Outside the "rabbit hole"
Our last morning together in the Capre apartment, our “Rabbit Hole” as Anna Rita humorously calls it, was a bit bittersweet. We’d both felt an oncoming sense of not so much an easily described sadness, but more a poignant acceptance of the fact that Marty’s time in this paradise was drawing to a close, and that his return to Texas would be “da solo”. We awoke with a little bit of a gnawing sense of urgency to get things organized for his departure, as well as hit the road early enough for a cappuccino and leisurely travel north. We were rewarded with a predeparture visit by Anna Rita to bid Marty farewell (and have a quick tour of the upstairs “Karen” apartment I’d inhabited last year), and her kind words meant more than she knew. Hugs exchanged, we loaded up the little Punto and headed towards town for cappuccino and a light breakfast at the gas station with our new friend Simone. I presented him with a Texas magnet and a small package of flavored Texas coffee in reciprocation for his kind regalo, or gift. I do believe he was as delighted with them as I was with the coffee art calendar! We were able to enjoy our pleasures outside this day…it was finally a warm day full of bright Tuscan sun and the gentlest hint of a breeze. The view south/southwest was spectacular, and San Gimingnano rose up in the distance to salute the sky with her proud remaining towers.
Zipping from the whirl-a-gig Toscana roads onto the much straighter A1 strada, we began the journey north. The drive takes one through wondrous views of Tuscany that begin to fade into flatter lands towards Florence. Then, the mountains begin to build in size until tunnel in and outs become as common as the right-left-right-left gyrations of our now familiar country roads. After crossing the mountains, the land becomes dramatically flat as such familiar place names like Bologna, Modena, and Parma come into view. We stopped for a bite of lunch at a My Chef on the outskirts of Parma…similar to the AutoGrille but a notch or two less enticing…and found our way to the cafeteria style lunch selections. It’s always such fun to be a part of the hub-bub of the road tripping others, mostly Italian. Truck drivers, families, business men, and tourists all pile in for a quick meal, a bathroom break, maybe a snack or two, a hit of caffé as well as gassing up the car before departure. All the major roadways in Italy have exits for towns, then sporadically placed “Servicio” stops. Most all have at least a bar and quick food, and then all the way up to full scale self-serve dining. And the nice part is they are place precisely on the strada with easy off/easy on access. We enjoyed our little lunch, as well as the people watching.
The precious Caterina and her beautiful Mommy, Lucia
As we exited the Parma area and came closer to Cremona, we contacted our new friends-to-be, Lucia and Emanuele. Marty had met Lucia through Conversation Exchange, we all had said hello on Skype, and after one conversation, Lucia kindly invited us to visit if we were in their area. It worked out well to do so on our way to Milan on this day.
With the beloved help of the GPS, we found our way to their apartment style home in the newer neighborhoods of Cremona. We were surprised to find their building came into being in the 1960’s. It appeared much newer. We were warmly greeted by Lucia and Emanuele, as well as their absolutely precious 6 month old daughter, Catarina. As with any freshly launched friendship, the chat was at first superficial and edged with a tiny bit of unease; however, it wasn’t long before a wonderful level of comfort was found.
Lucia teaches English to high school age students and her command of the language is good. Not so by her standards, but we begged to differ. Emanuele apologized upfront for his lack of English, but again…we found it to be quite good; much better than our Italian, for sure!!
We were seated at their dining table and offered spumonti and a beautiful spread of antipasto that included several kinds of meats from the area, and two delicious cheeses..one being parmasean and the other pecorino, I believe. Having thought we’d communicated we would eat before our 2:30 arrival, we were somewhat surprised to be treated to this, but figured it was like an appetizer type snack to go with our drinks. That is….until the beautiful plates of pasta were served! Come to find out much later in the day when Marty brought it up, Lucia had misunderstood and thought we would arrive and have lunch together with them. We were all somewhat embarrassed, but found the humor in the miscommunication. Lucia told us they thought it rather strange we would eat lunch so late, but well, you know those Americans - ha! The pasta was wonderful, all cooked by Emanuele, and it was topped off with a wonderful fresh strawberry bowl and caffé. We managed to eat it all, and were- needless to say – stuffed! How kind and generous, though, of these busy young people to treat virtual strangers to such personal hospitality in their home. And need I mention that the addition of the company of the adorable little Catarina put things over the top!
