Modena Rivisited

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I never thought it would be so beautiful

Modena.

Okay, sure, I had been there several times, mostly when I was very young, since it was my mother’s hometown.  I have vague memories of my nonna with her hair pulled up in a tight bun, and it had a sort of a bluish hue.

I recall being there as a teen, unhappily dragged along by my parents for some holidays, begrudging the fact that I would not see my boyfriend for several days.  But I was too involved in my own dramas to pay much attention.

This time it was different.  And I owe it to them, my wonderful cousins, whom I hardly knew, but who gave me the precious opportunity to spend a longer period in this absolutely lovely city, welcoming me and my daughter to their pretty home with touching warmth and kindness.  Not a reception one receives often as a guest.

Taking a walk around town on the very first day, I felt swaddled in a vibrant golden light: the stunning yellow and orange buildings of Modena, reflecting and intensifying the sunlight, warming the city and our hearts, as we wandered through the magnificent centro storico.  I’m fascinated by the superb architecture, the splendid Romanesque Duomo – the main cathedral- and its Ghirlandina, the bell tower that has become the beloved symbol of the city.  Elegant streets, shaded by classic arched portici, graced with chic shops, bars displaying a dizzying array of mouth-watering pastries, charming bicycle parking areas on the side (Modena is a serious bicycle town, the most common method of transportation!).  Rich in history, with its surprising, mysterious underground canals, with the beautiful Piazza grande, carpeted by thousands of river stones, smoothened by centuries of human footsteps, including my own, as I walked on them, a little tentatively in my heels, which I rarely do without.

I grew up in Naples, since my modenese mother had fallen in love with this city during her honeymoon journey, and she and the city embraced each other with a love that would last a lifetime.  Therefore, because of the distance, Modena and all of mamma’s relatives, had been somewhat placed in the background, as my siblings and I lived a totally Southern Italian childhood.

But they were there, those Modena roots, strong and everlasting, just waiting their turn to be uncovered.

With anticipation and wonder, I approach the “Mercato coperto”, the indoor market in the heart of the city.  I remember going there with my uncle, lo zio Walter, my mother’s younger brother.  He was a tall gentleman and had a beautiful shiny, flame red Fiat 600, of which he was very (very) fond.  I was an insecure and shy child, always felt a little in awe of adults, but when he offered to buy me a panino al prosciutto, freshly made at a deli counter, I eagerly accepted.  And here I am, surrounded by delectable prosciutti,  parmigiano, salami, and other local delights, and don’t even know what to look at first.  What a great food city is Modena!  Nobody makes tortellini like they do here, and those fat, overstuffed tortelloni, savory with ricotta, parmigiano and greens, the dough tender and so intensely yellow, their delicate flavor enhanced by fresh sage leaves; golden tagliatelle with a rich, white, porcini sauce; freshly made tigelle, spread with lard or stracchino, one of my favorite soft cheeses.  Breakfast is perfection when you bite into a heavenly diamond-shaped piece of gnocco, flaky and tender, warm and puffy right out of the fryer, ideal with your foamy cappuccino. And the bread, so unique in its many whimsical shapes, chalk-white and dense, yet light and easily snappable.  I also discovered a product called savor, which is a thick jam made of multiple fresh and dried fruit, used to make fantastic crostate and tortelli dolci, lovely tiny crescent-shaped pies, stuffed with various fillings and deep fried.  My mother used to make tortelli when we were small, usually filled with sour cherry jam (a specialty of Modena), and it was always a feast. I hear her accent all around me, at the mercato, as the shoppers chat and laugh, and my eyes become slightly blurry.

As I gaze at the ‘roofs of Modena”, sipping my espresso, out on the kitchen balcony, in the shade of the many trees that help cool off the fiery summer heat, I realize that this trip has changed me: my connection to my mother’s land is more solid, and I’m so fiercely proud to belong to this city and to these beautiful people.

Modena, you’re in my heart.

Advertisements

Modena Rivisitata

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Non mi aspettavo che fosse così bella.

Modena.

Certo che c’ero già stata varie volte, da quando ero piccolissima, siccome era la home town di mia madre, ma, insomma, non ricordavo molto, o non ci facevo caso, sempre presa da tanti altri stimoli e impegni vari.

Stavolta però ci sono stata più a lungo e ad occhi apertissimi.  Sono stati loro, naturalmente, a darmi la meravigliosa opportunità di immergermi totalmente in questa esperienza, i cugini.  Con la lora calda e sincera accoglienza, questi cugini di cui conoscevo ben poco, hanno permesso a me e a mia figlia di goderci una vera e propria vacanza, priva di stress e di drammi.  Ci siamo sentite subito a casa, già dal primo giorno, circondate da affetto, ospiti attese e volute, per cui  loro si sono fatti in quattro, organizzando numerose gite in posti stupendi.  Non succedono spesso queste cose, e gliene sarò eternamente grata.

