The people who move to Emilia-Romagna from other regions often begin their ventures in Bologna. The migrant journey of a guy from Liguria unfolds curiously, following dynamics very similar to those of people from different countries who migrate to other parts of the world. A Ligurian will help you find a house, the right contact for a place to stay at, and the cheaper shops for groceries. The community of people from the same region as yours, will instruct you and train you to move independently across the tumultuous ground of the Emilia-Romagna capital city, in the first days following your arrival. In my case, when I lived in Bologna I always hanged out with friends who had moved there with me, therefore guidance was provided in an even more specific way, from inhabitants of the same province I came from. Over time I convinced myself, quite illogically, that a notorious rapper from the Ponente Ligure region that had moved to Bologna, was to be credited with inspiring the immediate following generations of those same towns, to go and live in Emilia Romagna.
What appears to be a nonsense process of emulation, certainly finds other reasons: compared to other cities in northern Italy, perhaps more suitable for those who aim to graduate in just 5 years at the Economics and Commerce faculty, Bologna presented itself as an incredibly attractive city. For a non-compliant nineteen years old who was in fact interested in graffiti only (with the small component of rap music related to them) and hardcore punk, Bologna was in fact the squatted spaces where every single weeknight you had a concert, a party or an initiative. Bologna was the city of Livello 57 club, where Italian rap music found its cradle somehow, and where the music that you carried in your high-school walk-man had come from. Bologna was a profound break with the countryside monotony that had suffocated you up to that point. More than just an idea or a project (because if I have to be truly honest, at that moment in my life I had very few ideas, and certainly no future plans) Bologna to me was a sensation.
I clung to that feeling with both hands, and after a little under two weeks of nomadic wandering among various sofas to snatch phone numbers from ads in the university area, we had decided. The first week of September 2004, well before uni classes started, a friend that started painting a couple of years earlier and I, moved into a new place.
I think literally the first thing we did was to check the yard, on the same afternoon we arrived at the new house, soon after we left our backpacks and bags with supplies prepared by our lovely mothers who worried about their children running from the domestic nest into the unknown. Even in that case, the precious advice of our fellow countrymen who moved there a few years earlier, had proven useful to paint in a well-known city-center train depot – which was easily accessible from a small park. It was not brain surgery, trains were parked just across the typical concrete railway barrier in Italy. We had already painted this spot on previous trips, however these panels came after we had moved in the city, and so they felt like a celebration.
I remember the feeling of unjustified euphoria leaving the small park with our shopping bags filled with empty cans, the smell of fresh paint and the idea of finding another place to paint in the evening, before going to the TPO squat for a concert. The feeling of Bologna.
Perhaps that euphoria could be explained partly due to the fact that the Liguria region, especially in those years, had very little to offer in terms of spots to paint trains, which were far away from one another. Historically, the first-generation crews from Liguria, those that started painting the train surfaces in the second half of the 90s, were very jealous of their spots and were determined to defend them. For those who arrived later, the option remained on the table to paint once in a while in those same spots and try not to be noticed, or travel many miles by train every weekend, in order to reach the yards of the lower (and sometimes upper) Piedmont region. The possibility of being able to paint in daylight, a few minutes by bus away from your house, seemed unrealistic. Shortly thereafter it would become our everyday life, and the sense of coolness and euphoria would be consolidated into a much more concrete desire to paint more and more, in several different places.
It should be noted that during those years, the city was going through a particular phase, concerning its long and crucial graffiti history. Some of the most active train writers from the immediately preceding era, had just stopped or slowed down their frenetic production. Many had moved out and there was no constant presence of a particular group of people in the local depots; with the exception of the meager deeds of some outside writers passing by, the quantity of painted panels was rather low, as was the chance of getting into beefs for going after the less known train yards.
In those years Bologna was establishing itself as the city of rave parties, a fame that would soon be consolidated over time. Compared to other areas in Italy where the scarcity of available spaces forced parties on mountain lawns or in warehouses in industrial areas, the Emilian capital began to have “parties” at the many local squats, which started to host tekno and DNB nights due to the high demand (almost all raves in that period were sold out, well beyond the capacity limits of the venues). I was never really interested in electronic music, particularly I had a marked aversion to the so-called “french techno” (4×4 kick so to speak). But soon I realized that anyone who listened to rap, punk or hardcore, and even reggae or metal, ended up at techno parties, and therefore I ended up attending too.
