Ferrara is the most beautiful city in the world.
Since I was born in Ferrara but I moved to Bologna when I still was very little, I can be proud to say I can experience this city twofold: as a tourist, because I don’t end up there really often, and as an indigenous, because going there on summer holidays and on Sundays made me faithful to my origins.
I was used to spend several weeks at my grandmother, who lived in Via della Vigne, once called Via Schioccabecco [name that in italian stands for “nearby”]. I’ve never thought of doing some toponymyc research. Via delle Vigne is 5 bike minutes aways from the Dome, like the rest of Ferrara by the way. Turning down this street from Porta Mare one can already see a large and severe iron gate on the top of it. But I’ll talk later about this gate.
I’d like to linger a bit on my memories, being aware of the risk. My grandmother Renata used to live at Via delle Vigne 12. On the ground floor there was the kitchen that also functioned as a living-room with other two similar rooms on the same floor belonging to Graziella and Argia – with stress on the “i”. The first lady was young – though I, as a child, considered her really old – and she was the only one of Via delle Vigne owning a white Fiat 600 – I used to call it the “passport to independence”. Argia was thin and with coloured blond hair; she reminded me of those horror movies I always avoided watching for the fear of having nightmares. There has always been some competition between my grandmother and her, whose origins were unknown to me, whereas Mrs Graziella (or better “lady”, now that I’m able to reconsider it) was a rare example of nobility. Given that she hadn’t a TV, she was used to spend every evening at my grandmother, with whom she played “bridge” (a card game with strange rules), drunk a glass of anisette and watched the broadcast of 8.30 pm, whether it was a movie with Tognazzi (my grandmother hated him – “it’s a porn”) or a Wimbledon match. They always used the courtesy form, me too, being considerate.
The bedrooms were all on the upper floors. Thus at evenings, when it was time to go to bed, each lady turned off the light, locked the door and went upstairs through the common stairs. The toilet was in the courtyard. There was just the Turkish toilet, periodically coloured with a coat of yellow paint. It was without heating, as in the bedrooms. When it was winter, one was used to go upstairs with a flannel pyjama and some wool jumpers, a bonnet and some thick socks, sliding then under four blankets.
During the day we were used to play on the street, like every good tale about memories tells. I was used to wait for my cousin, and when he didn’t arrive I had to play with another child who lived behined the big gate I wrote about. His family was the keeper of the place, and this place was the Jewish cemetery. We usually played behind the house, thus in the graveyard, where we had two main pursuits: doing bicycle races and playing football. I still remember the sidewalk being smooth and narrow, great to skid and long enough to take speed. These sidewalks leaded to a building similar to the idea I had of a church, but without any saint looking above and with a granite table and a counter top on it that was at least half a metre long. That table made me feel a bit uneasy.
When we played football we always did it without hesitation. The cemetery was our flipper; when there was no visit, we strongly hit the ball against the headstones, we happy overweight kids in the garden of the deads. I’d like to find an absolute significance to that scene, but I haven’t the right expressive means.
In the afternoon I was used to have a snack back at my grandmother, because the idea of having Nutella in the cemetery would have never been the same. There was always a slice of bread – obviously the one from Ferrara – that I covered with that hazelnut creme or some raw ham. My grandmother, I suppose still mindful of the hunger suffered at her times, always urged me to eat and I went along with her wishes; therefore the overweight I mentioned before. I miss her so much, my grandma.
The cemetery was a place behind a wall, I think the only wall I had the permission to cross during my stay at Ferrara. According to me Ferrara remains a hidden city, a city with walls made of stone or walls made of fog, one that you listen to it more than seeing it; you listen to it in that softened silence, impossible in every other city but Ferrara. While watching the garden “dei Finzi Contini”, however, I slightly cursed De Sica (not Cristian De Sica – his father) for showing me an “other side” of the wall, almost as if the poet Leopardi came out revealing that there was an agritourism behind the famous hedge. Still today I prefer not to know; I take Ferrara with homeopathic doses, I’m homesick and don’t really want to recor from this illness, I’m afraid of seing what there is behind the wall because maybe, behind that, there is nothing.
I prefer Ferrara stays “my” magic city; I prefer to imagine and to listen to it, because it’s me, indigenous and stranger who can hear the city quivering, who can be crossed by the fog, not the fake one filmed by Antonioni, but the real one of Roberto Biavati, who drew “The lady of the fog”.
Nicola Bonora has a job he has never been able to explain to his parents (legal, anyway). He works in Bologna for the web agency mentine.it and never moved to Milan because, after all, there is no need for that. His account twitter is @nicbonora.