Here’s the Damned Ham!

Pig ProductsIn that gentile lady-like manner of hers, Doralong (What Would Jackie Wear) has been asking about Parma Ham. Myself I find this obsession with porcine flesh a trifle… well unnatural but who am I to judge. But she’s right you can’t go to Parma and not think of ham.

The centre of Parma is an area for pedestrians and bicyclists and after a long walk around the historic centre I was building up an appetite. I contemplated one of the ristorante in the Piazza in front of the Town Hall but it just seemed so “touristy” – I can be a real snob that way. I headed down a small alley and in a piazza off the Strada Garibaldi came across a tent offering “VerdiTaste.” I’d noticed that, unlike their counterparts in Salzburg with Mozart, merchants in Parma were marketing the Verdi Festival in a tasteful way – posters, costumes from previous productions, books, scores. There wasn’t a single “‘Joe Green Reigns In Parma” t-shirt in sight.A Taste of Verdi And here was this place offering things like the “Aida” or “Otello” platter however the displays of ham, sausage, cheese wheels and chestnuts (its chestnut season here) were so damned appealing – and the guy slicing the meat (you should excuse the expression) was cute – hey I’m old and married not dead and buried!

So I ordered the “Aida” (culatello, dried garlic sausage, a large piece of well-aged Parmesan and fresh bread) and a glass of a local red, grabbed a stool at a bar style round table and tucked in.

Let me tell you about culatello or rather click on the link where it is better explained than I every could. But what I will tell you is that it is the best ham I have ever eaten in my life. It seemed to literally melt away with a lovely salty-sweet after taste. With the aged cheese, garlicy sausage and rough but pleasant local wine it was a more than satisfying lunch.

Nonna at the BarThe tent (turns out its a family run operation in town – they set up there for the Festival) started to fill up with both tourists and locals – a few taking away orders of culatello at EU 54 a kilo. I ordered a second glass of wine from the striking looking Nonna of the family – one of those woman who has gotten more beautiful as she’s aged. I noticed as well as waiting on tables and tending bar Nonna was not beyond having a little nip every once and a while just to make sure the bottle she had just opened was a good one.
The whole atmosphere was festive (Nabucco playing in the background), rustic (the tent, wooden floor, bar seating) and sophisticated (products beautifully displayed, greenery and the Teatro Reggio backdrop.) It was completely in the spirit of Parma celebrating Verdi. And it totally spoiled me for any other type of ham!

30 ottobre – San Alfonso

Change Trains at Bologna

Eurostar 1st Class

Trains in Europe aren’t what they use to be – or at least not on the TrenItalia Eurostars. Gone are the old compartments with their worn bordello maroon plush seats and dusty billiard table green curtains. The coaches are now Pullman-style with groups of four or two airplane seats in violent red with black chevrons, given a false sense of privacy by smudged Plexiglas dividers. Gone is the embarrassment most North Americans feel when confronted by a train compartment occupied by local travellers – oh God I’m going to spend the next three40 winks hours with someone who doesn’t speak English. Now a smart metal console with dropdown table and laptop and cell outlets allows you to ignore the other travellers after the initial “buon giorno” and get on with your work, video gaming or blogging. But I must admit the gentleman in the pĥoto at the right did go to extremes to avoid fellow passengers.

I suppose something has been gained in the change but something has been lost. I remember on my first trip to Europe as a semi-callow youth of 19, a good deal of the pleasure and adventure of the trip were the people – European and other foreign travellers – I met in slightly musty train compartments. The struggles to make conversation with my Ontario high-school French and opera-libretto German and Italian was half the fun. That discomfort at occupying a enclosed space with strangers only set in as I grew older. Also at the time I was an not unattractive kid and I recall the attentions of several older gentlemen – oh they must have been almost 30 – of course as I grew older and my hairline receded so did those sort of attentions.

27 ottobre – San Fiorenzo

Well glory be – they still have Intercity trains with compartments – now in cooling blues and Plexiglas – and people still make conversation when sent to them by the ineffable TrenItalia booking system. From Parma to Bologna – 50 minutes – there was a lively discussion about the Maryinsky Ballet Swan Lake at La Scala in the compartment next to mine. And in my own much merriment was being made of the cha-cha rhythm of a woman’s telefino ring – I gather the reason it was going unanswered was that it was “only her husband.” And a concerned discussion broke out about the burning smell coming from the brake assembly of the car in front of ours every time we slowed down or stopped in a station. And in true TrenItalia fashion an announcement was made in Emilio Reggio that we would be delayed 10 minutes – and a minute later we departed.

