You never know what might happen during your travels. Small inconveniences can lead to big surprises and unexpected treasures can lurk behind every corner. Today, as we were wending our way through Parma, we had an amazing moment.
We had been through a very busy day; starting with a tour of a balsamic vinegar factory, then moving on to a prosciutto di Parma enterprise where a lovely lunch was waiting for us, and on to our agriturismo in Parma. As lovely as the day was, it came with no small amount of stress, due mainly to some difficulties finding our way through this beautiful region. Our GPS was having issues and my GoogleMaps directions weren't panning out quite as nicely as we would have liked. We found ourselves in each of these destinations by a little luck and some help from friendly strangers.
So, when it came time to take a leisurely stroll through the historic center of Parma, we were expecting only good things. Fate had another plan for us, and once again we had to fly by the seat of our pants, just to find a parking spot. Our mega-van was too tall for all of the underground garages so we just kept driving along on the "variante", the ring-road that encircles the old city center. We finally found a spot in an above-ground lot, but it was about a mile away from where we had planned to focus our visit. This was where serendipity and luck went our way.
We wended our way down to the Piazza di San Giovanni Evangelista and went in the church of the same name. There was a school group of middle school students there, sort of listening to their teacher explain the various frescoes on the ceiling while an ancient priest stood by. After the students left, the illumination of the ceiling paintings ended and we were left in the dark. I approached the priest and asked him how we could turn the lights back on, and he showed me the light box where I could insert a euro coin. As we did that, the priest motioned for us to follow him. He took us to the first illumination and explained the painting, its artist and its meaning. The lighting finished too quickly, so he called us up on the altar and turned on the master light switch so we could have time to view all the art work. Then the magic began.
He took us from one spot to another, behind the altar, into the choir and explained everything there, from the intaglio woodworking on the choir chairs to the way the Gregorian chants were performed. He showed us examples of vandalism and missing parts of chairs that had "flown away". He told us the story of the dome, done by Correggio, and how it was a joke on the congregants. The dome shows an interpretation of Christ coming down to bring Saint John the Evangelist into heaven, the last of the disciples to be "called home". John is crouching beneath a cloud, looking up at the Christ figure as He descends to earth. The joke is that no one can see the figure of John from the body of the church. Since the priests were the ones who paid for the art to be done, they had Correggio place John's figure in such a way so that he could only be seen from the altar.
So, there we were, on the altar, getting a priest's view of the dome of this amazing building and seeing the secrets shared by this wonderful old man. He must have been at least 80, but he was obviously so in love with his church that he was happy to share his anecdotes and memories with this group of Americans.
If we had not had our parking misfortunes, if we had not had our difficulties finding our various sites, we would not have had this once in a lifetime experience. Kismet, serendipity....call it what you will. I call it wonderful.