Some weeks ago I was invited to a peculiar event in Emilia Romagna, precisely in the little town of Guastalla, near the right bank of the Po River (the longest river in Italy) in the province of Reggio Emilia. Guastalla had its period of greater splendour under the Gonzaga family rule, lasted about 200 years from XVI to XVIII century, becoming one of the most important fortified town of the area. The event had a surely evocative name: Piante e animali perduti, meaning Lost Plants and Animals.
What is Piante e animali perduti about? It is a 2 days market/exhibition regarding endangered plants and animals, promoting rural and garden culture and raising awareness of environmental problems.
500 exhibitors revived the atmosphere of the little town close to the Po river. The sweet perfumes of the plants and fruits accompanied us while we wandered around the streets of Guastalla, trying to explore everything we could. Living in a city, we seldom have a chance to see such things.
First of all we met at the bloggers meeting point, which was very well set by the kind Donata and Serena. They really did things properly, with refreshments, a sitting area and some signs like “We love bloggers”. We really felt welcome. We were also given some identification badges saying “blogger”. Sorry if I brag about it, but for me it was the first blogger badge.
Then we attended a visit to the town, with a local tour guide, Mauro.
- Palazzo Ducale, dating back to 1400, now seat of the civic museum.
- The statue of Ferrante Gonzaga, fiercely trampling a satyr and a hydra, symbols of vice and calumny (he was wrongly accused of poor management and unloyalty to the Emperor, but then he proved himself to be innocent). Look at the photo and see the moon! 🙂
- The Cathedral, dating back to 1575.
- The Volterra cross, ie a peculiar street crossing. At each of the four street ends you can spot from there, there is a different church (North: Cathedral, East: Santissima Annunziata, South: San Carlo, West: Chiesa delle Cappuccine).
- The 1600s Theatre, an hidden gem, guarded by a man, who lives inside the theatre and whose real name is a mystery. Everybody calls him just Spino, which seems to be his surname’s abbreviation and it is fun in Italian because it sounds something like “thorn”.
- The Biblioteca Maldotti, a unexpectedly well equipped and adorned 1800’s library, where once was a Jesuits church. In the library I took some pictures of the room. I took just one close-up shot of the books. Obviously what could I photograph? A book by a certain French agronomist called Bidet. Did you know? The Library symbol is a reading monkey, meaning that anyone can read and educate himself.
- Civic Tower, called Campanòn (big bell), that stands where was once the Fortress torn down by the Spaniards.
After the tour and lunch, we met Madam Mayor, a very cheerful woman, who gave us an appreciated homage. Each one was given a plant of sage, liquorice or rosemary (I had rosemary, and now it is here next to me on my work station). Then we had the chance to explore the Piante e Animali perduti area.
Flowers, seeds, vegetables, aromatic and medicinal plants, fruit plants and a selection of ancient fruits. I’m sorry you can’t catch the beauty of these names, cause in Italian many of them have an amusing and naïve sound: la mela musona (mela is apple, while muso means snout, and musone is pouter), la pera cocomerina (the lttile watermelon pear), la prugna coscia di monaca (nun thigh plum), la mela Bella Italia, the fico salame (salami fig) or il fico tre volte (the three times fig. You have to know that fico in Italian, mostly said figo, means also handsome) and uva Mammolo, which is the Italian name for Dopey. If you want you can read my post about other Disney’s characters names in Italian.
There was a little stand displaying many plants, which seemed all different, but they were actually all mint: fruity mint, pepper mint, sweet mint, glacial mint (I thought it was only a flavour for candies), banana aroma mint, ginger mint, strawberry mint, green apple mint, etc.
Another quaint thing were the draft polenta served at a stand, the birds mangers (little hanging houses provided with a spike where to pierce a fruit) and some plants I nicknamed highlighters. They were variations of the Sansevieria. But the leaves tips had the most “showy” colours, like highlighters pen.
A section was dedicated to the the more and more important pollinating insects, indicators of the health of a territory. Their protection is a urgent matter to maintain our ecosystem. The most original proposal was the one by a farmer who created “insects hotels”, ie some tiny structures to hang on a tree branch or on a balcony. I even saw my first leaf insect!
A huge zone was dedicated to local specialities to discover and taste. And buy! Parmigiano-reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, aceto balsamico, lambrusco. Other than the tasting areas there were 10 different “restaurants” where to try the local cuisine.
A super funny thing were the competitions:
– Il torneo tra mostarde (mostarda is a spicy fruit preserve served with boiled meats), ie tournament between mostarda produced in the right Po area versus mostarda produced in the left Po area.
– the Palio della rossa (the Red Palio), competition to declare the best producer of Parmesan cheese, obtained by the milk of the red Reggiana cow.
– gara canora tra galli, meaning singing competition among roosters.
How could someone not to love Piante e Animali Perduti?
Clidren had the chance to try a lot of activities, mainly focused to teach them respect for nature and for animals. In the Palazzo Ducale’s garden there were for example many farm animals: hens, roasters, goats, sheep, pigs, cows, geese, bunnies (they could be cuddled). In another area of Guastalla I met the birds of prey. Of course, the kids were mostly interested in the Snowy Owl due to their familiarity with Harry Potter. There was also an area for ancient games. Then there were the donkeys. Kids (and not only kids) could to cuddle them and ride them. I couldn’t wait to cuddle a donkey or two. But sadly I never saw them. I went 2 times at the donkeys point but they were already gone for a passeggiata. Pity!
Now I really want to include in this post a quote I found in the blogger kit the organizers gave us. I do not know if you have ever watched the series of films “Don Camillo”. The films are set in the little village of Brescello, which is only 15 minutes away from Guastalla. This is a quote by Giovannino Guareschi who created Don Camillo and wrote the popular series of books.
“You should understand that, in this part of land between the river and the mountains, unusual things happen, things that don’t happen in any other place. And notice that these things never clash with the landscape, because it’s the wide, eternal breath of the river that cleans the air.”
Piante e Animali Perduti
24-25 Settembre – Guastalla (Reggio Emilia)