Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Parma

Sometimes, I think people have the habits of ants. Or perhaps of sheep, because ants are excessively industrious. They don't even take the standard American two week vacation. We follow the herd. Where it goes, we go.

Never is this more obvious to me than when I travel. I see visitors pack the streets of Florence so that there is no room to breathe. If, in the high season, you hear the Italian language on the streets of that city's center, it's because someone has to keep the restaurants and shops running. The same is true of vast sections of Rome. And of Venice. Of Siena. Etc.

Then there are the towns that for some reason, us sheep have ignored. I'm in Parma, which for reasons completely mysterious to me, is not on the sheep trail. It is a magnificent place of splendid palaces, theaters, churches, of great art and incredible food. It is a place of friendly people. Italians. I've been here nearly 24 hours and I have yet to hear a single English speaking person (American or British) on the street. In high season, no less. When visiting the stunning theaters and the gallery chock full of paintings and frescoes by the Renaissance artist Correggio, I was the only one in all three places. The only one!!

Imagine the luxury of seeing great art and having the entire space to your own thoughts and sensual pleasures. I was absolutely transported!

(I do get that Parma is off the rail line to Florence and so it's harder to get to. And that it has less art than, say, Florence. That would, indeed, call for fewer tourists. But not completely empty museums! And for Europeans who have longer vacations and who drive to vacation spots -- there's just no excuse to pass this absolute gem by.)

Parma belongs to the Parmeggiani. (When I asked Patrizia if any of her friends have moved away, she said yes, sure, but most, the ones who are the true Parmeggiani, who live and breathe this culture like she does, stayed.)




I have another introductory comment, which follows on the heels of the previous one: as you know, Ocean can sometimes take on an almost obsessive focus. When I am preoccupied with being a grandmother, you'll see a lot of photos and scribbles about that aspect of my life, to the near exclusion of everything else. The same can be said of gardening. And when I am in Poland, you'll read a lot, perhaps too much, about my comparisons of the Poland I see now and the Poland I once knew. There'll always be an inclusion of friends, because frankly, they are a big draw for me there now.

And when I travel elsewhere, Ocean switches gears. I load each post with numerous pics (again, one could well argue excessively so: I broke my own record today with... 54!), of people, street scenes and post card images of all that captures my imagination.

Today will definitely be full of those travel details that may be fun for some readers, less so for others. In any case, Ocean will swing again -- it always does, this way then that, just like life swings around for us, making us one day the parent, or child, and another -- the artist or machinist, hiker, gardener or traveler.


I'll take this day chronologically. I've long ago decided that for such frequent posting, it is best to braid the themes together (of my bed and breakfast hostess, of parks, of art, of food and shops) into something that's easy to follow. Chronology almost always wins here, on Ocean.

Breakfast at the Battistero d'Oro. Patrizia sets a fine morning meal, always trying to conform it to your tastes and pleasures.


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Her home is beautifully laid out: she lives in one wing and we are connected, but the guest rooms really are quite separate. You never hear her or her family, nor do they hear you. And this living room is really for guest room use only. (Since there is only one upstairs guest room, you may as well call this room your own.)


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As always, we chat. Patrizia has a lot on her plate right now, but she never makes you feel like she hasn't all the time in the world for you. I swear, if I asked her to take me to the hills or to cook a meal with me today, she'd drop everything and do it. Well, maybe not the meal part. I had asked if she cooks every day for herself and for the one son who still lives at home and she shook her head. In the summer, who wants to turn on the oven! It's best to go out, if even for just your main dish of evening food. (Poor soul had to eat early with me last night. 8 p.m. is the time for an aperitif, not to set out for dinner.)


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I weigh my options for what to see on this visit and she helps me put together a plan for the day. Equipped with a map and a bunch of ideas, I set out.

(Outside her front door, a reminder that Italy's beloved Verdi once slept here. Verdi was born near Busseto, some 25 miles NW of Parma.)


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Outside, I see this grandma with her two and immediately I spot what the little girl is holding: Snowdrop's baby! (Or a facsimile of the same.)


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I look at this man of religion carrying his shopping bag and I wonder: is it market day today?


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The answer is no. Or at least there isn't a food market. In its place -- a flea market. I'm not a flea market aficionado, but something in me asks the question -- what if I found something beyond perfect? For a gift?  (And I think I did just that. As for the foods -- you need only look at the nearby grocery stalls. This one has the beautiful flower topped zucchini, the peppers, the fruits, but what catches the eye is the variety in the tomatoes.)


