Mantua, Carpi, and Corregio

No ghosts haunted us last night, but when I opened my eyes in the morning, I beheld four figures above me painted on the ceiling.  The ceiling fresco was in great shape unlike the walls that held only remnants of the frescos they once boasted.  Six plaster sculptures adorned 6 niches around the room.   Plaster flowers encircle the ceiling.  The room was opulent all right, over the top, like anything one would expect from a 16th century palace, but rather unrefined.  Rather very unrefined, crudely painted and sculpted for my taste…
The city of Mantua had its heyday, but it was long past.   It’s just too run down now. There is a potential here – this is a medieval Italian city after all, but it has gone to seed.  All these old building need to be restored, painted at the very least, the shutters need to be replaced, and for god’s sake, can’t they put some flowers in the window boxes???
That extra gene for aesthetics that Northern Italians seem to carry is not evident in the local population.  People aren’t dressed well and the store windows are sorely provincial.
Today was a market day in the main square and we perked up, but in vain.  This was no market but a street fair with loads of cheaply made merchandise.
Navigating between the stands, we made our way to the Duke’s of Mantua Palace, which also didn’t look inviting.  We kept on going, when we spotted a house with a stature of a jester in the garden.  This house, catty corner from the palace  was what Verdi (or the owner of the house 😉 imagined to be Rigoletto’s (the plaque on the wall read).  And it really could’ve been – it fit the bill.
We walked around the town a bit longer, and did happen upon a few picturesque spots, but overall, were terribly disappointed.  In the end, we had enough, got in a car, and drove to the small town of Carpi, which was supposed to be charming.  Carpi didn’t fare any better than Mantua.  It was also kind of somber and shabby.  Moreover, we arrived during a siesta (observed in this town from 12:30 to 4:30!!!), so the streets were practically devoid of people, and with the stores closed, it looked dead.  In addition, most eateries we passed were also closed – this town was in a coma for four hours!  So we decided to drive to Carregio, another, supposedly charming town.  Carregio was even worse.  It had a similar look, similar architecture as Carpi, but was still almost without people at 5 PM.  Aah, the stores here close at 1:30 pm on Thursdays and don’t reopen – so nobody seem to bother going out then.
Took backroads back to Mantua in hope to spot some good scenery.  Actually. the views from the highway were better . This area is heavily industrial.  I know now why no one back in the States ever heard of Emilia Romagna…
Yet this is supposed to be the food capital of Italy!  And the restaurant Lo Scalco Grasso, where we had dinner tonight proved that.  The food was typical Italian but with a twist.  My pasta was perfectly cooked and served with Roquefort  cream sauce over shrimp – delectable!  Parmesan cheese came with stewed apples soaked in something heavily alcoholic and spiced with either garlic or horseradish.  Gnocchi were made with nettle!!!!  The people eating here matched the food: they were certainly carriers of that elusive Northern Italian gene.  They were dressed well: some  were elegant, others funky, and others yet casually chic.  This was a world apart from the world of the streets.  And that means there is still hope for this town yet!


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