking crack. The further I plunge into the Bologna park the more movement I hear. There is a rustling of leaves there. A sniff and cough in front of me. The sound of footprints from behind me.
A beautiful brick walkway outlines the outer edge of the park, and in the center are several fountains spewing water. They make the only other sound besides my thumping heart and the occasional whoosh of a match being lit and crunching of branches underfoot.
As darkness settled in to Bologna the rats of the city climbed out of their holes and embraced the world they felt most alive in. Beneath the marble stairs that wind to the upper tier of the park, drug addicts crouched, their knees pulled to their chest, looking out at me suspiciously as they got high. People walked by, their heads buried in the glowing light of the cellphones, their headphones stuck deep in to their ears. They were blocking out the work, disconnecting from their community and themselves.
Ironically, a 12 minute walk from here, less than a mile, is Universitat Bologna (the first and oldest university in the world) where the late Umberto Eco used to teach as a professor of semiotics. In his latter years a final book titled Pape Satan Aleppe was published right after his death, February 2016, containing a collection of 200 columns he wrote for L’espresso Magazine. One of his biggest themes: “the breakdown of the relationship between the individual and the community,” has created confusion and disorder.
I leave the dark park behind and travel across the street, following the sound of music. There is a small concert going on, food is being served and people are dancing. I’m too shaken to enjoy it though. Across the street are homeless people doing more drugs. They are disconnected from this world, trapped in the cover of darkness. Like bats they awake at night and fly around. When morning comes, the rest of the world rises, and they are falling.
We are creating a society not conducive to the camaraderie of travel. There are too many smoke and mirrors, too much thick baloney to cut through. So we don’t bother. We say to hell with those drug addicts mucking up our streets, those juveniles running rampant who only need a role model to provide direction, those adults on welfare making more than I do.
I have friends living thousands of miles away from me that are closer to me than my neighbors. My neighbors arrive home at night, too distracted by email and their busy days to say hello. In his right hand is an iphone, the left his house keys. Setting a trajectory from his car to his house he moves along an invisible path to his doorknob and then inside his house. He takes the shortest route, minimizes interactions and doesn’t care to waste time getting to know people. There are more important things, like that phone in his right hand. We are not too busy, just too distracted.
I quickly change my plans. What was going to be a night spent sleeping in the park, has turned in to a midnight train ride out of the city. As I sit in the train station waiting for my departure I close my eyes, grip my day pack close to me and stuff earbuds in to my ears. I need something to calm my nerves, a distraction from the way the world has become.