Wednesday, July 05, 2017

leaving Parma

If I had any doubt that Parma is a city of streets teeming with bicycles and people -- people riding bicycles, people stopping to connect with others, people sitting, eating, but first and foremost talking -- today's morning walk surely confirmed for me that this is so.


I suppose that closing off the city center to traffic forces you to review your options. People of all ages and sizes choose bikes.



As for chatting -- well, that's an Italian thing. It's just that in Parma, with with streets free of cars, there are more opportunities to engage in this important act.


Plenty of space for it.


For me, Parma this time was also a city of distinct color.


Of art, food, of sunshine.



The weather continues to be hot, and the people expect this, in the same way that I expect mosquitoes in the summer and Arctic blasts in the winter back in Wisconsin.

And let me add one more point -- one that became amply evident to me this time (when people were free of winter outerwear): in Parma, if you step out into public spaces, you do your best to look your best. This is particularly true for women.


Now this last point may cause you to flinch: isn't that a step back? Haven't we moved beyond being judged for our appearance? Feel free to pass judgment on this Parma imperative, but it is what it is and if you take Patrizia's point to heart -- you look your best not for others, but for your own self -- perhaps it can be a very good thing. (I smile as I watch her lay out her dress-up clothes and jewelry on her bed for the next day's celebration of a friend's birthday: she does it with care and concern.) Maybe the point is that if you care about how you look on the outside, you are more likely to bring your inner self up to speed as well. There may be a synergy between the two.


I eat breakfast in that grand room. Everything is good -- Patrizia's homemade yogurt, the cheeses, the sweet croissant (Italian's like their croissants sweet and onto this they'll add jam) -- all yummy. But if superb bread product is France's star attraction at breakfast, to me, the fruit is the standout here. The nectarine is so sweet and juicy that I cringe at the ones I'd been buying back home, where I sometimes hit on a good run of both nectarines and peaches, but more often I think of them as a waste of money. They're hard and tart and no amount of ripening on the counter helps.


I have about ninety minutes to walk the streets of Parma. I've sprinkled photos throughout the first part of the post. But here's another thought that demonstrates the downside of trying hard to look good: no one wears bicycle helmets. I realize that this is a European thing: if you ride a bike for sport, you protect your head, but not otherwise.

Having myself fallen off a bike going no more than five miles per hour in Madison (hitting the pavement with my helmeted head,) I frown at this, though I suppose that there are risks we take every time we step out of our home (and not only: many have fallen on the steep stairs of the farmhouse), nonetheless, I think it's such a small thing to don that helmet that it's worth the investment. Unless, I suppose, you worry what this will do to your appearance. Lord.


My morning stroll puts me in several bookstores (I was searching for a very specific book that I had found on Patrizia's shelf) and then also in a toy store. And what a toy store it is! Four huge rooms of remarkable, beautiful toys. (Here's just one room.)


(Speaking of Snowdrop, I greatly admire this little thing: I can just see her riding it on our after-school adventures.)


It takes me a long time to decide what to bring back for Snowdrop. In the end I pick a set that has a cardboard little girl and many felt outfits that you can place on her. There is something similar in the Fitchburg Library and I noted that it requires a certain amount of dexterity to get everything in place, so this isn't one of those "dress the Barbie" things. Too, the girl in my gift is very matter of fact, with practical clothes, ones I suppose you'd  wear here to play with a friend or to go shopping with your parent. (Which I am sure is not this little boy's agenda for today.)


Perhaps this is as close to a true Parma-themed toy as I can come up with. Dress with care, but, infusing an element of our own independence, don't fret about it. You can still improve your insides without worrying about the state of your clothes. Ask Ed.

And now it is time to catch the (late! why did I run to the station??)  train to Milan...


... past honey colored farmsteads and fields of golden sunflowers...


Milan: what can I say -- I do not love this city. I always have to stop here overnight on my way out because the flights home are just too early for travel from elsewhere. I've considered the city from all angles and though some facets are fine, interesting, spectacular even, if you're into design, especially but not only clothing design.

Still, most of it leaves me cold, even on a pretty day like today.

(I think many women here never put away their ironing boards. Ever.)


Perhaps because I am so indifferent to this city and perhaps because my expenses on this trip have been wonderfully low, I decided to splurge and pay for a hotel that even at hugely discounted advance purchase rates is more than I would usually spend. My thought was that I won't have to go out: I'll just stay in my room and admire it.

I walk to the hotel from the Stazione Centrale. Perhaps a stupid idea, given the heat and my backpack and suitcase, but still, I do like to walk.

(Here's a side of Milan that I've never seen...)


The walk takes me along Manzoni Street, where stores are beyond upscale -- they are the kind of places that never display price tags. (Even at 50% sales, I could not afford any of this stuff and even if I could, I would find no use for it. Nor would Snowdrop. Well, maybe she'd like the dressed teddy.)


Milan is big. People are stressed. I'm not in Parma anymore.


(I always found it mildly amusing that one of Milan's main attractions is this: the Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele II -- the world's oldest indoor shopping mall.)


And now I am at the Hotel Room Mate Guilia. Which in fact is very lovely.


And I guess because it's my first time here (I notice that hotels are especially generous to newcomers -- a bait for their future business), I get an upgrade, which is so unnecessary because I already feel like all this is incredibly lovely, even in its most basic incarnation, but hey, now I really do not have to leave! Ever.


