Wednesday, March 19, 2014


The Stoic One and I said that we would take one over night trip a month away from Umbertide, in order to explore the country.  We believed that one of the joys in living in Italy full time would be our ability to easily travel throughout Italy and Europe.  The implementation of these travel plans is not as easy as you might think for two retired people, who have no other commitments except for watching Luca and studying Italian.  These 2 factors have proven to be more time consuming that we thought.  There is as well, a type of indolence that comes over us in our little town, tmaking it difficult to get the gumption to get up and go! We are trying our best to keep up with our monthly travel commitments (I know this sounds like a chore, but it isn't really.) Anyway, this month, we chose to visit Verona. We had never been there before, and it is an easy fast train from Florence, so it seemed like a good choice for the month of March. We spent 3 days on this visit and walked our little feet off.  We loved the town. do I begin?  It is a city in northeastern Italy with a population of around 250,000.  It is the 12th largest city in Italy, right behind Venice, which I am sure really ticks them off.  It is an old city with Roman ruins, interesting churches, and wonderful shopping and people watching.
In addition, there is the whole Romeo and Juliet thing, which the town does its best to market and maximize.  I have heard that you can sleep in Juliet's bed for 5,000 E. a night! Below is a picture of the famous balcony. Does it take away from its allure to know that it was actually added in 1936?  It is astonishing how real fiction can become in our minds. The power of stories should never be underestimated.

There have been many odd traditions that have developed around Juliet. People write her love letters, ( a topic of a very mediocre film) they rub the breasts on her statue expecting to receive good fortune in love. I am more than a little suspicious of this breast rubbing ritual!

Then there are the locks.

These locks are attached to a gate near the supposed Juliet house.  They are quite colorful, and I suppose they are a symbol of undying love.  That is a better explanation than thinking once we are in love we are locked together with no hope of escape!  Thank god for divorce, even in this country.

So off we went to discover the allure of this so called city of Love.

Verona is filled with bridges, and yes, lovers.

The river Adige runs through the middle of Verona, and the Stoic One loves photos of bridges, so here are a few more.

(Bridge without the lovers)

Verona is famous also for its Roman arena.  (Apparently the only Coluseum is located in Rome, but arena means the same thing.)  Italians being what they are, they use the arena every summer for their operal season.  I was sorry we were too early for opera, and it is definitely on our things to do next time.

Here is the arena.
It was originally built in 30 AD and was covered with white and pink limestone.  At its peak, it could hold 30,000 people. An earth quake in 1117 knocked down most of its outer wall, which was then "repurposed" in other buildings in the city.

There is of course, great food here.  Pastries made only in Verona and only this time of year.

Because spring is here, there were newly arrived fruit cups in the market.

Although there are many exceptional historical sites to visit, the Stoic One and I are both a little ADD so we pick one church, rent the video guide computer (which are excellent) and try to retain as much historical and theoligcal data as we can.

In Verona we picked the church of Sant'Anastasia. It was started in 1280 and finished in 1400.  Only 120 years to build.  Can you imagine Americans being that patient to see something done?  Anyway, it was origianally a Domenican church, Gothic style.  I was mesmerized by the inside.

For a little humor, or not, there are two statues at the front of the church that represent the burden that was placed on the townspeople in order to build the church.

Such honesty for the church to include!  It was somehow on this trip, that I let go of all my "church" expectations in visitng churches.  Being a former chaplain, I have always viewed these churches as houses of God and was annoyed at how unspiritual they are.  I finally go it, I know, I know, after only 60 years, that the point is the preservations of art and architecture for a point of time in history and only the Catholic Church was able to do that for us in Italy.  Ok, feels better to look at it as a museum like the arena.

Now about that people watching.
What was she thinking?  I have no idea.  I can tell you she was Italian, as if you had a doubt.

Fantastic high end shops.  The city seems very wealthy.  Well maintained.  Minimal grafitti.  It reminded me a bit of Disney's idea of an Italian town.  Lovely but....a far cry from my Umbria.  Do you think I am getting overly attached?

They also had some great dogs out on the walks. What fun.

Love the color coordination!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Waiting for spring to stay

I have read about the winters in Umbria; the relentless wind, the grayness that starts with morning fog and lingers until dusk. Days without sun that produces a cold that seeps into the stones of the medieval towns and does not leave until the summer heat shines a bit of warmth into their dank depths. Although it hasn't been that cold this winter, it has been gray, windy and damp.  Only the pigeons who waddle across the tile roof of the church across the piazza seem unaffected by the dour weather.  For the rest of us, it is has been "duro" hard.

Then unexpectedly, spring sashays in like the village flirt, and I am unsure if she will stay or is only teasing me.  Today, it seems as if spring might really become more than my part time lover.  When the fruit trees blossom, the Italian farmers become active with hoes in hand, tractors, saws, it is a menagerie of activity. They seem to think the season has changed.

Spring also brings in new food, different festivals and joyous treats. Really too beautiful to eat, but oh so lovely to contemplate.

I think maybe spring will stay a while this time.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Florentine memories

When I was 14, in 1960, my mother thought it would be a good idea to send me to Italy to meet the Italian side of my family.  She was a southerner, (born and raised in east Tennessee) and family bloodlines and heritage were very important to her. I was thrilled to be able to go and so began my life long love affair with Italy.

I had the great fortune to land with a family whose father was from the same area of Italy as my father, the Veneto. Franco and Beppe (my cousin) were childhood friends and it was through this connection that I was sent to this family in Florence.  The mother, Vanna, had been from Florence for many generations.  I spent 3 months in Italy that summer.  I think because I was so young and so impressionable, my memories of that time are some of the clearest memories that remain in the forefront of my addled mind.

Fast forward to this week end.  After many years, I took a leap of faith, Googled the family, and was reconnected with the oldest daughter,  Alessandra, who is now a guide in Florence.  My sense of anticipation of reconnecting with Alessandra was met with an equal sense of dread, that she wouldn't remember me, that my memories of my attachment to the family were overblown, that my fantasy would turn out to be an adult reality of irrelevance. Interstingly the Stoic One was persistent with telling me to follow up. I finally sent the email and got an immediate response.  Of course, she said, she remembered me.  I was part of the family and she had missed me. My sense of relief and gratitude at her reaction is indescribable.  I felt once again "at home" here.

This week end, we went off to visit Florence to look for some household items and we had dinner with Alessandra and Remo.  Alessandra's brother had put all of the family photos on a web site, and we went through them together.  Strange how satisfying and dissatifying a photo can be.  I saw Vanna's smiling face, but all I wanted to do was reach through the computer, hug her, tell her that I landed in Italy and I was stilly studying my verbs.  Maybe she knows, but probably not. I also found out that a young boy I dated quite seriously as a teen ager had died 15 years ago of cancer. It is so strange to grieve for someone in the past.  After I married, I did not keep up with the young man, and frankly, had not thought of him for many years.  Why did the knowledge of his death affect me at such a deep level?

Later in the week, I received a letter from an old friend, not quite a boyfriend, but one of those men in my life that I could have followed on to another path.  He too, like me, is retired.  I have received yearly Christmas letters from him, (I think this is truly an American thing) and I had not gotten his card this year because of our move.  I sent him a Happy New Year card, and he responded with that sense of relief that one has when you find out that the person isn't dead, only misplaced in the contact file. More memories coming over me, of choices, roads not followed, sliding doors of trains not taken.  Il destino.