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They are rising up, slow and solemn, in the quiet morning air. Some sport the classic bulb shape and hundreds of colour shades, hanging like pictures over the clouds. Some are fanciful or downright bizarre: a frothy mug of beer, a mobile phone the size of a seven-storey building, the big head of a clown with a big red nose, a fox with glasses and long, pointed ears and even two kangaroos wearing boxing gloves and carrying their joeys in their skin pouch. They are all different, yet united by Archimedes's principle, as they soar and float, lighter than the air surrounding them. They are the hot air balloons dotting the sky over Ferrara, during the 10th Ferrara Balloons Festival, one of the most important balloon shows in Europe, that took place last September.
I had wanted to see it for a long time and then finally I made it. I set off well before sunrise, on a clear Sunday morning, still full of stars. I had read, in the flyer, that hot air balloons need calm weather conditions in order to fly and these usually occur at sunrise and sunset. If you travel on county roads, less than a hundred kilometers separate Guastalla from Ferrara, in the magic horizontality of the Po Valley, amidst fields, waterways, industrial plants and art treasures.
When I arrive, I find myself in the beautiful park named after Giorgio Bassani, a famous writer, among hundreds of people who are flocking to the take-off area, as large as two soccer, fields and already crowded. I can hear the engine fans add to the roar of the burners blowing hot air and gases into the balloons, until they take a shape. What an extraordinary sight it is to see those colourful giants rise from the earth! I try to book a flight, my first flight on a hot air balloon! Unfortunately, when my turn comes, I find out that all flights are sold out. Never mind! I look around, as this festival is also an occasion to celebrate for those who prefer to keep their feet well on the ground. There is something for all tastes: games of all kinds for children and sports for grown-ups, including cycling races, skating, soccer tournaments, archery, horse riding and ju jitsu, not to mention the performances of parachutists and the stunts of well-known remote-control drones. In addition, restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours and dozens of stands selling typical products and then, under the very same clear sky, dotted with hot air balloons, at a stone's throw from here, there’s Ferrara, the grande dame of the House of Este, a city floating over water and earth. From Bassani Park, among the trees, I can glimpse the city walls, known as rampari di Belfiore. Beyond them, there is the city, or rather the cities, I should say. There’s a city dating back to the Middle Ages, with its cathedral and castle, with all its streets and lanes, loaded with history, revolving around it. The Renaissance city, with its impressive Herculean Addition, Palazzo dei Diamanti, the Charterhouse and other extraordinary palaces and museums. Finally, the modern city, the city of workers and entrepreneurs, partly destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt. It is useless thinking of visiting Ferrara today. I shall be back, with a little more time to devote to it. Meanwhile, I stop at a food stall, not to return home empty-handed and I purchase two packs of pumpkin cappellacci, a stuffed pasta to be boiled and sautée in butter, nutmeg, sage with plenty of Parmesan cheese. While eating it, I am going to anticipate my next flight on a hot air balloon ...