Paris of Italy

Italians have magical skin. I’m talking about Italians in Italy specifically, not the diaspora. It’s smooth. It’s poreless. It’s even. It’s elastic. Why? My cousin and I had this conversation. Male or female, it doesn’t matter. I dare you to find me an Italian whose skin is anything less than deific. How do they do it?

“Oh….you know, after you pour out the pasta, and there’s a little water left in the pan? You just tut-tut-tut.” Deborah mimes getting leftover pasta water on your fingertips and dabbing it on one’s face.

I’m dubious.

“No, really, and you can also…” Mimes spreading it on her arms and body. “And then you just let it dry and wash it off. It has many antiossidanti.”

I listen with great interest. On the way back to our Airbnb across the Parma River, it strikes me that she might be pulling my leg. But if you happen to see me massaging pasta water into my skin…well…

David and I had caught the train from Rome to Parma that day, with one train change in Bologna,and when she heard we had arrived Deborah invited us over for wine and garlic bruschetta. Then she also ended up making her grandmother’s recipe for orrecchiette with butter, tomato paste, and parmesan. (Or “PARmehJYANoh REJeeAHno,” as my aunt calls it. My aunt is immensely jealous of our trip to Parma. She’s been lugging around 2 lbs of cheese on the whole trip because it was such a great price, how could she NOT buy it? In Italy. At the start of her two week vacation.) It was simple and delicious, and Deborah says it reminds her of her grandmother. I teach her the phrase “comfort food.” She met my grandmother when my mom, grandmother, and I came to Italy together 30 years ago, and tells me how sorry she is that my grandma passed away last year. 💔

I taunted my aunt with this photo from the Carrefour supermarket near us. She immediately wanted to know if I were buying any.

We talk about life and what it’s like to be in our 50s now instead of 17 (her) and 19 (me), like when we first met. I meet her daughter for the first time, a tall, willowy, orchid-haired beauty who is almost the age her mother was back then.

Random door we came across on our walk home that we really liked.

The next morning David and I choose to rest for awhile, then we toured around an open-air market nearby before having lunch. We return to our place to cool off and freshen up before Deborah and her good friend Stefano pick us up for a tour around Parma.

The thing that strikes me the most about Parma is how lush with trees the streets are. Almost every street we drive down has a thick canopy overhead – someone is brilliant, because it is just the thing to help with the summer heat. In spite of a drought, the area is rich and green.

They educate us on the fact that Parma is called the Paris of Italy and has lots of French influence as a result of Napoleon’s wife, Maria Luigia of Austria, being declared Duchess of Parma. The government of Maria Luigia installed a famous theater, maternity hospital, bridge, public garden, and more. We also learned about the Farnese family, who were essentially the Parma equivalent of the Florentine Medici.

We then drive out to through the countryside, into Langhirano which is where Parma ham comes from…

…and out to Castello Torrechiara, which was built by a 15th century count as a home for his mistress.

She must have been some mistress.

We then head over to Blue River Restaurant, which, we are informed, will be packed the next night with Italians dining on traditional tortelli in honor of St. John the Baptist’s feast day.

Blue River Restaurant

We choose a table and talk with Stefano and Deborah and eat ourselves blind. The food is great and the conversation is easy. It’s as if decades haven’t passed.

“Sisters” for over 30 years. Deborah lived with us in Santa Cruz when she was a teenager and she is the same now, but made even better with all the layers of experience life gives you. A creative, independent, bohemian spirit with a good dose of no-nonsense practicality.

It starts to rain on the way home – the first rain for Parma in months – and I remember that I left my laundry out to dry.

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