Subito a mio agio nella loro bella casa in una zona residenziale, circondata da alberi e con una piacevole vista dei “tetti di Modena”, mi sono abbandonata a questa città e a tutto ciò che ha da offrire. E da offrire ha tanto.

Elegante, organizzata, pulitissima, mi inonda in una luce dorata, mentre cammino sui suoi viali, luce riflessa dai palazzi giallo uovo e arancione, tinte vibranti e gioiose, un abbraccio caldo e antico.  Tanta storia in questa grande piccola città, nella sua architettura, nei sorprendenti canali sotterranei, nella gloria romanica del magnifico Duomo e della sua Ghirlandina; Piazza Grande coperta da un tappeto di sassi resi lisci da secoli di passi umani, inclusi i miei, se pur appena un po’ esitanti, dati i tacchi di cui non faccio mai a meno.

 Ho riscoperto il Mercato Coperto, di cui avevo una vaga memoria.  Ero piccola, forse sei-sette anni, e mio zio mi portò lì, al mercato col tetto, cosa che non avevo mai visto; ricordo i fruttivendoli con le cassette tutte ordinate e il pane, tanto pane dalle forme insolite, bianco come il gesso, denso ma leggero; e quel meraviglioso prosciutto crudo, unico al mondo. ‘Vuoi un panino al prosciutto?’, mi chiedeva lo zio Walter, un signore alto che mi faceva un po’ soggezione, non lo vedevo spesso, abitando a Napoli.  Certo che sì! Un buon panino al prosciutto rimane ancora uno dei miei pasti preferiti.  Ero felice allora, vagando con mio zio per il mercatino, mentre mi gustavo il mio snack.  E lo sono stata di nuovo, quest’estate, anche se i miei interessi, oltre al prosciutto e al parmigiano, si sono allargati ad altre delizie, come il ‘savor’, che non conoscevo, ma che adesso è il mio ripieno preferito dei tortelli dolci.

 Quei cedri canditi, lucidi e spessi, a prezzi ragionevolissimi (sono abituata agli imports, vivendo in America), fiori, tanti fiori, e la gente che fa la spesa e conversa, ed io lì incantata ad ascoltare il loro accento modenese che mi ricorda mia madre, e mi vengono un po’ gli occhi lucidi.

Tanti bei negozi, poi! Voi che seguite i miei blog ben saprete che lo shopping è un’attività da me molto amata, e ce ne sono di belle cose in questi deliziosi negozi del centro, all’ombra dei magnifici portici.  E i bar con tanti dolci da farti venire il capogiro.  Le crostate di amarena modenesi sono decisamente le migliori al mondo.  E ‘il gnocco’, gonfio, morbido e friabile, caldo e squisito.  Mia madre lo chiamava la crescente e lo faceva spesso quando eravamo piccoli, ed era sempre una festa.  Dio, come si mangia bene a Modena! Tortellini fragranti, tortelloni enormi e panciuti e così magnificamente gialli, le tigelle col lardo, le piadine morbide, le tagliatelle col sugo bianco ai porcini freschi, e il Lambrusco!  Tanto Lambrusco, tutti i giorni a pranzo un bel bicchiere (o due) di questo meraviglioso vino frizzante.

Una città antica e moderna, decisamente chic, passeggiabile, invitante.  Infatti, se dovessi tornare ad abitare in Italia, sceglierei Modena.  Certo, dovrei imparare ad andare in bicicletta, dato che è il metodo di trasporto più diffuso!

Una città serena, adagiata sulla pianura, circondata da colline verdeggianti e fresche, con panorami mozzafiato.  Situata poi in una zona talmente centrale, che puoi tranquillamente farti delle gite in tanti posti idillici, tipo Firenze, Milano, Venezia, Verona, il Lago di Garda, le spiagge dell’Adriatico e altri, e tornare a casa sazia ed elettrizzata da tanta bellezza, che poi rivivi nelle centinaia di foto scattate con lo Smartphone.

Ho riscoperto le mie origini modenesi, che erano sempre state un pò nascoste dietro alla mia quotidianità meridionale. Ma sono forti queste radici materne, solide, e ne sono infinitamente fiera.

Grazie, Modena, per aver risvegliato in me sentimenti ed emozioni un po’ assopiti.  Sono ben sveglia adesso, e carica.  Non vedo l’ora di tornare.

Grande Modena, you are in my heart.

