We woke up at 10:00 and began the long day of travel that involved a bus to the airport at 12 (during which we drove along the coast on one side and the mountains on the other with incredible views of both), a flight from Palermo to Bologna at 3:30, a bus from the Bologna airport to the train station at 5:15 and finally a train from Bologna to Parma at 6 that arrived in Parma at 7. Yes, Europe is small and travel is relatively ‘easy’, but living in Parma, without a major airport nearby, meant that we would have to take the train and then most often a bus or shuttle train to any airport from which we needed to travel. That was most likely the worst aspect of Parma, which in the end caused a lot of stress and money spent (sorry Dad and Chris!), but nothing serious that stopped us from enjoying life.
Once in Parma we walked to Piazza Garibaldi where I was meeting Andrea to say goodbye to my wonderful tandem partner. We walked around and talked for a bit and said goodbye. It was sad, I didn’t want to leave. I felt like I hadn’t gotten to know him enough and that if I were to live in Parma we would have been great friends. Still, we are good friends and he said that he will be coming to America this summer and I hope that he comes to stay with me. By the time I got home it was close to 8 and Brian and I had dinner reservations at Hostaria da Bepe, our favorite restaurant in Parma at 9:30 and neither of us had packed. It was going to be a race. I walked over the Ponte Mezzo from the center of the city to my side of the river for the last time. I looked at my house across the river, I looked back towards Piazza Garibaldi and I became close to overwhelmed (and even am now thinking about it). Those would be my last times this semester making that walk, the last time that I would view my cozy house from across the river and the last time that I would meet up with friends in Piazza Garibaldi. Seriously, come on! It couldn’t be coming to an end!
One of the strangest things that I have noticed since departing Parma is that it is not the thoughts of people or relationships ‘left behind’ in Parma that bring me sadness but the thought of the little things; my room, the walks, Piazza Garibaldi, the Duomo and the Baptistery, my park. Thinking about those, honestly ‘insignificant’ pieces of Parma in light of the importance of Nice, Anna, Andrea and Giordano seems strange to me. Why is it that those make me sad? Is it because I have more faith (or at least know that I can) stay in contact with people because I can communicate with them whereas places are inanimate? In all likelihood it is because those places represent really personal moments in my time in Parma where I walked by myself and observed Parma on my own. It became my city and these monuments in the city are representations of that city which adopted me and which I adopted. The people of course adopted me as well and loved me more than any object could, but they are not what I imagine when I think of the city of Parma. I think of the buildings and the streets, the river and the lights. I think of my walks and my time observing, while simultaneously lost in my own thoughts and considerations. The people I envision as the program and those connected to myself in the sense of studying abroad. They were my keepers and my friends in the sense that I am a person (which is incredible), but the city itself was my realization that the city was mine. I know it inside and out and I loved it, and now, sadly I was leaving it behind.
The goodbyes only continued when I got home. I had to say goodbye to Annetta, the wonderfully vibrant 93 year old who told me to consider her my Grandma when I was leaving. That was hard. She is beyond sweet and we had plenty of fun conversing where I could sometimes barely understand her, or she would sit among us at dinner and laugh at how she understands nothing in English. Luckily I didn’t yet have to say farewell to Nice who I would see in the morning. I went downstairs and began the process of fitting my life into one suitcase (good thing I am a very organized packer with a big suitcase!). I threw away a bunch of old clothes, which felt good, and while I was at it, Giordano showed up to say goodbye. He hung out and we chatted about life, the group, my time here, his hypothetical trip to America (which I hope happens) and how hard it was for me to leave while at the same time I couldn’t wait to get home. By the time 9 came around and I had to start getting ready for dinner, I had nearly finished packing. My bag was stuffed! Giordano left after a long goodbye, but I know I’ll see him again and know that I’ll talk to him soon. Thank you modern technology!
