Monthly Archives: January 2014

Skip this if you’re on diet

Ok, I’ve warned you, if you keep reading, it’s at your own risk………This last month has been a very heavy one, at least on the food side. I thought that the culinary marathon was over after the festivities, but I was deadly wrong! I had breakfast out with friends twice on sundays, first time at a place new for me……

the second time at a local pastry shop owned by a guy who was one of my schoolmates………

Then I went shopping at a new delicatessen shop that has freshly made pasta absolutely gluten-free…..

and I ended up cooking fettuccine with beef and sauce…..

and tortellini with mushrooms, peas and ham

Then we tried a new (for us) place with some friends. It was so good we went back the next week also! First time we had this……..spaghetti with veal and figs sauce

“paccheri” with robiola cheese

“gnocchi” with asparagus

beef “tagliata” (cut)

and their delicious sweet soufflè with ice-cream

The second time it was pumpkin rice with sausage

beef stew with smashed potatoes

and chocolate truffles

The place in itself is very nice and cozy, I guess we will be back

Near our friends M&R home up in the hills, there’s this little restaurant, recently opened, where their younger son is working as a cook in training. It’s a place that recalls those in the Alps and the dishes too are typical of that region (the owner is half german), vast choice of beers, broths and soups, and obviously pork shank. One saturday night we gave it a try…..and I’m glad we did.

Then it was our friend G birthday, the celebration took place at our fav restaurant in town……

pumpkin risotto

scaloppina with lemon and mushrooms sauce

chickpea salad with red onions and fennel

and a sampling of cheeses

After dinner we went to a nearby cake shop for dessert

Last week our neighbors invited us and another couple to have an informal dinner at their house. I was there in the morning to help E. cooking and setting the table, but another helper wanted to be in the team too….

We had appetizers, two different veggies pies and a potato salad………….


And we had a copule of friends at dinner one night… radicchio (circory) risotto

chicken rolls with ham and cheese

In spite of all this, I managed to slim down a couple of kgs, thanks to my daughter and our walks…..not bad, uhu?


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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


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First snow

My hometown, this morning…………


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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Uncategorized



Church of the Steccata

In the city center there’s a little square, with some shops, a cafè, a newstand and a statue dedicated to one of our greatest sons, Parmigianino.

The square is called “della Steccata” (of the Steccata) taking its name from the church that closes the square on one side.

The origin of the Steccata Church has roots in its apparition in 1392 from an image of St. John the Baptist on the wall of a house in via St. Barnaba (currently via Garibaldi) where the church is found today: the cult for
this image motivated the creation of an oratory, and a little after a congregation of lay followers and clergy started to manage the small church. The image of the Virgin nursing Christ appeared only at the end of the 1400s on the wall of the oratory, which is now found on the altar of the Steccata: the Congregation took the name of the Madonna Annunciata (the Heralded Virgin). Its apparition provoked an incredible cult following, to the extreme point of necessitating the protection of the fresco and disciplining the zealous crowd by making a steccato (railing), which gives the same name to the painting and the church. After only a few years, at the beginning of the 20s in the 16th century, the congregation decided to elevate the miraculous Virgin giving it a more dignified hospitality.

The present church’s construction emerges between 1521 and 1527, and the project was given first to the architect Bernardino Zaccagni of Torrechiara, and after to Francesco Ferrari d’Agrate, a sculptor and architect who probably built the upper part of the construction and the pilaster strips with external leafy capitals. However, it is not clear how much, what, and who did the details of the project and the church structure, nor is it clear what role the consulting commissions made up of Correggio and Araldi played in the project plans. The project of the dome in Roman style done in 1526-27 can definitely be attributed to Antonio da Sangallo, the Younger. The plan is a Greek cross, with the arms positioned in cardinal beams and closed by apsidal niches. Between the arms four huge parallel chapels were immediately created, and even now used for the devotion, which gives the plan a similarity to many constructions with a central plan that were in fashion at the time in Italy following the ideas of Bramante and Raphael.

