October 28, 2010

A Culture of Walking and Biking

The nearby Adriatic Sea lends to Ferrara both its mild climate and its flat streets, which make it an ideal city for biking and walking. Local people use these modes of transport as part of their daily lives. As a result, citizens are not only healthy overall but also live in an environment with less air pollution. Growing up, I always took public buses to school or rode my pink bicycle with a wicker basket affixed to the front and a pedal-powered tail light on the back for evening travel.

The medieval walls that surround the city provide an ideal way to get from place to place. Biagio Rossetti, their original architect, envisioned them as protection, practicality and beauty. The holes from which soldiers shot at invaders are still as visible as the curved viaducts that welcomed water to pass underneath the walls for public water access. The hand-made bricks whose ruddy structure still holds true offer grounded contrast to the towering green of ash, oak, linden and ginkgo trees that arch into tunnels above them.
Le Mura, the walls:

Walls are flanked by new buildings with many antennae!

At any given time, there are elderly ladies with flowered scarves wrapped around their heads who pedal slowly along the tree-lined promenades; runners dressed in spandex race each other from one lamp post to the next; teenagers lug book-laden backpacks on one shoulder and take a break to sit on a park bench and sneak a cute graffiti phrase on its slats; men in indigo pin stripes and sunglasses stroll from work to their favorite caffe' to share the day's stories over an evening aperitivo at the tiny bars that sprout from the corners where the Mura, the city walls, meet the streets.
The tree-lined path that allows travel by the tops of the walls:

Some bikers along the path:

During a recent walk along the walls with my dad, much to the delight of my herbalist's sensibility, I discovered nettles growing everywhere! These prickly plants are rich in iron and vigorous in the fields that separate the walls from the countryside. Who knows? We could return with scissors and bags to pick them for soup!
Here are the nettles:

My father counts the rings on a cottonwood tree stump:

To see the Mura and bicycle culture in film, you can rent the Garden of the Finzi Contini, originally a novel by Giorgio Bassani set in World War II era Ferrara. I remember seeing the movie cameras come to my favorite park, Parco Massari, because I could not access the Lebanon Cedars, my favorite climbing trees, for what seemed like ages! However, I realize now that it was well worth the interruption because I have a film I can watch when I feel nostalgic for my home town.

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