Kite flying at midnight, Notte Bianca, and how I fell in love with Bologna again

Kite flying at midnight, Notte Bianca, and how I fell in love with Bologna again

A crowd at Notte Bianca in Bologna takes in Flavio Favelli, Oratorio San Filippo Neri
A crowd at Notte Bianca in Bologna takes in Flavio Favelli at Oratorio San Filippo Neri

I guess it is pretty much a given that living far away from home is never easy.  And living in a different country is equally challenging.  So at my three-year anniversary of living both of these realities, I’ve been feeling a bit tired. And ready to go home.  But after the night before last, thanks to Bologna’s annual Notte Bianca, a.k.a. Art City White Night, I am comforted knowing I can leave Italy on a happy note.  The infatuation for Italy that I arrived here with has been substituted with a real, sincere love based on a foundation of its awesomeness: the tangible, ever-present appreciation for enjoying the best things in life – food, people, traveling, and culture.
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Notte Bianca is an annual Bologna event connected to Bologna’s reputable contemporary art fair called Arte Fiera. Art City White Night allows the Bolognese museums, art galleries, and local institutions the opportunity to put their best foot forward for one night.


Similar events in the US (on a smaller scale) include Ray at Night in San Diego and the monthly Pittsburgh gallery crawl, but due to the infrequency of Art City White Night and the given respect for its sister event, Arte Fiera, Notte Bianca is truly an opportunity to see the beautiful nooks and crannies of Bologna’s heritage that are rarely open to the public. Really, it is kind of tourist’s dream.


My first year in Bologna, Art City White Night was struck by bitter cold and it was all I could do to make it out of the house. Subsequent years I have made the fatal mistake of taking Art City White Night as an opportunity to eat and drink in good company. But I was overwhelmingly mistaken, because bars and restaurants are open every night, and during Art City White Night, they are an overcrowded nightmare.


So, third time’s a charm. This year, my final year, I happened to be on photo assignment for a local contemporary art magazine, Droste Effect Magazine, and I was determined to visit as many participating locations as possible. Alone, and lugging a lot of equipment, I was not anticipating a great evening. But, as what you expect always seems to end up completely opposite, the evening was absolutely marvelous. I was continually floored by what I discovered…a constant grab bag of delights and possibly my best night ever in Bologna. I am no expert on visual art. But I love these events because you don’t have to know anything about art.  The city was bursting with people discovering their city and having fun.  Not bad.


And, I tell ya, I will not soon forget the beauty I witnessed on Saturday. I stumbled into places I’ve been countless times, like the historic grocery market, that I will never see the same way after following the beautiful sound of an accordion only to discover a man passionately playing amongst the quiet stalls of vegetable merchants.


Or the main piazza, Piazza Maggiore, which I walked through on my way to another gallery, only to find myself surrounded by people flying kites at midnight.  I was dumfounded for a moment…kites?  Midnight?  Winter? Only in Italy… 🙂  It will be forever burned into my memory.


But really, the opportunity to go behind closed doors was the most memorable, from a famously transformed historical church boasting a contemporary art installation on the altar, which was an amazing juxtaposition of contemporary and historical art,

Flavio Favelli at Oratorio San Filippo Neri, Bologna

to skipping an art exhibit in favor of just enjoying the staircase leading to the show, which was hidden within city’s administration buildings. This is the most dramatic staircase I have ever encountered, and unfortunately, my photo doesn’t do it justice.


Another highlight was being invited into the city’s more exclusive locations, like The Grand Hotel Majestic, where the likes of Elton John and Princess Diana have stayed while visiting Bologna,


and marveling at the frescos on the ceilings of the beautiful buildings in the city center.


I am trying to compare this evening to a similar evening in my life, but I really can’t think of anything that can compare.  I felt like Alice in Wonderland, wandering through Bologna with no idea what marvel or magical character I would find next. And in the end, a powerful reminder of what a gift it has been to live in this beautiful place.


And why oh why didn’t I take more advantage of it? I guess every regret is just a lesson learned, and hopefully a lesson passed on. Put yourself out there and…you will be rewarded. 🙂


  1. Rowena says:

    I’m planning on a weekender to Bologna in June so fingers crossed for something extra special to be going on when I’m there. The midnight kite-flying is my kind of thing!

    • mfryan says:

      Awesome! Bologna has WONDERFUL stuff during the summer. It is a huge program of stuff called Bologna Estate. There is a big outdoor film season (I don’t think it begins till July though), tons of art exhibitions, lectures, etc. A great time to come. It all starts getting started in June. There is a great tourist office in the main piazza, Piazza Maggiore, and they can give you all the info. But I’m always here too! Feel free to contact me. 🙂

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