In 2010, I lived and worked in Modena, Italy. The experience was foreign yet enchanting, and I quickly fell in love with the Italian way of life, focusing on family and faith, savoring exquisite foods and wines, and displaying fierce loyalty to national culture and heritage traditions with a gusto to be admired. This exotic old world in Emilia-Romagna fascinated me, inspired me, and made me far more aware of just how much beauty surrounds us.
Today, Modena has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus. While Italy has officially recorded more than 170,000 cases and 22,000 lives lost, my home region of Emilia-Romagna and its neighboring regions account for more than 70% of individuals affected in the county.
This reality saddens me and makes me recall my reflections of a gentler point in time, an essay first published on my culinary travel blog Savor the Salt in 2010, when Italian life carried on with its wonderful daily rituals and routines. Modena will always hold a special place in my heart.
There are quiet pleasures of living in a city — you just have to listen carefully, or they might pass you by.
As I leave my apartment with the dogs for our morning walk, we turn down the narrow Via San Geminiano, where a man in cerulean silk leans out his window and the vibrant music of his Middle East fills the corridor.
On Via Saragozza, each building shares its unique rhythm. Latin salsa music spills from open shutters above the pizzeria, and farther down the street toward the park a pianist above rehearses a beautiful sonata that makes me stop and pause.
In the parco at Viale delle Rimembrenze, a different type of music plays. It is the steady whine of passing cars, the ring of bicycle bells, the buzz of Vespas set against the sound of the children’s carousel in the park across the way.
But head back toward home down Via Francesco Selmi and the music changes once again. Here, the music of one caffetteria gives way to the next ristorante, with quiet clinks of espresso cups and spoons playing against the plink of wine glasses settling on marble tabletops.
Turn down Via Servi, and the bells of Chiesa di Saint Bartholomeo chime twice a day, filling the neighborhood with sounds that remind of the church’s presence.
Across from the church, an Italian cantante sings of soul-stirring love, and a happy baby’s laughter trickles down to the cobblestones below.
Round the corner is the Mercato Alberelli – sometimes called mercato coperto for its year-round iron and glass roof that makes it a daily stop for all of the locals. In this bustling space, the music is voice – animated, excited, argumentative, lively. One conversation flows into the next and the steady backdrop of sound reminds me what a vital part of the community this market has become.
Turn toward home once again and follow the squeaky wheels of the vendors’ carts as they move mountains of pepperocini, melanzana, lattuga and raddichio toward the cool, shadowy spaces where the vegetables are stored for the night.
Listen one last time to the rhythmic sound of the hammers restoring the Chiesa and open the heavy wooden door to the courtyard with its quiet hush, where the only sound is the rustle of pigeon’s wings.
Together these separate sounds blend into a complicated rhythmic symphony that has become my music of Modena.
Have you paused to listen to the music of your neighborhood? What do you hear?
To read more about European and North American culinary travels, visit Savor the Salt and take a stroll to meet food artisans, explore ingredients, and visit restaurants and culinary destinations around the world.