The interior was frescoed according to a precise marian iconographic plan and even now it is difficult to decode it in all its details. Other than the oriental soffit painted by Parmigianino, there is the dome with the Assumption of Maria painted by Barnardino Gatti (1560); the twelve scenes from the Old Testament of the Apostles of the column drum and freize under the cornice (of Gatti and Lattanzio Gambara); the conches of the southern niches with the ”Adoration of the Shepherds” and north with the Pentecost painted between 1547 and 1555 by Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli; the conch of the western niche with the Adoration of the Magi by Michelangelo Anselmi, but completed after his death by Gatti (1556); the conch of the eastern niche, projected first by Parmigianino and then completed by Michelangelo Anselmi upon the drawing of Giulio Romano (1541); Mercurio Baiardi (1568), Antonio Seghizzi, Giovanni Maria Conti delle Camere, Angelo Omobono Guazzi, and Antonio Bonviso (all between 1668 and 1670) did the chiaroscuri of the pillars. The external baluster on the attic and the external statues were positioned at the end of the 60s of the 17th century following the trend set yet again in Rome. In these years, one of the masterpieces of cabinetmaking in the church was created, the Noble Sacristy (access to the corridor from the north chapel) on the design by Carlo Rottini and Rinaldo Torri, and engravings by Giovanni Battista Mascheroni, decorating the cabinets with masks, female females, angels and vases containing even now the sacred historical heirlooms of the church.

The organ in the presbytery was built in 1572 by Benedetto Antegnati, amplified in 1592 by Costanzo Antegnati, and further amplified in the mid-1700s and electrically wired in 1970 by the Tamburini Company.

The Adam von Neipperg Funeral Monument, Morganic husband of the Duchess Maria Luigia of Austria and first minister of the Duchy, can be found at the church’s entrance and comes from the ex-Ducal chapel of St. Ludovico, as well as a Pietà honoring Maria Luigia, both in white marble.

In 1718, Clement XI took the Steccata Church away from the founding congregation donating it to Francesco Farnese, the Duke of Parma and Piacenza who turned it into the conventual church of the Constantinian Order of St. George, an order of knights of Byzantine origin taken over for the order of knights under the Ducal family of Parma.

In the church’s crypt, which is open to visitors, since 1823 there are the remains of fourteen princes and dukes of the Farnesian-Borbonic dynasties, including that of Alessandro Farnese, Ranuccio I and II Farnese, Francesco Farnese, Filippo of Borbone. The last one was Carlo Ugo di Borbone in 2010.


Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Uncategorized



Patron Saint

Last monday we had a city holiday, it was our Patron Saint Day: we set or hopes on the shoulders of St. Hilary of Poitiers.

Hilary (Hilarius) of Poitiers (c. 300 – c. 368) was Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church. He was sometimes referred to as the “Hammer of the Arians” (Latin: Malleus Arianorum) and the “Athanasius of the West.” His name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful. His optional memorial in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints is 13 January. In the past, when this date was occupied by the Octave Day of the Epiphany, his feast day was moved to 14 January. Its election to Patron of Parma seems to be connected to the political circumstances between the XII and the XIII century that gave the physiognomy to the city as a Guelphs’ Common. In 1266 the Crusaders’ Society, a Guelphs faction of which St. Hilary was the Patron, conquered the city with the support of Charles of Angiò, so its Patron became also Patron of the Common.

In honor of St. Hilary it was erected a church on the street Emilia toward Piacenza, a bit out the boundaries, near it brings Saint Cross Gate. In 1546 the building was demolished by Pier Luigi Farnese to make room  for the new defensive structures. The center of the devotion of the saint was transferred inside the boundaries, in the attached oratory of the hospital of the Mercy and the Esposti founded by Rodolfo Tanzi in 1201, that in those years duke Ranuccio II had renovated and widened, probably with works of the architects Marco Antonio Zucchi and Giovan Francesco Testi. Usually the Oratory is open just in the early hours of the morning for the prayers, but for the Patron Day is open all day long, so me and my daughter decided to have a look (last time for me was about 15 years ago, I guess…..)

The oratory actual structure is due to the works of renovation wanted in 1663 by the rector of the hospital, Francesco Roncaglia: of small dimensions, it is composed of three aisles articulated by section pillars squared and with grooved surfaces.

The frescos decorations, by Giovanni Maria Conti della Camera and realized between the August of 1663 and December 1666, cover the whole vault and the lunettes of the spans of the side aisles and are dedicated to the theme of helping the poors and the patients: here are represented in fact, the images of the protecting saints of the xenodochis who helped create the hospital of the Mercy (Vincent, Nicomede and Bovo) and those of numerous other saints and blessed traditionally invoked as thaumaturges (Cosma and Damiano, Rocco, Fabiano and Sebastiano) or of wide popular following (Francis Saverio).