(Nota: Questo post è stato anche pubblicato nella sezione La lettera  su “La Gazzetta di Modena”, il 29 agosto 2019.  Sono molto grata e commossa da questo onore.)

Venice Can Save You

It impacted me then, the first time I saw it.  I was fifteen, traveling with my parents and siblings.

Venice.

Of course you fall in love with Venice.  I did it again, this July, when the glistening, blue-green canals welcomed me back with the warm embrace of the Italian summer.

I travel south, usually, when I go to Italy, back to my birthplace haunts in Naples and vicinity, to immerse myself in a past that won’t give me peace, but that, some nights, lulls me to sleep.  But these nostalgic meanderings come with a price: the nerve-wrecking stress of interacting with my original family’s unpredictable moods, resentments, guilt trips, and, in some cases, tense hospitality.

Venice is a graceful stranger. I have no ties to its narrow calli, lapped by the gentle water of the lagoon, no heart-trending memories at every corner, every scent, every unfamiliar yet familiar face.  Venice comes with no strings nor chains, just immense beauty to abandon your senses to, caressed by a light-hearted breeze, instead of the tumultuous winds of an unfinished past.

Hanging on to the rail, on the deck of a vaporetto cruising at a comfortable speed on Venice’s ‘Main Street’, that is to say the majestic Canal Grande, I tremble with a simple joy, bursting from every pore of my skin, all my senses expanding to the max, eager to take it all in, to replenish the emptiness I often dwell with, when stagnant waters flood my soul.  But the waters of Venice cannot ever be stagnant.  They erupt with life ad continuum, as the entire world keeps returning to them, to love and poeticize.

Venice is a poem that mesmerizes you, softly rips away the burdens of your sad reality, and delivers the dream that you can carry away with you, when you leave its shores, and store in the secret place of all the lost happy moments.  It will always be there for you.

Alive with cheerful visitors, the artisanal shops offering little treasures, like exquisite Murano jewelry, colorful gems to color your world; those stunning, mysterious Carnevale masks to hide behind when you pretend to be happy and thus become so.  A mint granita at a no-pretenses gelateria, to tame the sizzling heat; a prosciutto sandwich sitting on a stone sidewalk, vibrating with the footsteps of Venetians from centuries ago.

Hail to Piazza S. Marco, where your Venetian dreams culminate.  I’m overwhelmed but the spectacular beauty and the noble history, grateful to own a place in a world where such miracles exist.  Beauty counts, people, do accept it.  Beauty will fill you and make you beautiful, even if you deny it.  Hail to beauty!

Mara at 15, with brother & sister, Venice

Oh, those gondole, how charming! How I begged my father to buy us a ride, those many years ago, when I was fifteen, in Venice, and dazed by it all.  “Costa troppo”, he responded, way too expensive.  And so it is today, when the steep price allows only the rich foreigners to indulge.  And, truly, I have no desire to ride on an attractive but precarious boat, while the bored gondoliere collects tourist stories to laugh at with his friends, after his shift.

Give me Venice, please, give me oblivion, scorching sun, exaggerated Byzantine architecture, shady alleys, dreams fulfilled, even if for only one day.

Grazie, Venezia, you did your job.

The First Time I Was Happy

It is not a memory, it’s more of a sensation.

My mother was there.  I was very small, ensconced in warmth.

Life was good, her love was tender and forever.

Nothing exceptional was happening, but she was talking to me, though the words have faded into the nebulous past, which I attempt to catch, grasp, own.  But no.

We grow up, and we believe we are the ones.  The ones that will understand everything, make all the good decisions, move forward, paving a path of glory.

Because we know better, right?

Wrong.

She was not happy.  I know that now.  But she endured and smiled, because she was a mother.

Her hair was blond, and she was beautiful.  She was young, but who knew?

Happiness is a moment.  Yes, my friends, just one little moment, and you erroneously  believe it will last forever.  There is no forever.  There are only instants, subtle pearls that land in you hand, and you need to clench your fist!  Hold them, squeeze them, bleed them, because this is all you’ve got.  Frame them.  Hang them in your brain.

You will need them when life beats you, and you confuse them with rocks.  But they are the pearls that could save your life.

I recall other moments of happiness.  Fleeting, dear God, so fleeting.  Did I catch those pearls? Yes.

Because of them, I live.

And still hope.

The first time I was happy was glorious.  I didn’t know it then, but it was the essence of my life. A snippet of time to be frozen.

To hang on to when darkness sweeps over all.  Because happiness is not your friend. It turns on you in the midst of your joy, it crushes all you built, and leaves you deflated and lost.

Sometimes, your memories are the lullaby you need to descend into the oblivion of the night.

May your dreams be merciful.

Cherish the pearls.  They are rare.