Lunch dishes put away, we loaded up the car and headed towards the centro storico of Cremona, another ancient city possessing wonder upon wonder. We parked and walked a little ways together into the main piazza, a wonderful antique rectangular plaza surrounded by the most amazing medieval buildings, a beautiful duomo and baptistery, and a huge bell tower…the tallest in the world! As we headed towards the baptistery, Emanuele went ahead and spoke with an older man at the door. Next thing you know, we ushered in…no ticket needed…and find ourselves as the only guests there, marveling at the works of art, the sheer size and workmanship of the building, and the massively and beautiful brick dome. They even turned on the Gregorian chant music for us! We found out that this dome predated the one in Florence…truly a marvel then and now. It was a magnificent building.
As we exited and wandered towards the duomo, a long time friend of Emanuele’s met us and we exchanged warm greetings. He had heard about our visit, and was able to come join us. His expectant wife was resting at home, so we didn’t have that pleasure. I am embarrassed that I can’t remember this very friendly young man’s name! As we entered the duomo, impressive from the outside but not even beginning to belay the magnificent sight inside, it took a moment for our eyes to adjust to the sights. Massive and dark, the interior held a different persona that other duomos I’ve been in. All of the major cities’ have been incredibly impressive, but now and then one is hit with a different reaction, and I found this here. It wasn’t long before the phenomenon, and there is a word for it in Italian, of feeling an inner rush of emotion and awe that is non-definable with words, but with tears, swept over me. We marveled at huge masterpieces of painting, one being famous for its perspective of Christ, just removed from the cross and laying with his feet towards the viewer at an angle, being cradled by Mary and the others. As you move from one viewing point to another, Christ’s body appears to take on entirely different perspectives from laying almost side to side, to appearing to be draped over the edge of the area he is laying on, to being at a crossways angle. It is truly amazing. We enjoyed taking in all the beauty and workmanship of this duomo, and were so grateful for having it shared by those who’ve grown up in its shadow. And once again, having sweet Caterina along was such joy! She is so happy and content, and not once complained. I had such a time with her, and by mutual decree became her Texas Nonna. Yee haw!
We wandered from the duomo out into the piazza and found ourselves surrounded in a joyful, buzzing hub of pedestrians and bike riders, all ages and combinations out enjoying an incredibly beautiful and warm spring late afternoon. Cremona has a university, so there were many young people, along with the variety of citizens of every age. Many were out strolling and watching…participating in a beautiful tradition of passiagata. We stolled along slowly, immersed as a part of this delightful energy and commonality. I’m sure there were tourists here and there, but we never picked them out. What joy to feel assimilated into this! Friends would stop now and then and say hello and chat a moment, waves were exchanged from afar…a sweet part of the Italian culture that we felt so blessed to be allowed to share. Oh…and how these gorgeous Italian women manage to wear skirts or dresses, AND 4 inch heels while riding a bike is beyond me, but they do it with incredible ease and style!
Emanuele had to depart for an event in Milan, along with his friend, so Lucia,
Caterina, Marty and I walked a slow walk back to the apartment. It was another great treat to stroll through more streets and neighborhoods just taking in the life of Cremona. Back in the apartment, we chatted a bit more before realizing it was…yes….much later than we’d realized – 8:00! It’s that time warp at work again. Saying our warm thanks and goodbyes, and holding Caterina one last time, we closed the literal door to the newly opened figurative door of yet another sweet friendship in Italy. The invitation to all our Italian friends to visit us in Texas is always laid forth, and what a joy it would be to be able to return some of this incredibly hospitality.
Off to Milan, we wound our way with GPS at the helm. However, as technology is certainly not perfect, the little data brain got a little confused and lead us some 25 km past our intended destination. With it being dark and us being tired, we didn’t quite catch on to this little wild goose chase until a bit late, and after numerous “recalculating” and rebooting, plus one phone call to the hotel, we finally found ourselves checking in at about 10:30, tired and ready for a glass of wine. Unpack a few things, head downstairs – no one tending the little bar even though they were there when we came in and things looked opened. Okay….back upstairs, “Marty, maybe just splurge and call room service.” An affirmative response, but about a ten minute delay to try to get the internet to work…phone call made. They closed five minutes ago. The two little beers in the mini bar didn’t stand a chance as the dwarf size fridge door creaked open.
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?
All photos used in this blog were taken by the author, the author's husband or friends, or found by way of images.google.com. Photo credit is given when possible.