From the seventh decade of the XVII century also, are dated all the decorations (with the exception of the frescos of the apse, realized in the previous century): the stucco artist Domenico Reti realized the stucco touch of the capitals, adorned with zoomorph and phytomorphic elements (most of all sparrow, hawks and lilies, heraldic symbols of the Farnese family) and the sumptuous Baroque decoration of the simple sepulchre of Rodolfo Tanzi (situated at the end of the left aisle, engraved in sandstone by Antonio d’Agrate in the second half of the XVI century); Domenico Reti realized two female figures sat down on the ark (the allegories of the Charity and the Religion) and the framed portrait of the Tanzi (in Latin: Imago clipeata).

In the presbytery, beside the altar, is located a marble statue of the Saint, probably from the first decades of ‘400; the sculpture was replaced here from the demolished church: it represents the saint in Episcopalian dress and in action to bless, with the figure of a knelt devotee at his feet.

A golden bust is also located in a cella (from Latin for small chamber) or naos (from Greek meaning temple) under the Tanzi sepulchre.

In these days bakers all around town  prepare traditional sweets of shortcrust pastry in the form of “scarpetta” (shoe) covered of sugary icing of vivacious colors. The shoes of Sait Hilary are the symbol of a legend linked to the figure of the saint. The emperor Costanzo exiled the Saint in Anatolia and it is said that on his travel there, Saint Hilary made a stop in Parma, where a generous cobbler noticed his worn-out shoes and offered him a pair of new ones. The following morning the artisan found gold shoes as a reward for his benevolent gesture. Here are ours, not gold but white and dark chocolate!


Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized



New Year began…..walking!

New year but nothing really changed….. daughter M and I are still walking through the city (and it’s difficult now to find new paths). In the last two weeks we tried very hard to look at the old streets and places with new eyes……….

Along the river with maybe a new perspective……….

A never-seen-before sign on the front gate of a house……….(wolves of…?)

An inviting warm light of a recently opened hotel……..

Looking up to new details………..

or down to happy faces and hidden corners………

The sunset light gives to the Pilotta Palace a charming atmosphere……….

and to the City Park too………

At least (for something new) we tried two new places for our mid-walk coffee break….Le Bistrò in the city main square

and Le Gran Caffè Cavour….






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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Uncategorized



Last walk of the year

We spent three days during Christmas time doing nothing but eating and chilling……….it was about time we had some exercise, before the New Year’s Eve dinner ………….

The day after Christmas is St. Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day in some countries) and it’s a public holiday in Italy. Perfect day for me and my daughter to have a long walk, even if the weather wasn’t so good….We started exploring an old exclusive building courtyard……

Then we crossed the St. Francis Gate, one of the five ancient gates that gave access to the city (and remembered today with the others in september, when the local  Palio is held) and that is today home of a dialect theatre company, Famija Pramzana (Parmesan Family)………

We crossed one of the many bridges over the river….(daughter M on the left)….

towards the Oratory of St. Mary of the Graces, but unfortunately it was closed……..

In 1617, in the presence of Ranuccio I Farnese , the first stone of the Oratory was put in place. The court architects had an important part in the project, especially Gian Battista Magnani . In 1644 the architect Girolamo Rainaldi built the octagonal lantern, which gave a new light source at the height of the presbytery. In the same year the south entrance to the church was opened. On the interior of the central plan construction there are remarkable works of art from the 1600s and 1700s. In 1715 Sebastiano Galeotti created refined figures inside.

Our path led us to the place where once stood the local Registry Office (I got my wedding licence there too….) now destined to a residential complex. The construction works are now held up because of the discovery of the ruins of the convent of Discalced Carmelites (for the time needed to save some important pieces) and because of some issues about the height of the new building in a part of town subject to urbanistic restrictions due to its historical importance……

Through a narrow street we walked to our final destination…..

the biggest park in town, the Ducal Park, the “giardino” (garden) for all my fellow citizens….

The piece of art below is called “Gruppo del Sileno” (Silenus Group) and it’s a faithful copy (in order to protect the original from decay, now housed in the Boudard’s Musemum) of the work of Jean-Baptiste Boudard (1766 ) situated in the original spot near the Arcadia Temple

The Arcadia Temple was designed by Petitot on the occasion of the wedding of Ferdinando, the son of Don Filippo of Borbone, and Maria Amalia of Austria (1769) and it was meant to be an exclusive place for the amusement of dukes inside the Park. It was used several times as a stage for Arcadian plays and poetry contests. The temple and its decorations have been recently restored. Even the surrounding area has
been rearranged according to Petitot’s original project. Excavations have brought light traces of a wooden canalisation which used to bring water to an artificial spring. The latter was meant to create an Arcadian pastoral scenery on the occasion of the Duke’s wedding in 1769.

