The summer weather in the Po Valley can be rather intense thanks to its humidity levels, rivalling those of a tropical forest. So before it gets too hot and clammy, let’s explore Parma together. We’re in the heart of the plains here.
Why Parma, you ask? Because Parma’s always a good time! I love how they talk with that French “r” here, I love the well-kept historic centre, and oh my goodness the food is to die for!!
But let’s visit it in order. Why is that soft French “r” so widespread? There are a few theories: one refers to the sounds of the local dialect and the difficulty of reproducing the correct, rolled “r” in Italian. The other theory, which I prefer because it’s so much more romantic, argues that it’s a tribute to the French-speaking Duchess Marie Louise. As the protagonist of great urban and social renewal, she was quite adored in Parma. And that “r” is standing proof.
Parma is also the home of Parmigiano cheese (the original Parmesan), perhaps the most famous Italian in the world – apart from me (I’m rather funny today, no?!). Oh how I adore feeling those small crystals of the cheese crunch between my teeth, the result of the cheese’s proteins breaking down and proof of good, long aging. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a skilled chemist to appreciate good Parmigiano.
Let’s change the subject and move on to art. Parma has always struck me for its Cathedral square, which suddenly opens up after the narrow alleys of the historic centre. And when you enter the Cathedral that was built a thousand years ago and has been a symbol of the city’s religious life since then, you walk directly below the dome, raise your eyes upwards and admire a spectacle worthy of a theatrical scene. I’m talking about Correggio’s Assumption of the Virgin, a great work that covers the entire dome and was revolutionary in its time (1530): the Madonna had never been depicted from below, with her bare legs and her feet in the foreground, a truly realistic pose while she ascends to heaven.
It’s time to come back down to the ground again; indeed, let’s bend our legs to sit at the table: you can’t visit Parma without stopping for a suitably indulgent meal. My perfect menu? It definitely starts with some incredibly fragrant Culatello (a cured meat similar to prosciutto crudo, but with even more refined cutting and ageing) eaten with some Gnocco fritto (small pieces of bread dough that are fried and served piping hot with cured meats); then it’s followed by a nice plate of Anolini. A note: make sure not to call this speciality “ravioli” or “tortellini”, as you’ll be met with angry stares. ;) The pasta is stuffed with Parmigiano and nutmeg and is strictly served in broth. And to drink? What a question! A good Lambrusco, a truly enjoyable sparkling red wine that’s served here in ceramic cups instead of glasses.
In short, between the pasta in broth, fried bread and sparkling wine, now do you understand why we couldn’t come visit Parma in summer?! Happy and stuffed, I head back to my car and drive home. The music will keep me company, with two musicians closely linked to the city: Giuseppe Verdi and Niccolò Paganini.