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(Peeking up one street and then the next...)


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(Walking along the Parma River, which, in many places, is no river at all... Note this woman's texting habits: she STOPS her bike before she sends a missive! Yeah!)


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On my list is Parma's grand royal park (Parco Ducale). And I want to see it early, before it gets too hot.

I want to say that I approach this project (of visiting the park) unfairly. I'm from northern Europe. Parks, to me, are lush green and flowered oases. They're magical. They're places of community, of respite, of belonging, of joy, of great care.

In southern Europe, it's different. Parks are still the green(ish) high points of a city. But I think the habits are so different here that parks have become less essential to the well being of a populace.  I know someone is going to write and tell me I'm wrong, but I've not yet seen a park in southern Europe that is a great communal public space. People do their communal bit elsewhere. (Cafes come to mind. Squares with fountains in the middle, wide streets, you name it.)

And so the park in Parma requires a different perspective. Patrizia rhapsodizes about it. She tells me about the statues, the small secretive buildings, the pond. Yes, it has all those.


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Still, I am a bit surprised to see it nearly empty. The largest gathering of people where these -- a family, feeding the water fowl at the pond (and I smiled at the sweater the littlest one wore: it's hot today!)


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Here's the second largest grouping of people: at the cafe. (I was amused to watch the grandparents usher their grandsons through the rituals of cafe life! Familiar routines in different settings!)


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(I admit: lots of lovely greens, and quiet, with the occasional bicyclist...


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... of different ages. The girl below is riding a "bike" that you can rent for kids here. It's a low key thing and I see maybe three or four kids trying it out.)


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The park playground? Well, Snowdrop would have liked it because it has swings and, unlike in the Jardin de Luxembourg, they're free and they never close. Still, it is a very low keyed affair.


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One of the lovely hidden buildings...


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And no one can deny the great beauty of green spaces, though of course, in northern Europe we pay the price for all that rain and all those cold spells, but we reap the benefits too in the lush green colors of spring and early summer. In Italy, the greens trend toward the gentler, golden tones.


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Okay, I cross back and do my museum run.


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You pass through architectural wonders just to get to the entrance doors...


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Here's the first: the magnificent early 18th century Farnese Theater, which, sadly, was built for events that weren't to be. The last show took place here in 1732. But that's too much history for you. Come see it for yourself and read about it then!


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Next door, there is the magnificent art gallery, with more Corregio's work than you would believe possible...


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And from there, it's just a hop skip to Parma's very much in use Teatro Regio. Remember, not only is Verdi a favorite here, but, too, the conductor Arturo Toscanini hailed from Parma. This is a huge music and theater town!

However, I did not want to do a full scale tour of the theater. I am not a good candidate for tours as I really like doing things at my own pace. No problem! You want just a two minute peek? We'll get someone from the Theater to escort you in. For free. (Incredible flexibility!)


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One more cultural visit: to this church...


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And now it is nearly noon and I want to change focus. I want to see Parma as it is today.

I had once written that Parma is a bourgeois town. In many ways it is. Take a look at this clothing store display. Forget about prices. These are clothes for children who... have occasion to wear such clothes.


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But I don't know that this characterization seeps into the core of where Parma is today. It feels to me as a solidly well grounded Italian city, where someone realized that the best way to make use of its riches is to keep most of the center streets free of cars. Typical backdrop to Parisian restaurant-cafes -- traffic noise. Typical backdrop to Parma's restaurant-cafes -- it could be anything, but it's likely to be quiet.


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Patrizia had suggested that I discover this street of small old shops. It was a good suggestion.


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And this one was my discovery from last year. I return to it and do some serious shopping. (Well, just for Snowdrop, How serious can that be...)


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And speaking of shopping for Snowdrop, I have to say that it is quite interesting to compare styles and choices here as opposed to, say, in France. For that special dress that you want to buy for the kid who goes on a regular basis to Sunday dinners with the famiglia, in Italy you might pick up one of these:


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Or perhaps this cherry on black fabric thing.


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In my opinion, the approach to dress is uniquely Italian.

I wasn't really shopping for Snowdrop, because she has enough for this season and the next season hasn't hit the stores yet, but I must say, with 50% discounts raging everywhere, the temptation is great. Sometimes beyond great.

