Ferrara is the most beautiful city in the world.
Since I was born in Ferrara and moved to Bologna when I was but a toddler, I have had the privilege of experiencing Ferrara in two ways: as a tourist, which does not occur too often, and as a native. I have honored my roots ever since, however, between summer holidays and Sundays. I would spend weeks at the house of my grandma who lived in Vigna Street, formerly Schioccabecco Street.. I have never thought of studying the toponymy of the place. Vigne Street is a five-minute bicycle ride from the Cathedral, as all the rest of Ferrara actually is. On taking a turn from Porta Mare, you enter this street at the end of which is an austere iron gate, already visible the moment you take the turn. I shall speak of this gate further on.
Let me linger on some past memories, though I am aware of the risks involved. My Grandma Renata used to live at number 12. Her kitchen was on the ground floor and acted as a living room. A corridor opened out to two bedrooms that belonged respectively to Madame Graziella and Argia, pronounced with accent on the «i». The first was young – even though, from a child's viewpoint she seemed to me so very old – and was the only person among those living on that street to possess a means to be independent, a white Fiat 600 automobile. Madame Argia instead was skinny and a fake blond, and reminded me of the scary films I did not dare watch for fear of not being able to sleep at night. She and my grandma had a standing conflict of sinister tones, the cause of which I had never known, whereas the young lady, Graziella (or come to think of it, «signorina» or "miss"), was a noble gem. Since she did not have a TV, so each evening she was hosted by grandma, with whom she played a card game similar to "bridge» (in reality a type of gin rummy with strange rules), had a snifter of aniseed liquor and watched the 8.30 program, whether it was a film starring Tognazzi (who Granny loathed – and dubbed "a porno man") or a Wimbledon match. They had always addressed each other in the formal third person, as I did too, out of respect.
The bedrooms instead were all on the upper floor. So upon going to bed, each lady turned off the lights, locked the entrance door downstairs and climbed the stairs which led to their rooms. The toilet was out in the yard. There was only the squat toilet which was periodically repainted yellow. There was no heating there as in the bedroom. In winter they prepared to go up to bed with flannel pajamas, a couple of woolen sweaters, a head cuff and one-cm thick leggings, and snuggled under the blankets.
Ferrara's Jewish Cemetery. As far as I can recall, during the day we played on the street. I would await my cousin, and when he did not show up, I went on to the second choice, a child who lived beyond the big gate I mentioned earlier. His family was the guardian of that Jewish cemetery. We would play in the backyard of his house, meaning to say, in the cemetery, and our two main pastimes were bike racing and playing ball. I remember the sidewalks were narrow and flat, and long enough for us to gain speed. The sidewalks converged towards a building which vaguely resembled my idea of a Church but without saints looking skywards, and with a kind of granite table and a ledge that was at least half a meter high. Looking at it somehow gave me the creeps. When we played ball we did it without making any noise. The cemetery was our flipper; if no visitors were around, we bombarded the tombstones vigorously, and we were happy, slightly overweight kids in the garden of the dead. I feel I could give an absolute significance to the scene, but just cannot find the right words now.
In the afternoons I returned to grandma's for a snack; the thought of eating nutty chocolate Nutella cream in the cemetery was somehow not as yummy. There was always a slice of bread – Ferrara bread of course – on which I spread the nut chocolate cream, or had it with a slice of raw ham. Grandma, remembering the past periods of famine, exhorted me to eat, and I most willingly obeyed, which explains why I was so chubby. I miss grandma so much.
The cemetery was the place beyond a wall. I believe it was the only place I was allowed access to during my stays in Ferrara. To me Ferrara will always remain a city hidden within walls, whether of concrete or of fog that one could listen to rather than see, as can be heard in the impossible muffled silences of other cities other than Ferrara. However, upon looking at the Finzi Contini Garden, I cursed the actor, De Sica (senior, not his son Cristian), for having revealed a world beyond the wall, somewhat as if the poet, Leopardi, at a certain point emerged from a hedge to say that behind it was a holiday farm house. Still today I prefer not to know, so as to taste Ferrara by homeopathic dosages, since I am a person afflicted with the disease of nostalgia and do not really wish to be cured, and am afraid to see beyond the wall in the fear of discovering, who knows, that there is really nothing beyond after all.
I would prefer that it remain "my" magic city, and imagine and feel it, since I, the native stranger can feel my city vibrate and make me cut through the fog, not the false fog Antonioni filmed, but the real one sketched by Roberto Biavati who drew the Lady of the Fog.