On the connecting train from Bologna to Roma it was back to the Pullman and the solitude of XP and Ipod. Though I must admit there was a bit of eye-candy that would gone unseen in a compartment – some Italian mothers are right, their sons are gorgeous. And though we left Bologna on time with no stops along the way for some reason explained in a totally inaudible announcement, we arrived in Rome an hour late.

And some older man of 65 or so made eyes at me – or maybe he was just squinting to read his newspaper.

28 ottobre – SS Simone e Guida

The Reese Report

Dog Food!
And what do we have here? Another splendid recipe from The Silver Spoon? Another taste temptation to greet Laurent as he comes home from a hard day of saving the world for democracy? Well no actually its Reese’s dinner. He hasn’t been eating much and has lost over a kilo since he took sick over two weeks ago. He seemed to like my minestrone when we mixed it with ground beef – so let’s see how this one goes over.

Eating Cautiously
Appears it “went down a treat” as my friend Deb use to say when we lived together and I cooked something she enjoyed. All except, I noticed, the green beans which where not a great favorite. A few were very delicately spit out on the floor. Seconds were asked for, given but not eaten. But I have a feeling he’ll get to it eventually.

I hope to have a post or two on Parma up today and tomorrow. But figured the Reese Report should come first.

29 ottobre – San Petronio

The Reese Report – Today’s Update

We’ve often said that Reese is more like a cat than a dog – his behavoir is quite often more feline than canine – and be damned if like a cat he seems to have a few lives at his disposal. Dr Benevenuti referred to him tonight as his little “Miracle” as we watched him hobble slowly across the waiting room – and frankly on Tuesday he wasn’t able to stand so…. We had thought it was only three days treatment but the good doctor – and I must blog about him sometime – continued it tonight and once more tomorrow. Then we will assess on Monday. As long as he is improving and there is no suffering I think for the moment we are not going to have to make a “decision.”

So I’m off to Parma tomorrow at 0730 – I finally went to the station to get a reservation. The TrenItalia website is very slick, very “bella figura” but a total disaster for the user. It rejected 3 credit cards and actually froze my Mastercard after the third attempt. A call to a very pleasant lady at their call centre brought the admission that “we have trouble with foreign credit cards on the website.” And even she was not able to help as much as she tried.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging from Parma including a possible observation – a hesitate to call it a review – on the Oberto, which I’m sure you’ll all be waiting for with great expection? Wish the trip could have been as planned but again there is always the next time.

It is now 11:05 and I still have to iron a few shirts, pack my five pairs of underwear (hey I’m going for a day and a bit okay! and I don’t want to be hit by a mad motorino driver and taken to the hospital with dirty underwear, okay!) and four pairs of socks (all blue.) And then to bedfordshire.

26 ottobre – San Evanisto

The Reese Report

Well tonight is Dr. Benvenuti’s assessment of the situation with Reese: from our point of view he is certainly better than when we took him to the Clinic or brought him home for that matter. He is walking a bit – though if he stands in one spot for more than a minute his back end slowly sinks to the ground. When he sits the one back leg is often in an unnatural position. He is eating – though only chicken, hamburger or slightly cooked vegetables. He is still drinking copious amounts of water which are then recycle – occasionally on the kitchen hallway floor or carpet. He spends a good deal of his time sleeping. He has definitely lost that puppy look and just looks like an old boy now. And he resolutely refuses to give me a kiss!

Went for a caffeine fix yesterday morning with my friend John, another dip-spouse, and I’m not sure if it was the two cappuccini, the chocolate corneti or both but we chattered away for almost 2 hours. When the subject turned to Reese, John compared the situation to looking after an elderly relative – and he’s right. He’s old, he’s in failing health and he’s part of our family – so we look after him as long and as well as we can.

Having said that I am going to be a bad person tomorrow – please tater forgive me. If I can get the TrenItalia website to accept my credit card – its rejected three perfectly valid ones already – I’m heading up to Parma early tomorrow morning and returning late Sunday morning. Laurent – being the sort of person he is – insists that I should go and that he can get some quality time in with Reese that way. Though it could be he just wants to get rid of me for a day or so.

Of course this is all subject to change depending on tonight’s assessment.

26 ottobre – San Evanisto