That night in Milan we slept the sleep of the dead.
Next morning we showered and headed back to the Piazza del Duomo to find some coffee and pastry. Had a couple of espressos at Zucca in the Galleria and then found a lovely pasticceria on the Via Dante. You can see here that when I asked for orange juice to go with my coffee and croissant my waiter grabbed some blood oranges, cut and squeezed them to order. The pastries were beautiful and everyone seems to be tripping over themselves to give us good food and friendly service.
Got back to the hotel to check out by and headed to the Central Train Station, a massive building built by Mussolini in 1931. There we were to pick up a rental car and meet Lisa Nori, Sally’s college roommate and one of our closest friends. She flew in from Connecticut and was waiting for us at the rental office. Tonight we have a room and dinner booked in Zibello, a little town on the Po River and the producer of Italy’s finest culatello. More on that later
The four of us piled into the car and headed out of town, traveling south on the Autostrada A1. The highway follows the course of the Via Emilia, one of the oldest of Roman roads, dating from the 2nd century AD. Before leaving the States I bought maps of Europe on a tiny chip that slips into my Garmin GPS. Pricey, but they paid for themselves before the day was out. Saved many bad turns and wrong ways on a one way. More importantly it allowed us to venture into cities and find places that would be too much trouble and research otherwise.
Case in point was the city of Piacenza, once an independent city-state strategically situated on the Po River where the ApennineMountains and the river plain meet. It was lunch time and we heard of a legendary restaurant in the heart of the city. Their specialty was horse, pony and ass meat but we hoped they had other local delicacies, too. The GPS got us there, despite roadblocks and bridges that were no longer there. But the place was closed. We asked the GPS what else might be around and it suggested a place by the center of town.
Parking was at a premium in the medieval streets of the city. We found a lot and asked the man in our pigeon Italian if he knew of a good restaurant or wine bar. He looked at his watch (most places close at that time of day) and raised a finger to tell us to wait. He ran down the street and returned in a few minutes and gestured to leave the car and follow him. He led us to a tiny shop full of wine bottles and cured meats and cheeses. The old man behind the counter crooked his finger to say “follow” and led us to a back room with a few tables. There we sat in silence until, within a few minutes, a woman burst in the back door, a bit out of breath. This was our hostess, Francesca, who had been called from home to serve us lunch. Her father, who led us in, had started this enoteca (wine bar) many years before. We asked for local specialties and were served a nice sparkling rose wine from the Alto Adige, a variety of cheese including parmegiano, assiago, a fresh, creamy gorgonzola and a stinky one whose name I don’t recall. Also prosciutto, culatello, coppa, pancetta, the local salami known as Piacentina, and the local bread. It was a special meal and a special time and beautiful Francesca made us feel at home.
We took a stroll around the town after to digest things a bit. Much of the city center was ancient, many shown here dating to the 13th century, and some structures even earlier.
By then it was passegiatta. Passegiatta is a tradition you will hear me mention many times in many places throughout Italy. It is an old custom that takes place as afternoon turns to early evening. Whole towns seem to turn out, often formally dressed, husbands and wives arm in arm and children in tow. Neighbor greets neighbor, men argue politics and sports, women talk about children and shop, hands are shook, kids run around, and cities and villages become community. We saw this in Piacenza as we walked from ancient piazza to piazza.
As the sun sank low, we retrieved our car and set sights for the tiny farming village of Zibello where a very special evening awaited us.