Even tekno parties were part of the Bologna pack. Suddenly we felt no more inhibitions that forced us to constantly go back – despite the efforts to escape – in a semi-normal world (attending school, relationship with your family, enduring the opinions and judgments of local people). They no longer existed, the perception was of no longer being subject to judgment of others, except for those who are sharing this experience with you. The parties, and the subsequent use and abuse of drugs, were an integral part of any student life in Bologna, and soon became an integral part of my life as well.
I have many blurry memories, as well as a lucid memory of some particular things of the first party I went to, it was the one for the opening of the university year at Livello 57 in its old location (the one under the Stalingrad Bridge, a few steps from the depot in which we had inaugurated our stay). The place where the most famous rap and hip hop collectives in Italy had been created, and where some of the first American hardcore bands had made a stop during their pioneering tours of the old continent in the early 90s, had quickly adapted its lineups to the trend of the moment, and became a reference spot for tekno ravers.
On that occasion many friends came to visit us from outside, not all of them had moved to Bologna at the end of high school, some chose different paths, but that was somehow the first opportunity to meet again and share some fun together. Intoxicated by the particular context, I remember that we began to punch our brains with different substances from the early afternoon.
Once evening came, we arrived at the doors of Livello 57, where a huge queue had grown for most of via Stalingrado. After slowly proceeding towards the entrance, how slow it is difficult to say given the rather altered perception of time we had, I remember this narrow passage that was necessary to go through to get into the internal area. It was like a tunnel where only one person could pass at a time, on both sides, literally facing each other in a semi-military fashion. Dozens of dealers were trying to sell drugs in a bizarre form of competition, based essentially on the huge confusion that was around everyone. The night developed with a succession of rambling conversations, visual hallucinations and memories that merged with reality, until the morning arrived. I was awake in bed for hours, still too immersed in the experience I had just lived to be able to fall asleep. Some of the people who shared with us that night were more impacted than others: surely this experience contributed to change my perception of so-called “parties” scene and of the people that attended. It determined some of the choices that permanently changed my way of life.
During those days, as it’s easy to imagine, our attendance at university was very low. The combination of the busy schedule of weekend events and graffiti became an ideal combination to fill one’s weeks without there being much room for anything else. On some occasions, this delusional schedule of our daily life undeniably offered interesting insights. I have a visual memory that for some reason really stuck with me. It all began with an evening spent in the new headquarters at Livello 57, a horrifying tensile structure that the cynical and calculating municipal administration of the time thought to propose as new venue, in order to close down the old one in the city center.
Because actually, the hordes of stoned kids in the suburbs would have bothered the council less. Not far from that area was the main depot of the Suburbana line of Bologna, a private run railway on which at the time mainly old-generation FIAT 668 littorine traveled. A new special film had been applied to facilitate the buff of graffiti: light yellow, gray and blue, replacing the old colors. Historically the sides of these littorine were covered with layers of panels from the most active writers in the area, as well as numerous visitors and tourists from all over Europe. Subsequently the security level of the spots was higher than others. Usually a security car arrived shortly after dinner, parked inside the perimeter near the trains, and from then on a security guard would alternate bored walks between the trains with long chills in the car. Given the unpredictability of the guard laps, we started painting during late afternoon in winter, when days are short and it gets dark early. One spring night we thought it would be interesting to try to check the spot in the early hours of Sunday morning, since the possibility of painting in the afternoon was starting to fade, due to the daylight hours getting longer.
Realistically, the guard shift would end around 06:00 and the first trains, given the holiday day, would start running after 07:00. In anticipation of our plan, we did not exaggerate with substances at the party. I remember that in the early evening I could not bear the excessive crowd already inside that plastic balloon – right in the middle of nowhere. The poor ventilation had immediately created a condensation effect: people’s sweat stagnated on the ceiling and then poured down in large drops. Around 05:30 am we went to the depot and waited for the guard to leave. I don’t remember if he had already left when we arrived, or if we had to wait a few minutes. After shaking the cans quickly, we entered from the back of the yard, we intended to paint the train parked next to the main hangar on a comfortable concrete esplanade that permitted easy movements. It was dawning, the first birds began to sing in the nearby countryside. The darkness illuminated by the yellow lights of the industrial areas surrounding Bologna and its many warehouses was replaced by a soft blue that permeated the surrounding environment. We painted for about 20 minutes in total silence, taking turns at the front of the train to check that workers did not arrive from the main gate. The fresh air of the early morning had replaced the stale smell and heavy air we breathed during the night at the party. The space between the hangar wall and the train did not allow to take photographs so we did not hang further. Once finished painting we began to walk towards the exit, while the light of day illuminated the streets and the first railway employees entered the parking lot of the depot. The visual memory of that morning is somehow one of the many that form, in a vividly colored and surprisingly well-defined puzzle, the period we were experiencing, and that we would have elaborated in a more conscious way only a long time after.
