August- September, 2016 and May, 2017
With origins dating back to the end of the 17th-century, Parenti in southern Italy is the land of my father.
Rather like a village more than a small town in Calabria, Parenti is nestled on the Valley of the beautiful Savuto River.
Parenti is famous for agriculture, especially wonderful potatoes and sparkling fresh mineral water, which is bottled nearby.
Italians believe that Parenti’s rich soil and fresh clean air makes for the best potatoes in Italy, and other great produce. I hear that the onions in Tropea are also renown throughout Italy, but I’m yet to try some.
At the end of the day, every region in Italy specialises in its own type of wonderful produce. Guess I’ll just have to eat my way around Italy!
Getting to Parenti
A bus awaits the train to take you on a wild ride to Parenti.
Expect to swerve around the snakelike road at a fast pace (this is Italy), which weaves its way around the mountains through many switchbacks, until you arrive in one piece (hopefully) in Parenti.
A little side-note about the bus drivers here…
Drivers swing a normal-sized bus around these wild switchbacks as if driving a Ferrari.
One hand turns the wheel whilst the other hand waves frantically in the air during a conversation with a passenger, or chatting on a mobile phone – simultaneously.
This all inclusive memorable experience that will leave your knuckles white and your nerves slightly shattered, comes at the bargain basement price of €4.60 return from Cosenza.
As the first visit to Parenti is in August and the height of summer, a car hire is in excess of €100 for the day. Although I’m glad to travel by train and bus, just for the experience.
A direct bus does travel between Cosenza and Parenti but these are few and far between. Cathcing the direct bus back to Cosenza does seem quicker and as the only 2 passengers in the bus, it is like a taxi hire. Your return ticket includes either mode of transport.
Chestnut and Oak trees surround this pretty village sitting high in the hills at some 850 metres above sea level (depending on who is telling the story or what you read – it varies).
Apart from Parenti’s beautiful surrounds, its close proximity to the Sila National Park with a plateau stretching five-hundred-thousand hectares should make this a tourist destination.
Although to the contrary, this is a very sleepy village with a declining population of just over 2,000 residents.
As my father hailed from a stone cottage further up a steep hill and only a kilometre from Parenti before emigrating in the 1950s to Australia, this is one of the reasons for visiting.
I still have many relatives in this town.
Another reason is to commence my Italian Citizenship process, which I emailed the Comune in Parenti – administrative division providing many civil functions – in advance, and on the advice of the Naples Immigration.
Scene from a movie
Arriving at around midday after the train and mad bus ride here, a coffee is beckoning, but alas, everything is closed. Streets are empty and Parenti seems just like a ghost town.
Finding a tiny nondescript dark bar, we venture in.
And venturing in is as if we’re entering onto a set of an old Spaghetti Western movie…
Approaching the dark hazy bar, several men are standing whilst leaning over the bar and drinking beer.
Casually, each one looks up at us, then slowly files away from the bar to drink outside.
The three elderly locals sitting at a table stop sipping their Espresso and also start watching us cautiously.
Strangers in town.
Ordering an Espresso at the bar, this is made from a tiny Pod machine. The first pod coffee I’m served in Italy.
The friendly elderly owner, Barista, come barman, brings the thimble-size plastic disposable cups on dainty ceramic saucers to our table.
Pacing the bar a couple of times before working up the courage, the barman wanders over again to chat with us, and starts asking questions.
It turns out that he knows my relatives in the village – no surprise – after all, this is a small place. So, after a friendly chat, we leave and find somewhere to eat, as this bar only serves crisps and chocolate bars.
The barman is friendly enough, but his sparkling bright blue and inquisitive eyes searched my face continuously.
Perhaps as a stranger, I can’t be trusted? Think the scene: “You ain’t from ’round these ‘ere parts are ya?”
Cafetteria Pasticceria Di Fuoco Angela
On Via Salina N 168 and closing at 13:00 hrs, not sure for how long and not sure of the re-opening time, we down another real and very strong Espresso (€0.70) and several scrumptious pastries (€0.60) in fifteen minutes, as the bar doors are closing.
Lovely surrounds with an outdoor seating area and great service, as is usual for Italy. It seems that the bars in Italy are run and staffed by males – female staff seem scarce, especially in small villages. Perhaps cities are different.
The first visit – a small feast
I wanted to be stealth-like on this first visit to Parenti, not knowing how long the Citizenship paperwork and interview would take.
As the gentleman at the Comune taking my documents lives near to my relatives, he insists in driving us to their house – he mentions that we’re coming and they’re already expecting us – my cover is blown.
I remember from my childhood years that the custom is to come bearing gifts and as I have nothing, I’m quite embarrassed.
After several hours of drinking homemade Grappa – my cheeky seventy-year old cousin trying to get me drunk – eating homemade Calabrese sausage (just like my parents used to make), wonderful home-grown baked garlic potatoes, and much talking, it’s time to catch the last bus out of Parenti.
Time passed so quickly during this first gathering and feast.
Promising to return and stay for a couple of nights, we wait for the bus with my cousin, which incidentally came about half an hour late. During which time, more of my relatives came out of the woodwork. Word has got around. Many people meet us, hug and chat, whilst we wait – very sweet.
There doesn’t seem to be many young people here and mostly retirees.
Not much to do in this village either but it is on the way to the Sila National park, which is supposed to be very beautiful, so will definitely return. It was a lovely long lunch and afternoon.
