10/20/2003 Italy in Fall 2003 Day 13 - Ferrara
Jim and Diana write:
Opening our shutters in the morning, it is raining..not a downpour but a steady light rain. Not a good sign for the day, weather-wise.

Breakfast is served upstairs in the owners' apartment. They have five tables set up in their living room. The living room is good sized--paintings fill the walls and the furniture is handsome. The breakfast includes fruit and yogurt, homemade jams, small rolls, homemade cakes and little sandwiches. When I order a cappuccino, I get a large cup filled mostly with coffee which takes more than two swallows to finish. It is not the best coffee I have ever had, but one of the few things that I miss in Italy is my two or three mugs of strong coffee that I make every morning.

All the tables are set, but at 9 am we are the only guests having breakfast. We talk with the mother/owner about things to do in Ferrara and about how we enjoyed our meal the night before. There is a big art show being put on at the Art Museum-Degas and his Italian Friends in Paris-and there are posters everywhere in town publicizing it. When we drove past the museum yesterday afternoon, there were long lines waiting to get in. Since it is raining, we decide that we will go in the afternoon and we buy discount tickets that the Locanda is selling.

Our first destination is the convent of St. Anthony in Polesine, a Benedictine convent in the southwest corner of the city. We decide that it is just a bit too far to walk, especially in the rain. We get in the car and try to get close to the convent and park. We find the convent after a few false starts, but parking is a problem. We end up having to go outside the walls and re-enter to find a spot close to convent. Finally we find a space and walk to the convent.

It dates from the 13th century when the convent was on an island and was a pilgrimage stop for travelers enroute to Jerusalem from Santiago di Compostela in Spain. Inside the church are frescoes done by painters from the school of Giotto from the 1300s and others from the 1400s and 1500s. You have to ring a bell and be escorted around the church by one of the nuns.

The frescoes are quite unique, in wonderful condition-probably because the convent was cloistered until it was taken over by the State during the reign of Napoleon. The old nun is very knowledgeable and very proud of the art work and she describes-in Italian-some of the highlights and most interesting features of the art work. We are there with a German couple, who speak some English, and we help each other with some of the translations. We learn that in one scene-The Flight to Egypt-Joseph is holding the baby Jesus on his shoulders and that this picture is the only one that shows that. Most have Mary carrying the baby. Also there is a scene showing Jesus climbing a ladder to the cross..the nun tells us that is not portrayed elsewhere. It is a fascinating church, one that most visitors to Ferrara don't get to.

We retrieve the car, drive back to the hotel and park. Our next stop is the synagogue and Jewish museum; there is a tour at noon that we have reserved. We do some shopping before the tour-I buy a much needed wallet. The synagogue is located on one of the principal shopping streets, but in the 16th century, this was the heart of the Ferrara ghetto.

We are the only people on the tour, which is led by a young Ferrarese woman (we assume that she is Jewish) who is the only employee of the museum. She takes us around the complex (which was not open when we first visited Ferrara) which includes three synagogues-one Ashkenazi, one Italian-rite and one that followed the Fano rite (a town just south of Pesaro). The two larger ones were destroyed by the Fascists in 1944, but they missed the third synagogue because the entrance was somewhat hidden. At one point there were about 1,000 Jews in Ferrara (there was even a separate Spanish rite synagogue elsewhere in the ghetto); now the community numbers around 100, mostly older. They still have services on the high holidays and other festivities-the Succah was still up in the courtyard. A rabbi comes in from Turin to officiate but there are no regular weekly services.

The museum is nicely arranged with displays on Jewish holidays and Jewish history as well some historical information on the Ferrara community. According to our guide, they have many Italian school groups coming through as well as tourists.

After the tour, we walk through the other streets of the former ghetto and follow a sign to the Osteria del Ghetto, where it seemed appropriate for us to have lunch. There is nothing Jewish about the restaurant, but it is inviting. We are taken upstairs where there are two other tables occupied. The menu is a creative spin on Italian cooking with some local specialties featured. Diana has a "tortino" made with speck and ham set in a pool of very bitter cream of radicchio and an unremembered pasta dish. (There are pomegranate seeds strewn on the plate which seems to be a "thing" in Ferrara. There are often bowls of pomegranates - sometimes dried - in restaurants. I think they grow here. Those were too sour and awkward to eat- I think they were part of the decorate your plate, play with your food syndrome of the creative cuisine. D.) I have a "sformatina" of polenta with guanciale and cabbage (I had thought it would have been all cooked together but it comes as separate elements--a mound of polenta, some strips of guanciale and a portion of cabbage-followed by a pasta (stringoli) with a basil and tomatoes. We have a refreshing local white wine. The dessert-a chocolate "salami" made with crushed biscotti-is good.

After lunch, we head back to the hotel for a while. Since the weather is still wet and cold, we head over to the Degas show at the Palazzo Diamante, Ferrara's major art museum. The walk over to museum is pretty unpleasant but the show is a hit. Degas had four Italian artist-friends in Paris (one named Boldini was from Ferrara and there is a museum in town featuring his work) and the show attempts to document the relationship among the artists and how they influenced each other. There were many portraits of Parisian life in the late 19th century and many scenes painted of dancers and singers-a subject common to all the artists.

We enjoy the show but are sorry that the explanations of the various parts of the show are only in Italian. I try to struggle through some of the Italian text but it is pretty hard. In one of those dumb tourist experiences, when we get to the gift shop (which is at the end of the show), we find that the guide to the exhibition is in Italian and English. Unfortunately there was no evidence of the guide book at the entrance.

When we leave the museum, it is dark but it is still raining. Back at the hotel, we rest for a while. I go out to a nearby bookstore to see if I can find some new editions of road atlases or guide books. Since we had a pretty big lunch, we are really not ready for a full meal tonight. We ask for a recommendation for an informal pizzeria/restaurant that is nearby.

Unfortunately our host's first two choices are closed on Monday, so we end up at a place called Woodpecker. It is about a ten minute walk; fortunately the rain has let up. We are greeted by an English-speaking waiter who asks us "smoking or non-smoking" and seats us in a small room to the right. The waiter seems to be pretty fluent in English--in a very formal style--and we decide not to speak to him in Italian.

Diana decides to have a pizza and I order one of the local specialties--salamina del sugo, a soft, savory salami served hot with pureed potatoes. We intend to order a plate of "salumi misti" to share first. Unfortunately, the pizza arrives quickly and at the same time as the plate of salumi. Both pizza and salumi are mediocre; obviously the waiter hadn't understood our intentions and we had assumed that he had....because of his apparent fluency in English.

Now the wait for my salamina begins....I guess that they don't get much call for the dish and speculate that they have to send out to another restaurant to fill the order. But finally it arrives--looking like a quarter of a small football set in a pool of extremely finely pureed potatoes. Perhaps the whole thing has to be prepared from scratch.

The salamina del sugo tastes like a savory meat loaf...a little too salty for my taste...but that is cut by the potatoes. I can't tell yet how authentic it is but I enjoy the dish.

No dessert...and we short-circuit the disappearing waiter syndrome by going right to the counter to pay. The boss is more pleasant than our waiter...he tells us (in English) how bad the weather has been since the summer...but the meal is not a good experience. Luckily, we are not that demanding because of our full lunch and our full day.

We go straight back to the hotel. I predict a nice sunny day for tomorrow.