Mercoledi Musicale

The first October we lived in Italy I went up to Parma for the Verdi Festival and a performance of is first opera Oberto, Conte di S. Bonifacio at a tiny theatre in the great composer’s hometown of Busetto. I wrote a bit about both the opera and the lovely little Teatro Giuseppe Verdi at the time.  It was quite the journey – Rome to Bologna on the express then a regional train to Parma. But the journey was far from over – after checking in at the hotel and changing into respectable performance attire I had get to Bussetto another 50 minutes away – by taxi.  As well as the performance I had one of the most uncomfortable dinners of my life at I Due Foscari – an albergo owned at the time by the great Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi and his son Marco.

Though I heard him often on the Metropolitan Opera Saturday Broadcast I only had the privilege of seeing him live once – on the Met Spring Tour in Toronto in 1958.  It was a new production of Madama Butterfly that had been the hit of the New York season – an “authentic” Japanese production by Yoshio Aoyama, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos and starring Antoinetta Stella and Bergonzi. Those were the days, said the old opera curmudgeon with a woeful sigh.

Here is Bergonzi, not in a big operatic aria but in a lovely arietta by Vincenzo Bellini published in 1838 and dedicated to the journalist and writer Giulietta Pezzi.

Beautiful moon, dappling with silver
These banks and flowers,
Evoking from the elements
The language of love

Only you are witness
To my ardent desire;
Go tell her, tell my beloved
How much I long for her and sigh.

Tell her that with her so far away,
My grief can never be allayed,
That the only hope I cherish
Is for my future to be spent with her.

Tell her that day and night
I count the hours of my yearning,
That hope, a sweet hope beckons,
And comforts me in my love.

Like the moon his voice was dappled with silver and I’d say there was even spun gold in his singing.

On this day in 1881:  The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral takes place at Tombstone, Arizona.

Porcine Pleasure – For Dora

Some of you may recall that last year when I went to Parma my friend Dora was mildly obsessed with one on the town’s most famous products: Ham. And frankly there’s no way of getting away from it when you hit town. Specialty shops display it proudly in windows and restaurants, trattorias and Osterias feature it on menus – in fact Saturday night I had prosciutto and melon as an antipasti followed by ham and Parmesan crepes. But then if you have a good thing I suppose the thing to do is flaunt it.Hanging HamsAnd of course the best of the best is culatello – that king of cured hams that I found so irresistible last year.

Once the skin and bone have been removed, the top part of the hind leg (with the lower part “Fiochetto” is produced) is salted still “warm”, that is, right after slaughtering, and trussed with a spiral of string to give it the characteristic pear shape. Stored away, the Culatello is then massaged a few days later to aid salt penetration. It is given another period of rest in a cool room, and then the Culatello, until now still “naked”, is enveloped in a pig bladder, which has been washed and dried, and tightly bound with string.

After all this manipulation, the Culatello is given needed rest in cellars with constant temperature and humidity for not less than 12 months; then it is “kept” in cool, humid underground rooms. Once matured, it can weigh from 3 to 5 kilos* with its
typical solid pear shape.

From G. TRANI: Elogio del Culatello. Il salume dei re tra storia,
letteratura e gastronomia. Bologna, Grafis, 1992.

A plate of porcine heavenNot more than an hour after arriving in Parma I headed over to a small piazza off Strada Garibaldi to see if they had set up the VerdiTaste tent this year. It was there but on a smaller scale and though the atmosphere was not as welcoming as last year the goodies on offer where. I just had to order a plate of the good stuff with some nicely aged Parmesan cheese, a few chunks of rustic bread and a glass of slightly effervescent Malvasia white. And I just want Dora to know I did it for her! That’s what good friends do.Salami arbour

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this young lady and her mother as they enjoyed their plates of ham and cheese surrounded by an arbour of porcine products.

* A 4 kilo culatello is selling for approximately Euro 315.00 (CAD 479.00 USD 403.00)- cheap at half the price!!!!!

08 novembre – Santi Quattro coronati

Parma – a Few Final Words Involving (What Else?) Food

Well actually three words – I Tre Porcellini. That translates as the Three Little Pigs and it was an osteria I stumbled on coming back from the band concert on Sunday. I wasn’t all that hungry and it was only 1230 a little early for lunch, so I thought I would walk, build up an appetite and come back around 1300. Then, of course, I couldn’t quite remember where it was. I wandered around and had almost given up when I turned a corner and there it was.

I love watching people in restaurants and the place was filled with highly watchable Sunday diners. There was a family beside me – Mother, Father, two brothers and the little boy of one of the brothers – so where was the mother of the boy? Was she working that day? Maybe Mama doesn’t like her so she wasn’t invited? Or they’re divorced and it was Dad’s turn with the kid? Whatever it was the kid was more than pleased with the second helping of lemon gelato he was allowed courtesy of one of the owners. In the next room there was a large noisy group: 8 women (elderly, middle-aged, teen-aged) with one man – very much Pater Familias chunky gold pinkie ring and all – and a chihuahua that occasionally added to the conversation. In another corner sat a young couple who, I suspect, had spent their first night together – that morning-after glow, strangely more on him than her and all little touches and caresses, knowing looks and giggles – so damned cute. An elderly gentleman, very nattily dressed in jacket and tie, shuffled past with his Filippina caregiver, seen to the door by one of the owners. It was a colorful cross section of people – many it would seem regulars others like me simply passing through – enjoying a good Sunday lunch.

And it was a good Sunday lunch:

Polenta Grantinée with Brie and Porcini mushrooms
Roast Fresh Parma Ham with
oven roasted rosemary potatoes
A pleasant half litre of the house white wine
Honey torte with brandy sauce and vanilla gelato
The house Amaro
An espresso to finish the meal off.

It was the perfect meal for a chilly Sunday, the price was reasonable, the setting comfortable and the service friendly. And unlike the evening before I wasn’t made to feel uneasy about being a single dinner. Damn another reason to go back to Parma.

10 novembre – San Leone Magno