Prato Della Viale

It is nine o’clock on a Monday morning, I am dozily heading to a morning lecture and I come across a man dressed as though he is ready to go to a fetish party. He is wearing leather and buckles and is covered in egg yolks and silly string. He has a plastic bottle attached to his wrist with brown tape and he is reading aloud from a poster stuck to the wall, ‘I first experienced group sex when I was fifteen.’ Contrary to my initial impression he is not a sex offender but a student of law graduating from the University of Padua and upholding its traditions. You think it’s bad leaving the Sports Hall after your last exam and being soaked in icy water within the fastidiously designated area? You should try graduating from Padua in northern Italy, Europe’s second oldest university.

Graduations happen all year around so I have had the amusement of witnessing a fair few. The first time I saw it I was perplexed. Now I hardly bat an eyelid as I wander through the piazza and find girls in fake beards, Jesus Christs covered in talcum powder and assorted men in tutus.

I remember pausing outside a university building to admire a handsome man. He looked weary after his exam and relations awaited him with flowers and cameras. Photos were taken with Granny, with his parents, and with his sister. Then a mob of friends descended on him. His suit jacket was pulled off him and his shirt unbuttoned, he was stripped to his waist and his friends formed two parallel lines. He then had to run through the space between them as his loving colleagues slapped his bare chest and back as hard as they could. With an upper body glowing red he was given an apron and a hat and stripped of all other clothes. They drew two lines on his buttocks in permanent pen. Mother and Granny watched awkwardly from afar. A plastic bottle of liquor was strapped to his wrist, and a poster erected on the wall in front of him. Written in very small print were all his indiscretions over his university years and he was required to read them aloud. When stumbling over a word the group of rowdy comrades would shriek ‘Bevi’ meaning he had to take a swig of the potent spirit attached to his arm. The more he drunk, the more he faltered and once he had finally finished informing the piazza of his sexual preferences, as detailed by his friends on the poster, he was hardly able to stand. Then mother, father, sister and granny swooped in and took him off to lunch.

If ever you visit Padua I can guarantee you will hear a jaunty tune accompanied with the words ‘Dottore, dottore, dottore del buco del cu, vaffancù, vaffancù’ resonating through the streets and celebrating graduations. Perhaps a translation here is best avoided.

10 COMMENTS

  1. “Dottore, dottore…dottore del buso del cul..vaffancul vaffancul!”

    As I am from Padua, I would like to underline the fact that not all the graduations are so weird.. but the most important thing is that in the “papiro” friends do not just talk about the sexual life of the person… they make fun (in a good way of course) of everything a person has done during his life… the first kiss, the first love… the first ride on a bike … even the first time you get drunk… when you got a bad mark at school and the stupid excuses you used to say to your parents… I do not agree with the title you put to this article… bondage reminds of a sexual constriction which we do not do at all during the graduation…

    Perhaps you haven’t understood the meaning of the graduation and of ‘goliardia’… I believe that before writing this articles which paints us with Bondage, booze and most of all as perverted people… you should have documented about this.

    Waiting for an answer in order to best explain what is the Graduation in Padua..

    Giulia

  2. Giulia couldn’t be more correct in saying that the goliardic spirit behind this tradition goes much more beyond booze and embarrassment. I do agree with her on the fact that who sees this wild practice from the outside will only get a distorted freakish idea of what runs behind it. Family members and friends have to work together for days in multiple sessions to write the poster, because the papiro is actually the story of your whole life, all written in rhimes, and with the most embarrassing moments highlited with funny jokes. The moment when the graduated person runs under two lines of people beating their back (called the “tunnel” ) is a symbol of you getting out of uni life and moving into the adult part of it. Having said that, I would like to thank the author who described this because the memory if it really made my day. I graduated in Padua in 2009, my graduation party was all you just said and even worse. Very embarrassing for sure but also one of the best moments of my life, that I still remember with a great smile. This article reminded me of all the times that I witnessed this tradition, and I consider myself very lucky for being part of it. Thank you for sharing it with the English-speaking world! 😉

  3. I agree with Giulia and Martina. Padua graduation is a celebration and takes a lot of work by all the friends and relatives. When we write a “papiro” we try to involve anyone who was/has been/is important in the life of the new “Dottore”. It takes months to concact everyone and to write a papiro where all the life is told in rhymes, from the birth to the present and to draw the picture with all the details. Plus, we don’t usually use a bottle of liquor: we prefer a bottle of Italian wine.

  4. I have to confirm what I read in the comments. I am from Padua, too. There is the formal and official final exam and, yes, then usually comes this informal and irreverent trial. But for us the graduation day is a kind of important “rite of passage” and this party is socially accepted and approved with joviality in our university-city because it is the final moment of deliverance after years and years of hard studies. Excessess result to be very, very rare. Moreover I had the chance to sudy in Oxford (UK) and I have to say that our practice is not so different from what there they do with their “trashing” (see for example: http://localoxford.blogspot.it/2008/06/trashing-tradition.html). As we say, “tutto il mondo è paese”.

  5. I confirm what Giulia says… I graduated in Padua in 2012 and i’ll remember the day of my graduation all life long. The “papiro” (that you call poster) is still in my bedroom and i can’t read it without laughing… Yes, i was a “travestite” in that day, they got me drunk, i was dirty…. but i had the time of my life!
    I remember that during my studies i couldn’t wait for that day, i was really excited… come to Italy and try this, guys!!!

  6. Wow I wrote this a long time ago and only just revisited it and found all these comments. Sorry if it seemed badly informed I was just describing the impressions that a foreigner to the city (me) receives of the graduation ceremonies. And these were indeed they. Drunkenness, embarrassment, silly costumes. The papiros are often very funny and well written but from my experience of reading them tend to embarrass the individual in question with vulgar anecdotes. But I wasn’t writing this in opposition to the tradition, quite the opposite. It looks incredible and I wish that my university did something like this. As I said in the article we are only allowed to throw water at the graduate in the “fastidiously designated area” – it is controlled and unexciting. Graduation in Padua seems great fun.
    Sorry if the tone of the article was misunderstood, the descriptions were only to underline my amusement and surprise at what I witnessed, not to trash the tradition.

  7. I was visiting Siena in el Campo when I heard the song. I asked the graduate what the song meant. She said it had something to do with being a graduate of bullshit.

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