It always surprises me how beautiful my home is, especially when trrying to catch a moment in a photo…….


Posted by on January 8, 2014 in Uncategorized



December, a month for celebrations

It was a busy month, full of expirating practices at work before the end ot the tax year. Nevertheless I managed to cut out some time for me and time to spend with friends and some family members living far away, for the usual celebrations for Christmas and New Year’s Eve………..

It started with a night out with a collegue, who’s becoming a friend very fast…. a walk through the city after work, an aperitif, a quick dinner (but very tasty) and a concert.

The concert was held in St. John Evangelist Abbey Church……….(sorry for the bad pics, but I had only my cell phone)

The monastic complex of St. John Evangelist is made up of the Church , the Convent and the Antique Spice Apothecary of St. John. The origins go back to the 10th century, even if the Baroque facade is the only part that defines its aspect; the bell tower on the right side was added in 1613. The church, following the classical legacy, has an original Romanesque layout (one can see this in the pillars of gray stone with capitals sculpted by Antonio da Parma). The architectural design seems to be the fruit of “suggestions” by the humanists of that epoch (in particular from Grapaldo, author of architectural manuals).

The church is laid out as a Latin cross and has three naves from which there are six chapels. The frieze of the Hebrew and Pagan Sacrifice runs along the central nave, which was designed by Correggio (1522-23) and
carried out by F. M. Rondani. Correggio was also responsible for the decorations of the half-pillars, the decorations on the soffit of the fifth chapel (representing the Holy Father at the center and Saints Peter and Andrew in the side panels), St. Paul fallen from horse, the decorations of the cross and the dome with the Transit of St. John (1520-24) completed by the Church Fathers and by the Evangelists in the wreaths. On the interior we find works by esteemed artists such as: Michelangelo Anselmi, G. B. Merano, the brothers Giacomo and Giulio Francia, C. Caselli, Gerolamo Mazzola Bedoli, C. Reggio, Antonio Begarelli (the sculptor of the terracotta statues), Antonio da Parma, E. Taruffi, I. Martini, C. Aretusi. Another creation of great value is the Wooden Choir, which has inlay work depicting the city and hills, musical instruments and other objects) done by M. Zucchi and by the brothers Gianfranco and Pasquale Testa (1556).  In 1508 Cesare Cesariano painted the 17th century furnished sacristy. The left nave is distinguished by the interesting work of a young Parmigianino (1522): the Saints with cherubs represent the characteristic sinuous movement of lines in the soft clothes.

The singers for the night were Sarah Jane Morris and Ian Shaw, and it was pure magic! They sang their own original songs, but also covers of famous jazz songs in their personal styles and it was sooo good! They even made us sing along “Hallelujah” with them…….we all got shivers….

Then it was time to exchange gifts with friends, a night out before Christmas…….

My family (on both sides) come from a little village about 10 kms outside town. In that little village cemetery are buried loved ones (grandparents, uncles and aunts, and my dad), there’s the church where almost all of us were christened (including me and my daughter) and got married (me too), and there’s still our grandparents’s house, now renovated and home of the youngest of my mom’s siblings. That home, that holds so many memories of my childhood, is the usual place for family gathering. That was the case also for last Christmas, one of the rare occasions for us to be all together, from Genoa, from Bologna, from New Jersey, with a hint of Dublin and Granada (my cousins’ partners)……there were so many of us that we had to set two tables plus a little one for the children (even if after a while we were all mixed up!)

There were also three Christmas Tree, one outside, one near the fireplace (not lit up because of the children running around) and one in the entrance with the gifts under it…..and it was hard work to keep the children away until it was time to unwrap them!

That night I thanked God because looking around, I knew I was so blessed!

Christmas’ Eve at home was much more quiet………….

New Year’s Eve……..with a bunch of friends (old and new) at a bar closed for the special night, with dinner cooked by the two ladies running the bar itself, and an english engineer from Leeds (partner of one of them) who was the star performer of the night, he was so much fun! and who – after the second mojito – forgot his poor italian and choose me as his translator………..




Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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