Sat 27th July.
In the first town of the day I stopped for an espresso. Not relying on McDonald’s for coffee was a Godsend beyond most. McDonald’s coffee was (and is) crap, soul-less dark brown water that barely has any taste or impact. In Italy, the espresso was as common as pasta and (usually) always done well. I’ve heard that if you sit down while having an espresso, the standard cost is €2, but if you stand up, the standard is €1. I always stood and I always paid €1, except in Venice where everything costs a bit more.
One thing I loved about the way Italians have coffee, is they way they manicure the sugar (which they usually always add) into the coffee with a teaspoon, until the two blend in harmony. Then it is swiftly enjoyed in two or three sips and they’re on their way after a bit of social chat with the lady on the bar (usually a lady), ‘Good morning’ ‘Ciao ciao’ and then out the door, with a rich, sweet, caffeine hit to see them through the morning.
I can’t think of any coffee I had in Italy that didn’t live up to a good standard and this morning was no exception. I also enjoyed watching the locals talking to each other, arguing (or talking) passionately and using the theatrics of their bodies to enhance their articulation.
After the insight into Italian body language, I picked up a map of the north of Italy from a vendor, topped up my bottles from a tap and joined the road to Parma.
There wasn’t much to see between towns here. I crossed the occasional river and passed through terrain that rarely changed or offered shade from the sun. The countryside had to be watered by its farmers with large machines that pump water out onto the land, which was growing dry due to an immeasurable beating from the sun.
I got to another gem of a town and took a break. I ordered more delicious gelato, and began to notice the usual suspects in the flavours I had to choose from place to place. I watched the Italian news and despite a lot of headlines and things I didn’t understand, I noticed it wasn’t just me suffering from the sun. Italy was experiencing a big heat wave and in some places the temperature had crept up to 42ºC. I had seen readings get into the 40s on the GPS and assumed it was wrong, but the average temperature during the day was around 38ºC. I got through these peak temperatures to get to Parma on time. I kept the pace up to help cool me down and get me there quickly, reaching the historic city in good time. I met my host Yoav at his address and he showed me around his apartment turned workshop.
Yoav was from Israel and made violins. He wasn’t an established maker yet, but had finished a course in Parma and was beginning to gain contacts and experience in this niche, unique industry. He had served his national service in Israel and at some point during his time, he knew he wanted to become a violin maker. I asked about how he found his passion for the craft and he had very little to say about it, other than he knew this is what he wanted to do and he was willing to work towards that goal.
He was a very intelligent guy and knew a lot about a lot which effortlessly came up in conversation about violins, bikes and Israel. I sensed that he was very level-headed and focused and that he could apply himself to anything he chose and do it well. He studied in Parma, met his girlfriend at the airport once when coming back from Israel and had proposed to her recently, in the last few months. He had plans to get experience in London, but wasn’t sure where his chosen profession would take him.
I asked a lot and he told me a lot about violins. What makes a good one, a bad one, how they get their tone from the shape of the wood at the back of the violin, how creating their tone is something of a gamble for many a violin maker and there is no ‘one-way’ to do so. It was fascinating to me and one of the many things I had never given much thought to. Once the world of craft behind an object comes up, my mind started to pry into a fantasy world of creation and history behind so many things we take for granted.
We went out for pizza that night. I asked if he would be offended if I ordered a Parma (because of the ham) and he laughed and said that everyone should try it when they come here and not to worry about offending him. It was very good, but I couldn’t sense a world of difference from a Parma pizza I’d had elsewhere.
We had a beer, walked about the beautiful Roman city and caught the tail end of the day light before returning to the apartment and hanging out my washing to dry overnight.