Thursday, April 15, 2010


At first, my spur-of-the-moment trip to Parma was a bit of a disappointment: I was hoping to catch a Parma Panthers game, tour a Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese factory, or watch an Italian 'football' game at the very least. But when I showed up at the tourist information booth I was doomed to failure: apparently it was the off season for football Americano, there were no football Italiano games scheduled that weekend, and you needed to schedule a cheese tour 4-8 weeks in advance. 4-8 weeks! That one caught me off-guard: isn't Italy famous for last-minute adventuring, I wondered?

It turns out that there's more planning involved in Italian touristing than I'd anticipated. However, being the resourceful young sprite that I am, I decided to make my own tour. I started by gorging myself on Parmesian cheese straight from a street market that I discovered, to be quickly followed by handmade ravioli in a cute little riverside ristaurante. After that lovely heart-attack inducing morning, I happened to pass by a sign pointing me towards a theater (the Theatre Farnese, which the tourist guide had suggested in an attempt to ward off my crushed expression). I changed course and headed towards it, taking the sign for what it was: a sign.

And oh, what fun times were had! There is one inarguable perk to traveling in the off-season: I was the one and only tourist inside the theater that day. Little did the smarmy receptionist know that it was a huge mistake to give me free reign over the place. Did they really think that a little portable fence would keep me out? OH no, that only made me more determined to go into the rafters and check the view from there. Of course, you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that I’m a complete thieving troublemaker: my heart was pounding from the moment that I decided to jump the fence to the moment I returned to the right side of it. Sure, it wasn’t enough to stop me, but it’s got to count for something, right?

Slowly I realized that although this was an originally an ancient theater (as I'd assumed it would still be), it was rebuilt in the 1950s. Which is of course a detail that the receptionist neglected to tell me before I paid my five euros to see it. In fact, I didn’t get around to reading the little informational plaques until well after I’d decided to break all the rules. I spent the first 20 minutes wondering at how new everything looked, and suspiciously eyeing the wooden rafters.

At first I assumed that they still held events in the theater, but after hopping the fence and treading along through an inch of accumulated dust I realized that I was the first to walk down those aisles in a long time. At some point I decided, "screw it, I’m already breaking the rules: I might as well go all the way up!" So I jumped up the curiously steep stairs, finally reaching the first tier of balconies. I spied a rickety wooden staircase along the back wall, so I headed up it quickly, before I lost my nerve. It was not at all the kind of staircase that I would expect to see in a famous theater; it looked like it would be more at home leading up to a hayloft in an old barn in the Midwest. The stairs were again very steep (a fact which I failed to fully appreciate until I came back down them), and were made of plain unfinished wooden planks. I reached the top, glanced around the dusty floor, then walked up the very last set of narrow wooden steps to the top balcony of the theater.

There was absolutely no furnishings on this floor, further solidifying my impression of an empty hay loft. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but this was not it. I almost just turned and walked back down, but then impulsively walked to the edge and looked down. It was amazing. The rebuilt wooden areas gave the room a warm feel, and the original stone walls and floor added that mysterious aura that seems to pervade Europe like a fog. I could almost see the ghosts of figures dancing and singing up on the which point I realized it was time to get out of there before I rounded the last bend into insanity.

The return trip to ground level was no easy feat: there were no hand rails on the wooden staircases, and what had seemed “a bit steep” on the way up now looked like a suicidal descent for an established klutz such as I. My mind briefly revisited my trip down from the highest temple in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the last time that my legs actually refused to follow the instructions from my head. Somehow I made it down without acquiring too many more bruises, and I was back on the main floor innocently reading an informational plaque when the receptionist popped his head around the corner to check up on me.

The moral of my story? There's nothing like a rich, dairy gut-bomb and a little rule-breaking to spice up a mini-adventure.

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