Modena, my love
Trip Start Aug 24, 2010
16Trip End Ongoing
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After leaving Rome and dropping in on Bologna for a brief visit, I took the regional train to the city of Modena. Everything I hated about Roma became a distant memory as I enjoyed the Modenese way of life. Home to some 190,000 people, I stayed in the only youth hostel in town, named San Filippo Neri, which was a hell of a lot cheaper and nicer than any hostel in Roma.
Modena is full of beautiful old buildings, accessible pedestrian walks, trees, bike lanes, serenity, and no crowds. My initial reason for coming here was to tour houses where they produce balsamic vinegar. This traditional balsamic vinegar is unlike anything you have ever tasted, made from various grape reductions and aged for a minimum of 12 years before consumption. The tours are arranged for free by the city tourism office, but unfortunately the various producers were on holiday
Walking the old lamp-lit darkened streets, I stumbled my way into the packed piazza as the crowd glowed with chatter. The musicians made their final preparations, tunings and tests sounding off like a bunch of elephants trumpeting, cut short by someone stomping on their trunks, only to start again a few minutes later. Unseen but well-heard, their tinkering went on and on until I began to wonder if we would ever see these musicians. Getting anxious, I was apprehensive about asking someone what was going on, when seven musicians appeared on stage in matching white ruffled shirts, followed by a moderate amount of applause. And just as abruptly, they walked off again and started mixing with the crowd, hailing down friends and family with "Ciaos".
By this time, I'd gotten rather bored and started people watching in the darkness. Little did one unfortunate man know that I was taking pictures of him as he bent over his bicycle like a dog on a leg while picking his nose. But, like all the pictures I took that night, the pictures did not turn out very well so I can offer you no proof of this event.
Suddenly, a blast of noise covered us and every ear filled with sound of blazing loud bagpipes! From every corner of the piazza they closed in upon us, six bagpipes playing together in rounds, grabbing hold of the night air and shaking every last vibration out of each molecule without any amplification. It was like listening to someone playing a sack of sacred cow udders, whose hymnals of milk and butter could never quite finish uttering "Moooooo...."
At some point a drum came in; and throughout the night the men would put down their bagpipes to sing ballads about beautiful women, as well as their mothers. Between songs they would pause and pull members of the audience in front of the stage to do traditional dances. As the night wore one, I felt enchanted, spell bound by the beauty of authentic tradition and music I could appreciate in any language.
Modena, the Genuine.
I went back to my hostel and stared into the stars.