Modena Monday 4 June 2018

Modena is how I imagined a gracious European city should be after pausing in this form for hundreds of years. The streets are wide and treelined, with elegantly solid, high ceilinged buildings and mysteriously gardened mansions lining them.

When we went exploring Michelle got chucked out of the cathedral in the main square because the priesthood had determined that God doesn’t like the sight of female exposed shoulders – but in Modena he doesn’t mind old men’s knees, giving me a reprieve.

We bought a see-four-old-sights-for-the price-of-one ticket and then found that most of the sights had closed for lunch, which is also when Italian men visit their mistresses. The only attraction open was the 87-metre-high Ghirlandina Tower built in 1319 but, like many Italian towers, had taken on a bit of a lean. I have developed a liking for Italian towers especially those with lifts. I enquired at the tourist information centre about a round tower that greatly appealed to me but was told it was a chimney for a tobacco factory, and not ascendable.

I waited for the lift at the Ghirlandina – which didn’t come because there wasn’t one. It was the stone stairs or nothing. I remembered my days of tennis and other cardiac conditioning and set off. Each set had to the be the last – but wasn’t. Finally, gasping at the top, I hardly had the energy to take in the view. The prospect of having a giddy turn and the embarrassment of being lowered down in a sack on a rope encouraged me to return the way I’d come, via the stairs.

This weekend Modena hosted a European food festival; the main street closed off and lined with stalls offering unbelievable delicacies. One stall offered authentic balsamic vinegar in two bottle sizes – or so I thought. The stall holder poured an overly generous sample to try. I told him it tasted weird and that it was lousy vinegar. I asked him how old it was. When he said two years I, who now know all about balsamic vinegar, said it was ten years too young and he shouldn’t be selling it as balsamic vinegar. He replied that it wasn’t balsamic vinegar; it was walnut/chocolate liqueur with a deadly alcoholic content that just happened to be sold in the same designed bottle and looked identical to balsamic vinegar. I felt obliged to by a bottle and now I have to drink it before we leave Modena because if it gets loose in my case it could dissolve everything inside. Just sniffing it makes me unsteady on my feet.

I’m not a foodie like Michelle, but last night turned me into one. At a little, nothing-special restaurant I ordered chicken in balsamic vinegar and prosciutto on fried dough and went to heaven and back. Afterwards, nicely tipsy on the local Lambrusco, I topped it off with authentic elderflower gelato. Somehow, we walked back to our hotel.

All this eating has to lead to weight gain, one would imagine. When I went to put on a printed cotton shirt I’d bought at Zara in Naples I had trouble doing up the buttons. It wasn’t weight gain, but the laundry on the FAB had flame dried the shirt and it had shrunk. I was very disappointed because I loved the print. I still struggled into it. Then we found a Zara shop in Modena. “Buy it again,” Michelle suggested. I went to the checkout wearing the same printed shirt that I was buying. The sales girl had her hand on the phone to call security when I explained that the first one had shrunk. No, I was not looking for a replacement. It was the ship’s fault. What ship? It all started to sound ridiculous, not improved when I looked in the mirror and saw the shirt I was wearing was growing back to normal. The humidity was restoring it. I had to continue with the purchase because the suspicious cashier had already removed the security tag that automatically calls out the fire brigade if disturbed by an unauthorised person. Now I have two identical printed shirts, one of which is for sale.

We visited Luciano Pavarotti’s house – gracious, roomy, but not pretentious, sitting in idyllic green countryside outside Modena. Aided by an audio commentary, we were allowed to wander from room to room with no restrictions. Although he died in 2007 of pancreatic cancer, (he was 72) it felt as though he still lived there. We walked through his music room (see below), his bedroom (with the bed in which he had slept and died) his bathroom, his kitchen (where I took picture of his extra wide single slot toaster) and the many other rooms that he and his family used every day. I even managed to get a picture of Pavarotti’s cock which you’ll also see below.

After the house tour we sat in Pavarotti’s friendly garden and had drink while the Italian bees and other insects were busy getting ready for summer.

Monday 4 June 2018

Since we were in the land of the ridiculous sports car we went out to the Lamborghini factory and took the tour. Unlike Ferrari, small groups of gawkers are, for a hefty fee, escorted through the production lines. Although the company has been owned by Audi for 20 years, it has retained the art of the hand-build-to-order car. While Ferrari turns out about 8500 cars a year, Lamborghini only does a little over 2000 – at considerably higher prices than Ferrari. The factory is cleaner than a hospital and runs to strict schedules. Customisation is a feature of Lamborghini, but the more you exercise your imagination the longer you have to wait – in addition to the normal six to12 months. You’d expect that in paying stratospheric prices, Lambo customers would demand the finest leather upholstery and trim. But no, most choose Alcantara, a synthetic leather made in Italy. It is easier to clean and less liable to damage than real leather.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was a successful tractor manufacturer and indulged himself with a new Ferrari in 1963. He liked the car but hated the clutch and, being Italian, went off and told Enzo Ferrari how to fix the problem. Enzo, also typically, told Ferruccio to get lost and stick to making tractors. That was enough of a putdown for Ferruccio to start making cars in 1964. The superb works museum has examples of all the models since inception and I have to say that, while the later cars have seductive design appeal, some of the early ones are decidedly ugly. There is also a recently released SUV called a Urus, which you can snap up in Australia for a cool $466,000, drive away – to debtors’ prison.

And speaking of jaw dropping prices, among the Lambo theme shop’s many attractive products was a nice Lamborghini branded carbon fibre suitcase – for 13,000 euros. That’s around twenty grand in Australian dollars. For a suitcase! Ah, but in a crash with this suitcase you would escape with only minor cuts and bruises whereas those with fibreglass suitcases would be killed outright.

Michelle placed an order for the latest Lamborghini Huracan. She liked the matte orange finish and looks forward to moving out of Bellevue Hill to a small timber cottage in Yass.