When I went to Parma, Italy a few months ago, I asked everywhere I went if someone, anyone, would let me into their home kitchen for a tour. It wasn't until the final day that a taxi-driver's dispatcher offered her mother's place right in central Parma.
Lina Germi and her husband, an electrician, live in a house originally used as wine shop and trattoria in the early 1800s. Signora Germi, a tiny woman who wears a tie every single day, says that despite her retirement, she works more now than ever, feeding her children, nephews and grandchildren, and she has a freezer full of handmade tortellini to prove it.
Signora Germi's kitchen is spotless and what little she puts in it is totally organized, right down to the spacing of the bags of flour in the petite refrigerator. The fridge only has what she needs: flour, Parmegiano, Prosciutto di Parma (not kidding about the last two), butter, and eggs. She buys produce daily and that small loot sits in a basket quietly outside the kitchen door. The place is almost lab-like in its regimentation. Yet when you meet Lina, she charms you with her winking eye and deep laugh and there is nothing about being with her that feels clinical.
When they moved in, they remodeled the kitchen making it more spacious, airy and modern. She decided to splurge and get racy red cabinets, but when the cabinets arrived, they were blue. "Vabbè," she said. "Oh well." Though her kitchen has a great work triangle, crosses over the doors blessing the space, and little careful touches like having all the labels of her oils and vinegars turned out the same way, she doesn't seem to care too much for the design. This is a working home cook's kitchen. It's a place that's all about turning out pasta ("no dolci!") for her extended family who visit daily.
When she took me into the basement where she now has a full bar I asked her if they drink a lot of wine, given the way they had dedicated an entire floor of the home to it. She said not much, occasionally on Sundays. My fantasies of an Italian family who cooks every day and lives in what used to be a wine shop and restaurant were dashed!
She made up for the loss of the red cabinets by buying herself a red couch and painting the china cabinet bright red, where she insisted we pose together for a photo.
As I left I finally asked about that tie. "I wear a tie all day, even to cook and clean." I asked if she wore a dress in her wedding and she replied "Yes, and that was the last day I ever did."
Thanks for the visit, Signora Germi!
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Related: A Peek Into Parma, Italy
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)