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Two households, both alike in dignity In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…

Posted by on November 6, 2015

Ah, Italy…the birthplace of graffiti…and one is constantly reminded as your train lumbers into or out of any station. Verona is no exception. Coming from the otherworldly, other-age Venice, it is a shock to see modern buildings and roads and cars. But being intrepid travelers we drag our wheeled carry-ons a mile or so through traffic to the Hotel San Luca, situated conveniently only steps away from the central piazza, where in another dimension Mercutio and Tybalt met their makers. But on this occasion there was no swordplay, only swarthy would-be actors dressed in Roman garb, hustling tourists to pose for pictures.
The piazza is the largest of any we have seen, even larger, though perhaps less dramatic, than the Plaza San Marco in Venice. Unlike the Viennese waltzes performed in San Marco, the bands play martial music here, as might be fitting for the scene. For dominant in the piazza, in fact dominant in the town and on all maps, is the massive Arena, built in Roman style, which graces one full side of the piazza. It was here that the Veronese enjoyed sacrificial rites, battles between both man and beasts, and gymnastics. We quickly found that all locations in Verona might be referenced by their relation to the Arena. Great masses of tourists fill the square day and night, consuming massive quantities of gelato, pizza, pasta and wine. For our part, we had long since avoided dining in the tourist havens, preferring to wander side streets to find wonderful meals in quaint osterias, crottos, trattorias, or enotecas…wine bars that sell delightful snacks, where the clientele were primarily natives.
Verona feeds off the tourist fascination with Romeo and Juliet. Meredy was determined to locate “Juliet’s balcony”, featured on all tourism maps, as a class at Oak Grove was reading The Bard and she wanted to send a snapshot. We did in fact find Juliet’s balcony and stood in a crowd of 2 or 3 hundred in a small courtyard while some paid to take turns ascending her stairs to have their picture taken on the balcony. But the vast majority scrambled to have their turn embracing the life-sized statue of Juliet (Romeo was nowhere to be seen) and…I swear this is true…rubbing her breast, which evidently brings good luck. Given the rate of groping in that courtyard in just the few minutes we were there, there must exist several million pictures about the planet of young and old, members of every race, firmly grasping Juliet’s well-cast bosom. To add to the festivities, every inch of every wall was covered with graffiti….in this case primarily names of lovers.
Elsewhere in the city, people pay to visit Juliet’s tomb, disregarding the fact that it was once a monastery and later an orphanage. We skipped it. Instead we opted to step away from the hoards and walk the perimeter of the city, following the city walls. (The greatest of these walls, the Castelvechio, we were amused to learn, were not to keep the barbarians out, but to protect the rich people from pissed off peasants.) Our wanderings eventually took us to the Teatro Romano, a wonderful old (1st Century) amphitheater, currently under restoration, but featuring a couple of hundred steep stone steps that took us up to spectacular views of the city. As we had made the climb and, in the Italian tradition, there was a bar at the top, we finished the morning with a couple of wines and beers.
As it was approaching lunchtime, and meals being the highlights of our days, we decided upon a quaint little place called Antica Osteria al Duomo, lined with old wood paneling and serving a specialty of donkey and horse. We avoided both (having eaten some horse without knowing it the night before),but did have a delicious lunch accompanied by a carafe of white and a carafe of red vino locale. After lunch we wandered back toward the center of town where I had been told of an excellent enoteca where one could sample the best of the local wines without driving to the countryside. So after a few wrong side-streets, we stumbled upon Ostaria del Bugiardo, where I applied by ever-improving Italian to negotiate a tasting of several fine local wines: a Valpolicella Classico Reserva, a nice Ripasso and a tasty 2003 Amarone. Well, my Italiano was not quite up to the task. Rather than enjoying a short fleet of 2oz tasting glasses. We were served 12 large goblets, three each, of rather good wine. What was there to do but drink it? We did our best to savor the wine and in fact spent much of the afternoon doing it, but late in the day the four of us emerged squinting at the sunshine, to stagger back to the San Luca, which seemed further away than we thought. To get there we were forced to fight our way through armies of tourists moving toward us like salmon spawning upstream.
As we reached the piazza, we then had to negotiate the Roman soldiers and various maidens in togas in order to finally reach our rooms where substantial naps were had in spite of the rap artist photo shoot that was going on in the alley under our window.
It was all we could do to rally for dinner and just a little more wine later.

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