Public announcement to all: If you think you’ve had real Parmesan cheese, you haven’t. Truth be told, only the third string parmesan makes it into the supermarkets. If you want a taste of authentic parmesan cheese you’ll need to head to the city of Parma located in Northern Italy. Our first night there we were treated to dinner at one of the oldest family run osteria’s in town. (See above picture for ensuing jealousy) As we sat in the lobby, still digesting last nights meal mind you, we were greeted by Melanie, our tour guide for the morning. Born in London, we were naturally inquisitive as to how she wound up in Italy. Her response? “I met an Italian man, and well, you can imagine how that story went.” We instantly envied her life and dubbed her our hero.
As Melanie guided us through Parma, we entered the Piazza della Pilotta alongside local sunbathers and giggling toddlers. From there we explored the Teatro Farnese, and my personal favorite stop in Parma. The theater itself took over a year to build and it’s use intended for one day only. Unfortunately the man who was supposed to be honored, Quasimodo Maducci, died before the celebration could take place. Crafted from oak and chestnut, it was ultimately painted with white stucco to give the appearance of marble. Sneaky Italians. Much to the surprise of myself and the others, the ceiling of the theater was rather unimpressive. Exposed pine stood where I was so acclimated to seeing ornate frescoes. Upon questioning Melanie, she relayed to us that during WWII the theater was the victim of partial bombing and upon its reconstruction in 1954 there was not enough money to rebuild the ceiling. The use of wood wasn’t as common in the 17th Century but the underlying intention of the Farnese Family was vested in the baroque ideal of “bending nature to the will of humanity.”
We were then whisked into a monastery, formerly sealed off due to the graphic nature of the artwork, or it was perceived as so. The artwork commissioned by the Abyss at the time was said the have been sealed off to preserve the mental health and well being of the nuns in the convent. It was reopened 200 years after the death of the Abyss. In the corner of the dining room, pictured above, a depiction of greek goddesses can be found. Most notably, the goddess of knowledge with her back facing the goddess of luck. The reasoning behind this was an ancient saying that “knowledge turns her back on luck. Lady Luck distributes her gifts blindly.”
After a morning of being spoon-fed Parma’s history, most of us agreed that it had been our most engaging tour yet. Bravo to Melanie for delivering a tour that held the attention of 33 twenty-somethings, that’s no easy feat. Parma, from start to finish, is now evident to me as one of Northern Italy’s best treasures.