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Monday, August 31, 2009

Piazza Cadorna

Piazza Cadorna is lined with cafes. This one is Cafe Nazionale.

In almost every Italian town there is a piazza, the open public square which is the center of the town's public life. A piazza can be large, such as the Piazza del Campo in Siena, or just a small intersection where no traffic is allowed, such as Piazza Wagner in Milano. It can be a traditional square with the town church at the center, or some other shape, as is the oval Piazza dell'Anfiteatro in Lucca.

This view shows the entrance to Piazza Cadorna from Via P. Tomaso. L'Angelo del Gelato is the building you can see the edge of on the right.

Stresa has at its center Piazza Cadorna. Only 100 meters inland from the Stresa imbarcadero, and pretty much truly geographically in the center of town, Piazza Cadorna is the spot where everyone gathers to meet, to watch, to eat, to listen, or to fare niente, to do nothing at all. It's difficult to believe that only a few years ago this bustling piazza wasn't what you see today. In winter months the open space was used as a parking lot. In summer, the cars were prohibited and restaurants allowed to use the space. But it's only within the past five years or so that the area has been closed permanently to traffic and used exclusively as a piazza. To me, it is a sign of the growing renaissance of Stresa, and of the understanding of the great value and meaning that a piazza gives to a small town such as this. It also allowed the piazza to develop its own style, with planters and flowers, and it has encouraged the restaurants and shops to invest in better tables, chairs, and lights that give it the special ambiance that it now has.

The piazza is lined with a nice selection of better shops, including those for books, eyewear, cosmetics, shoes, jewelry, stationery, and leather. A few small hotels, such as Hotel Elena, open onto the piazza. There are at least three gelato shops. The center of the piazza has been filled with the chairs and tables of various restaurants in a tight square pattern. Overhead, the umbrellas are large, and touching each other, creating an outdoor roof. Little lights and greenery complete the setting. Around the periphery all the restaurants have done the same, with tables extending out into the piazza. Waiters rush back and forth from kitchens out into the square, trays balanced on one hand.

Summer evenings...

I spent a lot of time in Piazza Cadorna this summer. I met friends for cappuccinos and shakeratos at Cafe Nazionale. I enjoyed several gelati at L'Angelo del Gelato. One evening, a jazz band played on a make-shift stage on the western side of the square; many of the restaurant chairs had been put into use to create curved seating for the audience. While the band played, a painter worked on a thirty-foot long mural close by, painting as inspired by the music. Another lovely evening, late, I shared pizzas with Colleague at Cafe Torino. Although almost midnight, the restaurant, in fact all the piazza, was still crowded. Joe Diverio played the piano at Cafe Torino that night, popular sing-a-long songs in Italian, German, French, and English. Touristy? Yes it was... Fun? You bet.

Stresa has a few smaller piazze as well. There is the newly finished Piazza Possi, close to Cadorna, which has already been used as a venue for musicians and performers. Piazza Capucci is still a parking lot most of the week, but on Fridays it becomes the Stresa market. And Piazza Matteotti, across from the imbarcadero, is open to the lake on one side and adjacent to the Chiesa San Ambrogio on another. You can also hear music here many evenings during the summer months.

In the above map Piazza Cadorna is directly in the center.


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