Thursday, November 05, 2009


Piazza Garibaldi, Parma

The Italy visit has been the subject of a bunch of posts now, and I recognize that when reading about other people's vacations, a little goes a long way. This will be the last about the trip. But I don't want to end the account on a sour note such as the previous entry, on Venice's misbehavior.

I quite enjoyed Parma, the last major city we spent some time in. It has its own style, which is partly French. The French ruled here in the 19th century, and in fact Napoleon I's widow, Marie Louise, lived out her life as the Duchess of Parma. She was and apparently still is popular, to judge by all the things named after her (including a restaurant where we ate lunch, with a view very similar to that in the photo above).

Aside from that, the French influence can be felt in what I can only describe as Parma's rationality, by Italian standards. The streets and signage almost make sense, and there are even a few wide, straight boulevards. The main parking garage near the historic center is actually underground, rather than a concrete bunker as in most Italian cities. In fact, the garage has a feature I've never seen anywhere else: each parking space has a sensor in the roof, which turns on a red light if occupied, green if unoccupied. From your car you can quickly spot the available spaces. Maybe I'm indulging in cultural stereotypes, but that strikes me as French rather than Italian.

It's a cultured and musical city. An annual Verdi festival was just winding up. Verdi was born here (as was Arturo Toscanini). They've made a fine art museum out of the rather forbidding old Farnese Palace. It includes a drawing of a woman's face by Leonardo (or "attributed to" Leonardo), hardly larger than a page of a hardback book. Whether by the great man himself or an assistant or follower, it is one of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen.

The palace building also contains a splendid Renaissance theater, built almost entirely of wood. It was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1944. By 1956, the Parmans had rebuilt it exactly as before. It's questionable whether that would be done today under comparable circumstances, say, a terrorist demolition. "Jeez, shame about that. But look, prime real estate in the city center, wow! Let's clear the rubble and get on with a mall. I've already had inquiries from Benetton and Dolce & Gabanna."

Plus, in the same city, you get a marvelous Duomo (cathedral), medieval baptistry, and other interesting churches …

If I've been a little hard on Italy in these postings, it's mainly because I'm disappointed the country doesn't always do right by its own cultural heritage. Otherwise, my only serious complaint is that the direction markings in cities are poorly designed, either telling you too much or not enough, and informing you only once you are already at the decision point rather than before so you can plan. But that's the verdict of an outsider; Italians may see their way as perfectly normal and sensible.

I'm looking forward to the next visit. Arrivederci, Italia!



David said...

Rick...sent you an email at the address...not totally sure if it's still good.

Rick Darby said...

David, got it.