(Another image which may lend support to the claim that Parma is a bourgeois town...)


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I feel I must give a big nod to the food shopping here. The prosciuttos: oh, my!


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The parmigiano cheeses... (May I put in a plug here for the real thing? Back home, if it says Parmesan, it's not really the same Parmigiano. In fact, it's nowhere near the same. Do try, if you can, and if your wallet wont explode in protest, the real thing: Parmigiano Reggiano. Grate it, if you aren't the cheese nibbler among us.)


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(Ah! Finally a clothing store with stuff Snowdrop is likely to love: neatly stacked sweaters!)


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I'm back for a rest. And a selfie!


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But not for too long. I have this one full day. I want more of Parma, more of its more distant streets and venues. Patrizia grabs me just as I am leaving. She, too, is on her way out. To a good friend's celebratory event, out of town. So I linger, in her side of the home now...


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And because my stay is so short, I wont see her again until... next time! With so many thanks, bella! (She will respond -- ciao, bella!)


In my afternoon walk, I do a lot of people watching. I hadn't intended that, but it seems that now, in the second half of the day, there is a lot to take note of right there on the sidewalk.

Lots of groups of Italian teenagers. I'm guessing they're from out of town, exploring Parma in some semi organized fashion.


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Then there are the not too infrequent groups of men and women who are having a raucous blast!  Often dressed in some ridiculous attire...


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... though not necessarily...


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Most of them sporting laurel wreaths. It's a clear giveaway: graduation!

But you know, celebrations here may also be for no reason at all. Here's a family, very properly attired, sitting down together, maybe for a birthday, or maybe just because...


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I pass a toy store and I admire the baby dolls on display. So does this girl! She and Snowdrop would be on the same page with that!


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(Her mom, trying to talk her down...)


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It's getting to be late afternoon and I realize I haven't had lunch. Well now, time to get a gelato. I stumble across a place (Emilia's) that has possibly the best gelato I have ever had in my life. (Admittedly, the taste of gelato does not linger in my memory, so I could be wrong, but that is my impression.) There is the matter of the chocolate wafer cone. And the melted dark chocolate she purrs into it. But really, it's mainly in the swirl of vanilla and chocolate covered cookie bits and red fruits, and in case you think it's not fruity enough, the last swirl comes with an additional spoon of red fruits mixed in.

Whoa, that's a small cone?

You don't have to add anymore! Stop, stop!
Absolutely not!
No one ever said the Prmiggiani are light eaters.


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I cross the river again.


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I'm on the side of the university and Patrizia told me to check it out for sure, but I think the point is to come here late at night. Still, I am reminded that I have walked enough and that I am tired and thirsty.


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I retreat back to my side of the river... (Lovely sisters, or friends, or cousins...)


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... And I pause by the Duomo for an Aperol Spritz. I am not alone in this by any means!


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Much later, I step out again to go to the Angiol d'Or for dinner. Of all the great food I ate in Parma nearly two years ago, this place, just a couple of blocks from Patrizia's, really stuck in my head. And today I remember why. (Here's a way to hear the English language in Parma! Go to a restaurant at 7:30! Boom! Finally, I even hear voices from an American threesome, where the youngest member of that bunch cannot be more than 18 months!)

I'm ushered to the best table in the house -- by the front window, looking out over the Cathedral (obviously this has more to do with being Patrizia's friend than just being me). And from  this moment onward, I have a two hour culinary rhapsody. (And I must note, too, that the cost is half of what I would pay for a good dinner in Paris...)

The prosciutto and fried bread. Of course! It's my last night here!


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The toretlli. As last time, the owner allowed me to go off menu so that I could try all three stuffings...


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And for my main course (shhh! don't tell me I'm eating too much!) I have guinea fowl breast with red fruit sauce and roasted potatoes.


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I was not going to have dessert. No, I was not. But the owner recommended a semi-freddo and of course I succumbed.


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The moon is out, shining on us all, the the soul is well cared for.

And no, I haven't forgotten: happy fourth of July to those of you on the other side of the ocean!


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I welcome comments, but I will not publish submissions that insult or demean, or that are posted anonymously. I am sorry to lose commenting Ocean friends who are not registered, but I want to encourage readers to submit remarks only if they feel they can stand behind their words. I do not seek a free-for-all here. I like camaraderie far more than conflict.