Except that I do have to leave. I must time the walk from here to the city bus (I like it best for a connection to the Linate Airport) so that I do not mess up my departure tomorrow morning.

I have two comments: first of all, the square before the Cathedral (unquestionably the city's main attraction, but still...) is insanely crowded. I know it seems otherwise in this photo, but that's because I backed away from the church, in horror and trepidation. Too, the photo shows that I am still somewhat fascinated by people's use of bikes in urban settings.


(Here's a string of shoppers, all with giant white paper bags, coming from the Galleria. Mind you, this place is not really what you and I would call a mall anymore. The stores are over the top posh.These particular shoppers must be from Japan, because women from that country hate being exposed to the sun and these ladiesv are fleeing it quickly!)


Even more crowded (is that even possible?) is the boulevard (lined with popular stores) leading to my bus stop. Your head would spin, really.

My second comment is that sometimes I do do the correct thing. Checking the distance was just a precaution. I've walked that walk many times and can guess the minutes, and if I can't trust my memory, there is google to remind me. But I tested it. And it's a good thing, because the street where the bus stop stood for years and years, decades probably, is torn up and the line has been moved. I would have been in a pickle. And the very amusing detail is that it has been moved even closer to my hotel, so that tomorrow should be a breeze. Watch me eat my words.

Another small insert: I have come to dislike motorcycles since arriving in Milan. Oh, not because they threaten to run me down. They are no more aggressive than the cars and trams. It's a city -- survival of the fittest, no?

The problem for me is that it appears that motorcycles can park on sidewalks. Please do not remind me that I am thrilled with the fact that I can park Rosie on Madison's sidewalks. She is a moped. She is small. She is never blocking anyone's right to walk. I cannot tell you how hard it was to navigate squares packed with motorbikes, especially when I am towing a suitcase. (Maybe the rule here is that they can only park on sidewalks on squares?)

Here's a Milano view: interesting church, multiple motorcycles.


Let me end my run through Milan with a photo of the younger set that indeed may have a different perspective on the city.


Here's why: I ride in the elevator of my hotel and some guy is trying to pick up a woman and it really is amazing how much you can understand just from going from floor zero to floor one. She tells him -- I love Rome. She seems a little put off by Milan. I surely sympathize.  I'm about to smile in support of Rome over Milan (secretly -- I'm not going to jump into their romantic moment), but then I hear him say -- oh, but the clubs! They are the best in Milan! The best in all of Italy!

I get off. I'll grant you, the clubs may be great here. I wouldn't know -- I do not think that I have ever been to a club in my entire life.

I'm back in my beautiful little hotel. I place myself on a comfortable lobby chair and work hard to regain my composure after the hot loud crazy city walk. [And the desk staff teaches the very genial new employee from some very far away country how to make an Aperol Spritz for me, which is totally cool, mainly because I am certain that this new job is precious to the guy. Let me insert here a comment on the problem of immigration in Italy. Just two sentences, I promise! I was told in Parma that the refugees are a sad lot. They are given a handful of Euros and a pack of cigarettes each day and a smart phone to keep them busy. And they sit on the steps of the Cathedral or by the railway station and wait for the job that never comes.]

His Aperol spritz is superb (if excessively large), but then you could give me pretty much anything after that walk and I would be grateful.


And then I must go to dinner.

I had asked the hotel for a restaurant recommendation. I've eaten well in Milan, I've eaten poorly, I've eaten many meals that I do not remember. I'm sort of curious what these hip young people at the front desk were trained to recommend (and not fancy, I add, pointing to my sun dress -- this is as good as it's going to get!).

The young man asks about my food preferences (I have none except that they should not break the bank) then tells me --  try Il Solferino. It's a classic! They're just going to celebrate their 110th anniversary.

So I go to Il Solferino.

It's a pleasant walk through not an uninteresting part of town. The place is packed and I can understand why: the food is good, the waiters are phenomenal.  Too, they are your friends. I considered ordering (like yesterday) an appetizer, a pasta dish and a main (it's my last night!), but the waiter  said that was insane. He didn't actually use the word insane, but some such sounding descriptor. (I am very proud that I went through the whole meal using only Italian, so we may have passed each other by here and there, but I got the food and wine I wanted, paid my bill and left happy. What more could a person want?)

Would I recommend it? A resounding yes! Would I go back? Well, maybe. Probably. I think so... You see, I'm spoiled by Parma at the moment so I can't think straight. Small town cooking is really different in Italy than big city food. I am still in the smaller town mindset and anything prepared in Milan for a crowd, with two evening sittings, is going to be feel less personal.

(A very lovely spaghetti carbonara with sea food bits...)


I walk home musing about all this and other stuff. The restaurant borders on a cool neighborhood (in my view), and this in itself is eye-opening, since I have never ever felt that any Milanese neighborhood could be described as such, so there is hope. Perhaps we wont blow each other up in the near future after all. Hope is a good thing.


My last night in Milan, in Italy, in Europe. Such a grand trip! As always, so glad to be going home!

The moon shines brightly on Leonardo and us all tonight.


Tomorrow is a day of travel. My post here will be very very short and that's a good thing! YOU need a break from all my words and perhaps even more so from this flood of photos.