In true Italian style, it is all about enjoying food, company, and taking one’s time over very lengthy delicious lunches.
The southern Italians are very warm and hospitable.
You are greeted as if you’ve know them all of your life even though it’s the first meeting. My cousin left me with this:
“The blood is the same regardless of where you are born; it’s still under the skin and this never changes” – I think this is the interpretation as my Calabrese dialect is pretty rusty.
I happen to mention that I have to bring potatoes from Parenti but also locally made Provola Siciliana (cheese) for our friends in Cosenza. Apparently, this type of cheese from here is supposed to be the best. So, my cousin insists on giving us about five kilos of his home-grown potatoes: “the ones in the shops are from Naples at the moment and not good”. Then he kindly takes us to the local Delicatessen for the special cheese.
Weighed down with potatoes and cheese, we wait at the bus stop…not really a bus stop but a spot on the pavement. The bus picks you up from anywhere along the main street.
Everyone seems to come out after 17:00 hrs, stand on the street and just chat…guess there isn’t much else to do here.
Noticing stencils on some external walls in the village, I quickly take a few photos. One is from Benito Mussolini, a legacy of WWII.
I know that in Cosenza these old stencils on walls are heritage listed and cannot be removed. Literally, the stencil has to fade into oblivion before that side of a wall can be repainted or re-rendered.
Back to Cosenza
Finally taking the very late bus back and arriving in Cosenza’s busy Autostationze, stroll or should that be roll down Corso Mazinni.
It’s as if we’re in another city.
A sea of heads mingled back and forth, up and down the mall. Fashionably dressed locals promenading the pedestrian mall during this warm Calabrese evening.
The last time we visited this mall was in the afternoon when everything is shut.
A fired cannon ball wouldn’t have founds it’s mark – it really is that empty during this time – and almost as if we’re in a different city. A different and vibrant feel, much more alive, and now I understand why there are loads of shops in this mall.
With a population of around 80,000 but an urban area of over 268,000 inhabitants, all is now clear. Everyone sleeps during the heat of the day then parties late afternoon and into the night, or until the shops close at 20:00 hrs.
The second visit – a huge feast
As I need to fly back to Australia early September to apply for a 12-month Residency Visa, organise the repair of a badly leaking roof, but also my niece’s wedding, decide on a second visit to Parenti.
This time my cousin has a few days’ notice. I should have known what sort of afternoon would unfold.
One of chatting around the table for hours whilst eating a feast of various courses: pasta, oven-baked rabbit, bean and garlic salad, a selection of delicious cheeses, scented tomato salad, garlic potato and pepper salad, home made wine, homemade Limoncello (liqueur), gelato. And, the food just keeps coming out in true Italian style. Followed by a massive home-baked special traditional chocolate torte and we’re given a quarter to take home and eat for breakfast. I’m listing all these dishes as I’m amazed at just how much food kept appearing on the table…and the quantity we ate.
All home-grown in Parenti and home-made with simple fresh ingredients – lunch is absolutely scrumptious. I must return for cooking lessons of traditional Calabrese feasts.
Parenti also has a smallish Old Town, which we walked up the steep cobbled hill and steps after lunch. As time ran out we didn’t explore too much.
The countryside seems much greener this time and the mountains are gorgeous. The air is a little fresher and crisper.
This is such a beautiful region and can see why my father always longed to return…sadly, he never made it back to Italy.
Back to Cosenza again to get ready to leave Italy.
The third visit – food coma
Returning to Italy, decide to pay my relatives in Parenti another visit.
I should have remembered from the last two wonderful visits, that lunch would be amazing. This time the feast lasted almost five hours with consistent eating, drinking, and chatting.
Wandering into the kitchen after the chef (my cousin, not technically a chef, but should be), a small table is laid full of freshly made green and white Tagliatelle – handmade this morning.
Around the kitchen benches and placed with military precision, rest many plates and bowls for lunch’s different courses. My cousin has been up since 6am cooking.
Food coma in the making….
We start lunch with a big bowl of the freshly handmade Tagliatelle in a fresh tomato-based sauce, followed by a delicious fried potato, onion, and bacon dish. The succulent oven-baked pork, which my cousins prepare themselves after its slaughter, wrapped around a garlic butter and a little spinach, follows.
This dish is not the last.
Next is a delicately light chicken schnitzel with accompanied with a tomato and cucumber salad, and of course fresh bread. A cheese board arrives. Copious amounts of homemade wine flows during lunch.
Of course dessert is still to come, regardless of whether you’re at the point of exploding or not.
A massive homemade tart together with homemade biscuits, espresso, and homemade coffee liqueur appear – all divine.
How wrong to think, lunch is finished…Gelato to top everything off, naturally.
Returning to Cosenza in what can only be described as a food coma, which lasts the rest of the evening – way too much food but oh so deliciously incredible.
The hospitality here is kind and overwhelming but also humbling. People are so very friendly. You are welcomed with open arms.
Locals that we meet are happy and open to discussing politics, travel, and anything else on their mind.
Everyone is incredulous at how difficult it is for me to gain Italian Citizenship, especially as my father and his family are from Calabria. “Blood is blood and cannot be changed with a piece of paper.” If only this were true…
All are passionate about their country. And love Italy for its beauty and history, but say the politicians are destroying their country. Same world over I guess, and it is up to the people to change the country, as politicians won’t be doing this in any hurry.