And Brian showed up around 9:20, wearing his fedora that we bought together in Istanbul and had been wearing every night that we went out together since. “I see you’re wearing the fedora,” I said. “Of course. It’s tradition. Did you honestly expect me not to?” he responded. And I knew he would be. I put on mine and we walked to our final meal. The city was cold and beautiful and we chatted about the feelings of leaving this walk and leaving this city that we had come to know so well. How could it be that this had come to pass? We made the familiar walk along the cobblestone streets and arrived at a packed restaurant. Good thing we made reservations. We sat down at 9:30 and didn’t receive the menus until 10 (the service is a bit slow here), but both of us were happy about it. We wanted the meal to take as long as possible. In fact we never wanted it to end. Immediately we began lamenting the loss of such high quality food (at unbelievably reasonable prices). Where would we find this risotto in America? The answer; our own kitchens. Brian wanted to learn the method of risotto, so I described it and promised to show him start to finish once we were at home. Throughout the night intermingled with our normal conversations about the failures of American politics and the NBA once of us would break out every now and then with exclamations such as ‘how could this be it’ or ‘come on, come on! Why are we leaving?’. The night was nothing except nostalgic as we toasted to this and that, including to finding a friend neither of us expected to find in a city we had never previously imagined visiting.
For our antipasto we gave into the temptations of Parma and ordered a plate of prosciutto crudo (raw), which after the plate of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese provided to us with bread, completed the major tastes of Parma in two dishes. We had our cheese and our prosciutto di Parma, which was incredible. Where is cured ham in America we wondered? How did we miss the boat with that one? Even our imported prosciutto never can compare to what we ate in Parma. Something gets lost in translation.
For primi we could do nothing but order risotto. We each wanted to have the plate with three different types of risotto but to do so would mean that we would each have to eat the same kinds if risotto. He ordered pumpkin, I ordered mushroom and more wine. When the plates arrived, however, we each had half a plate of zucca and half a plate of funghi…yes!!! The pumpkin was sweet and creamy which completed the earthy mushrooms perfectly. We didn’t mix the risottos but eating one and then the other gave the perfect balance of sweet and savory. We ate slowly, savoring each and every bite of the best risotto I have ever tried. We said little except for the inevitable ‘why is this over?’. Where was Hostaria da Beppe in America? How was this chef so talented. His risotto is a work of art presently plainly on a white plate with now frills. My last beautiful bite went down and I sighed. The end still hadn’t hit me fully.
I was too full to eat an entire secondo so I ordered grilled vegetables while Brian got the brasato di vitello a barola (braised veal cooked in Barola wine), which my Dad ate when he was in Parma and is undeniably fabulous. Our vegetables came out and instead of one order they gave us half an order each, which was still too much food for me. Then Brian’s veal came and another plate of vegetables! I tried, but I could not eat another bite. We were too of the last people in the restaurant so by this time the chef had come outside. We thanked him graciously for giving us a semester of tremendous food and ever lasting memories. Our last meal in Parma was through and it was only fitting that I ate it at the best restaurant in Parma with Brian, the person with whom I ate my first meal in Florence sitting in a piazza and munching on goods from the Central Market. We found a nice taxi driver who took us from the center to Brian’s apartment to get his luggage and then to Nice’s where we spent the night. We got home at 1, but I didn’t fall asleep until 3 when I had finished packing, cleaning and writing Nice a letter in which I did my best to express my gratitude. It was the end, I could see it all around me, but ai refused to believe it.
So what had Brian and I concluded from our vacation together? Simply that we had an amazing experience full of lasting memories and relationships. We had lived spoiled lives that only the most fortunate of the fortunate can enjoy, but one that everybody should have the opportunity to enjoy. We had seen the world. We had lived. What had we learned? Culture. We became worldly. We ate the greatest food and saw the most beautiful art. We visited beautiful cities and countrysides. We went to museums filled with relics of the past and walked around places where those ancient structures still stood. Our lives had been dramatically altered by an influx of culture and a new perspective of life and how to live in it. Questions will always remain and some will never be answered about this experience but we had decided that we would not forget this cultural knowledge. It would come back to America and continue to improve our lives. How could we forget the most interesting and unbelievable four months of our lives? We cannot and will not. In the end we had accomplished that which we set out to accomplish; we improved ourselves and our lives by letting ourselves become vulnerable to a new world and a new culture. This vulnerability hurt at times, at times it was nearly unbearable, but without it how could we have ever learned? How could we have absorbed the uncountable benefits of this new, old world if were afraid to persevere through the negatives? We needed to open ourselves to the good and the bad and, after a time, we managed to do so which enabled us to live, learn and love our experience