Saturday, March 6, 2010



Names, Names, Names. Cremona will never go out of style. Among the boldface Cremonese that we might recognize: Monteverdi (opera), Beltrami (math), Stradivari and Guarnieri (violins), and Ugo Tognazzi (known to gay audiences as the 'straight' half of the gay couple in La Cage Aux Folles). Cremona is a city that has been with us for over 2000 years and is in no immediate danger of extinction, and I learned why when Marco, Paola and I took a day trip there, SE of Milan, in the direction of Bologna.

Isn't it true that we do things in our surroundings when friends come for a visit that we would never do on our own? I have been to the top of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty exactly once, in each case in the company of visiting friends or family.

Paola had never been to Cremona, only an hour away by car, and since we decided not to go away for a long weekend to the mountains or the sea, I did some research on plausible day trips, and Cremona popped up immediately. It was a perfect day for the trip----cloudless stunning blue skies, though quite chilly.

My interests in small Lomabardian towns like Cremona parallel my long-time fascination with the medieval and Renaissance towns in Tuscany, Umbria, and elsewhere. The combination of historical significance, the feeling of moving back in time hundreds of years, the quiet (in low season) stone and gravel streets, the Romanesque towers and cathedrals, and of course the food (and, formerly, the wine) of places like Cremona bring me back over and over again. There were many moments during our strolls when i thought to myself that this really is as good as it gets, for me....

Cremona is compact so all the major sites are within easy walking distance. We arrived mid-day on a Saturday, so all the stores and sites were closed until early afternoon. So, we ate a light lunch and returned to the central piazza for a climb up the famous 14th century Torrazzo---at 340 feet, the 3rd tallest brick bell tower in the world, with an excellent astronomical clock about midway up. Great views from terraces at intermediate levels on the way up, and, except for a dizzying narrow open air circular staircase at the very end, a pleasant ascent.

Back at ground level, the highlight was the Baptistery, a 12th century octagonal brick building, whose interior height and bare-walled simplicity were breathtaking.

The Stradivarius museum was another planned destination for us, but the displays were mostly disappointing. Lots of violins in glass cases, hanging, as it were, by a string, with no explanation as to their significance in the history of violin-making. There was one long display case, however, with Stradivari's hand-written wood-working instructions and paper cutouts of components of the instruments that was fascinating. The highlight of the violin tour was a second, separate min-gallery inside a municipal building that contained the 'goods'---half a dozen Stradivari originals.

Stopped at a few local pastry shops on our way out to buy a cake for tonight's dinner with friends. Great day. Snow forecast for tomorrow.

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