When one dines at the storybook La Provvidenza in Ferrara, that gracious, gardened city with its muted echoes of the tragic Finzi-Continis, the antipasto table will if the stars are in correct position include a dish of the tastiest herring imaginable, accompanied by large brown beans, and nearby there should be salami, frittata and endive with raisins and toasted pinoli before you go on to the macaroni pie which is Ferrara’s culinary signature tune. Perfection!
I should say, though, that La Provvidenza while it is surely a destination experience was not my prime reason for traveling to Ferrara on an unusually hot spring day not long ago, arriving, as it happened, to the epiphany of encountering a vibrant Italian passeggiata fully operative in the vicinity of cattedrale-castello-mercato at twenty-eight degrees Celsius.
My mission was to meet a distant cousin, the Russian pianist Stanislav Bunin, who was giving a concert — for a delighted but wilted audience, it turned out — in the venerable opera house across from the castle which for readers of guidebooks is Ferrara’s logo so to speak, its Transamerica Pyramid or Empire State Building.
I had sent Stanislav a tape of Chopin played by my great aunt the pianist Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler, and was intrigued when he told me that Fannie’s performance of the D flat nocturne revealed at one point a particular interpretive choice made by no other pianist he knew of, except himself and his grandfather the fondly-remembered Heinrich Neuhaus of the Moscow Conservatoire.
Clearly providence was nurturing connections in this pianistic gene pool as well as smiling on the Ferrarese restaurant organizing for its clients such a harmonious assortment of singing antipasti. Need I tell you that a wish in my mind for Stanislav to cap his all-Chopin program with an encore or two from Schumann (we’d just been to the house where Schumann was born, in Zwickau) was answered as if by the surest telepathy.