Surely at the time the absence of local active writers had to be credited for the development of relationships between people who, like us, were in Bologna as visitors, or perhaps lived in neighboring areas and had not been particularly active before that time within urban boundaries. We began to hang out with other writers from central and southern Italy. As often happens with some of these people, things deteriorated quite quickly due to our differences. Other people instead developed the initial affinity into a friendship and mutual motivation to paint: they came to the city to test new places and new time slots which would have been hard to manage without the logistical support of someone who lived in Bologna, while on weekends we would go to the outskirt towns to paint other places, see other lines and models of trains (these were the years in which the private Emilian railways had not yet been merged into the single FER company, and presented a wide range of different colors and models of rolling stock – I remember with particular enthusiasm the beautiful dark green railways of the Ferrovie Padane di Ferrara). Actually with some people, particularly with the group of boys from the Romagna coast, the friendship was born after a couple of our independent holidays to a well-known seaside town where we knew a high-speed train would sleep.
Clearly that was one of the places where they usually painted, and initially they showed distrust to us, but after clarifying and a couple of evenings spent together, it was immediately understood that it could work. An endless and unforgettable session of reciprocal trips began, going up and down the never-ending straight motorway (even straighter than those on the winding roads of Liguria) that connects the Romagna region with Bologna.
Usually the dynamic between people who are somehow “intruders” and those who are local alternate moments of collaboration with moments of conflict, often because people who grew up and lived in a particular context claim the exclusive control of the spots. If the outsiders accept this dynamic of gregarious dependence and subsidiarity, things can work, but if independent actions begin to happen, relationships can break down quickly.
Under this interpretation, the social side of relationships between people who paint on trains is the most hierarchical, utilitarian and exclusive there can be. While understanding its absurdity, those who paint quickly learn to understand the necessity of this unwritten “law”. If everyone paints everywhere, sooner or later no one will paint anymore as easy spots begin to fade out. At the time in Bologna, at least for the first part of our stay, this dynamic had been somehow forgotten or even subverted because basically nobody in our group of people had a story that tied him in a personal way to the places where we were painting. Everything was new at that time, everything was possible, and we could explore everywhere, and no one seemed to have an interest in getting in the way.
The first months were a constant attempt to exploit historical spots in the city, which had been abandoned by the first generation of train writers for various reasons. Perhaps due to a justified element of respect towards those who had come first, certainly also for the deterrence work that they had carried out in previous years. If we had come to Bologna even just a couple of years earlier, we probably would not have considered it, however because there was no permanent local group, we soon began to realize that in order to give vent to our need to paint, the place to be conquered was the central depot of Bologna, the Ravone. This depot, perhaps like few others in Italy when it comes to national railways, already had a reputation that reached far beyond regional borders.
This was certainly thanks to those who had painted it diligently for years, but perhaps also for its very particular conformation, for the numerous spots where you can paint in different ways and moments and for its majesty (as soon as you enter Bologna by train arriving from the north, the depot can be seen in all its width).
The first nights were characterized by a series of clumsy attempts to find a sensible entrance to reach the place where we had set out to paint. We were particularly interested in reaching one of the south areas where the regional trains were parked, in particular the metropolitani which we knew would travel in the outskirts and longer, giving us a better chance to catch a day photo. After few months and many attempts we realized that the depot was complex enough to have more than one entrance and the best time for painting was not the same everywhere. Once we understood how to enter, after familiarizing ourselves with the schedules and habits of the not exactly vigilant vigilance, we began to paint regularly, sharing our discoveries with the people with us.
I have many memories in this incredible place, moments that I struggle to place in chronological order, but which fortunately are connected by the photos of painted pieces. The nights we spent, the faces of those who were with us, the experienced feelings. For example that time when we decided that spending the evening of the 2006 World Cup final, Italy against France, in the yard would be a good idea – together with some friends who came to visit us.
While arriving to the side of the yard where the inter-regional trains were parked, many of which did not leave immediately and would remain there the next day to be able to photograph them, the roads were incredibly deserted, only our Panda Young crammed with 5 people on board ran through the streets of the city center. Considering the kind of moment, we took it easy painting and we had not set any particular time limits. In the distance, we could hear only a few tiny whistles and shouting from the open windows of nearby flats, suggesting that it wasn’t going well for the Italian team, and therefore we would have left the depot to mix with a sad and a slow procession of cars filled with disappointed fans returning home after the game. As we were finishing, the background noise began to build slowly, penalty kicks were on (although we were unaware of it) and with each goal scored, the noise increased in intensity. Finally, the roar. Train depots are usually quiet places, where you tend not to make noise so as not to create attention, so we were particularly struck by the fact that the explosion of joy in the city had reached us making any attempt to speak in a low voice as grotesque as it was useless. I remember that the absurdity of the situation led some of us to burst into nervous laughter. After a while we would get in the car, only to find the streets of the city invaded by a colossal crowd of cars filled people going crazy, who would prevent us from getting home for the next 3 hours.
