My head is finally clear from the 21-hour torture of the plane trip but actually it is still spinning… from the differences in place and culture and language in which I am to be immersed for two months.
I am staying with my friend Paola at her mother’s house in the hills above Salsomaggiore Terme, which is a most beautiful town in the region of Emilio Romagna, so recently flooded in its lower areas. It is a town of leafy trees, parks and plazas, narrow streets and wide avenues, of boutique shops and cafés, of buildings quaint or grand.
My usual readers will not be surprised that the first photo I took here was not of the grand view above, but of a detail: a public rubbish bin. Apparently of ancient beauty, but of modern design, make and function.
The walk down to the town is via steep paved steps, bordered by weeds like the orange papavera poppies I had seen growing wild by the train line from the airport to Milan station. Even the stones in the edging drains here are aesthetically laid, diagonally.
Naturally the walk back up is more of a strain; I could choose to follow the longer winding road instead. Italians drive on the other side of the road, very fast, and often one-handed, as, if in company, they are usually speaking — also fast — which necessitates gesticulating.
From the train I had also remarked on the many abandoned large farmhouse complexes, old and partly vine covered, in the midst of fields. People prefer to live near services now I am told. Yet on my walk down to Salso I pass quite a few mansions similarly falling into disrepair.
The first was Poggio Diana, once a sort of resort, a nightclub, a place of hospitality, of dancing and fun, with a pool and overgrown tennis courts below. I fall in love with the windows, the shapes, the shutters, and begin to feel the sadness of history’s changes. I think of the Hydro Majestic at Katoomba…
The road runs below the large tree-filled grounds of half-hidden, once grand villas. I think I see the one I want to rescue most. I am told many were built by owners of vineyards elsewhere in the region to take advantage of the higher air and the thermal spas, as the latter were the reason for Salsomaggiore Terme’s establishment.
Armies of gardeners would be needed for any of these, like this imposing rare one clearly still used by its wealthy owners.
Of course most Italians do not live in grand villas, or even separate houses, but in apartments, and I love that so many beautify them with flowers, roses and geraniums especially.
Most of the houses I do see are tall and narrow; colour abounds, particularly yellow. The house where I am staying is of three levels; I am in the attic.
I am getting used to tiles, and stairs, and even Italian TV. The latter is overly glamorous, bright and lively and I now better understand why the Eurovision Song Contest is so glitzy. But it is a good way to learn Italian…