Unfortunately, this place that accompanied our stay in Bologna in such a significant way also marked the end of that period. Sometimes resentment and frustration, mixed together at the wrong time, can lead to unreasonable choices, choices that over time I have reworked in an extremely critical way. Without going into the details of what was the last evening spent in Bologna, I can assert with relative certainty that for quite a long time we were understandably not welcome in the city.
From the point of view of personal growth and development, certainly the time spent in Bologna was of fundamental importance. Leaving the countryside and confronting a different reality certainly has, also on the basis of the mistakes made, a great training potential. In those years the radical animal rights campaign “Close Morini” was against a breeding of animals for experiments in San Polo d’Enza, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Having been a vegetarian for some time I decided to take part in to some demonstrations, I was incredibly impressed and motivated by that context and above all by that kind of activism. The situation in smaller towns was often not much different than what a demoralized member of large national associations could do, running info points surrounded by the general indifference. But what was happening with the campaign against Morini in Emilia, was that a small group of people had declared open war to the vivisection industry with no compromise, and even without institutional support, it was winning. After a few months, the campaign closed for various reasons, but it had an enormous effect overall. I thought it was high time I considered my diet more firmly and decided to go vegan, a choice that permanently defined what my ethical views would be from then on.
After the initial period of enthusiasm, the assiduous attendance to rave parties started to slow. The story of some friends who had mental health problems following the use drugs, and the growing awareness of how much that environment – so markedly individualistic and opportunistic – did not do for me, pushed me to look for something else. I started attending the Atlantide of Porta Santo Stefano as often as I could, a point of reference for the punk and hardcore scene in the city with a calendar of concerts that were crowded enough during the university year to make it difficult for everyone to attend. I remember one night a hardcore band called “I Shot Cyrus” from Brazil was playing, I honestly never heard of them before, but we went anyway. As soon as they started playing the venue literally imploded. Atlantide was known for the large participation to concerts, it was a small cool place, but I remember a situation in which the people at the front struggled to keep up with the people who threw themselves from the stage – even though it was quite a stretch to call that a stage.
The music was very fast and the pace of the band absolutely perfect, I was struck when the singer showed a conspicuous X tattooed on a good part of his back. I would discover some time later that he was the lead singer of what is arguably the most important South American hardcore group, Point of No Return. I knew there was this thing called Straight Edge, somehow connected to the hardcore scene, but in fact the “live fast, die young” approach that I proudly claimed in those years had never brought me even close to the idea.
Manifestazione animalista presso la Fondazione Centro Ricerche Marine di Cesenatico, circa 2004. Courtesy @fatherlessxcreation.
Starting to see more and more concerts and getting to know more and more people within the hardcore scene, I understood how this perception of one’s way of being and relating to others was not something so exotic and distant, but how it belonged to many people I knew and influenced them in a positive way.
A turning point was the concert of two American groups in Imola, in a very small place that was called Peacemaker. In particular, one of the two groups had very explicit texts about the Straight Edge culture and the reasons behind the choice to abstain from substance use. Weirdly enough, I had gone to see the other group, but this one literally blew my mind. I started listening to their record, and soon after it became my day-to-day soundtrack. While the lightheartedness of the first months away from home was being replaced by a growing awareness caused by the various blows that life has for you when you least expect it, the words of some songs began to provide support that helped find the motivation and solace which normally are sought in peer validation during our teenage years.
This situation as a whole contributed to my choice to eliminate not just drugs, but any other substance that created or could be addictive. In just over two years, everything had changed.
In a way, the period I lived in Bologna contributed, in a short period of time, to change my perspectives in a radical way: from total unawareness, to the desire of self-determining my personal choices, which also characterize my present.
The constant thing in this stormy and significant period of my life was graffiti. Nights spent chasing trains and days spent on the platform hoping for a photo. This city was able to give me in just 2 years perhaps some of the most intense moments I’ve lived (both in a positive and negative sense). It is for this reason that even today I can remember it only through the fluctuating hate/love feeling, that is granted only to things that are worth enough to catch your attention even after a long time.