A recent trip to Verona...

Photos left to right: the triumvirate colors of Verona and the Scaligero Family in the marble flooring of La Basilica di San Anastasia; interior of the basilica; pre-Renaissance murals before entering the Giusti Chapel & Sacristy of the Basilica.

Verona and I go way back. 1988. The city on the Adige was my home for four months to study Italian. It was a good fit: a city to walk in, interesting things to discover, practically no tourists… and if there were, they were German. I get along with Germans… a wonderful school run by an amazingly understanding & efficient English-woman, FANTASTIC TEACHERS, Cristina & Andrea… the later was a handsome Communist. Every day we read from il Manifesto, the Commie rag, to improve my vocabulary. It worked… and students… one month, there were four stately & blond & thoroughly charming Scandinavian girls, and recently married to Italian men. They needed Italian to deal with their mothers-in-law. They spoiled me with their laughter & beauty… and amazing adventures out-and-about from Verona: dinners in hill-top osteria’s with squadrons of female soccer players, swimming nude in the Lake of Garda, aperitivi outside houses with gardens infiltrated with magnificent cypress trees and fireflies, etc. I didn’t want to leave. But, love and the need to find a job in fashion called. No one was under-writing my decision to relocate to Italy.

I had started out in Florence. My place of study was arranged by an American friend and was wrong on so many accounts, but one: the school assigned me Room & Board in an apartment belonging to one feisty, delightful, poet, smoker and conversationalist, La Signora Anni Pasi. She took me under her wing. Nightly performances at her dinner table promptly at 8PM. Guai a te se perdessi l’appuntamento! The labyrinthine apt. on the banks of the Arno afforded mouth-dropping views of the Palazzo Vecchio and il Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, i.e. il Duomo di Firenze, and Brunelleschi’s masterpiece of a dome, across the river. All the rest was gladly left behind: the August heat, the obnoxious floods of tourists, and, especially, the language school… on the first day of class, the unwashed instructor threw prepositions at us. What? I don’t even know the numbers in Italian yet. Couldn’t we start with them? No. When it was my turn to construct a sentence using da… an example of da: English goes… cooking by so-and-so. In Italian it’s da… or, from so-and-so. This linguistic difference was not explained by il Signor Too-Bored-To-Care. I stuttered & stammered and for my poor effort got yelled at about not speaking fast enough. I never went back. Travelled instead. And, called my Italian-American friend, who was responsible for The Lecture… Forrest, you only go around once in this life. You’re obsessed with fashion, you won’t stop talking with your hands, your life is shit here… GO TO ITALY!!! She made some calls, options were organized, I shifted to Verona. Way much more better.

So, I found myself one hot & muggy day in Verona happily destined to troop around with a professional guide and an intimate group of clients with Your Italian Concierge come to discover the sites of the City on the Adige.

The day started with confronting a massive line waiting for taxis at Verona’s Porta Nuova Station. Practically no shade either. A thin, ninny-sized, metallic awning. I called our guide, Roberta Parlato… a professional and I highly recommend her too… who was awaiting our arrival at the Arena di Verona, to say we were we going to be late. Maybe real late. Then… an idea struck. Roberta! Grab a taxi big enough for five and come get us, please. Poor thing had to deal with the unwritten Italian Taxi Law that customers have to take the first available taxi, not the LARGEST taxi around. Ten minutes later we piled into the mini-van at the station and headed back to the Arena. Feared a riot but, our escape was too far away to be noticed by the hundreds of sweating taxi customers.

I was not prepared for what came next. Verona had changed. Consumed. Out of the taxi and chatting under an enormous juniper tree in the little park posing as a flat 19th Century cornice to Verona’s impressive and today, low-slung Arena, I was stunned by the number of tourists, like ourselves, heading hither & yon around us. My Group banners of flowers, weird baseball caps, batons with sparkly fringes on top and waving in front of scurrying groups just off the bus. Or, couples of all ages burdened by back-packs pulling them from behind and slinging plastic liter-bottles of water. The smart ones wore hats. We were wearing ours! For the rest of the day, wherever, we were engulfed by our fellow visitors. Verona had become a Florence or a Rome. The way of the world in these parts.

To the tour…

I stand before any coliseum, Verona’s or others throughout Italy, and I think… gladiator movies. I’d show my age, if I added Steve Reeves’ gladiator movies. Let’s move on, shall we? We did not view the interior, as work-crews were busily setting up scaffolding & lighting for the Summer Opera Season. Huge draw. Big business. Aida was the first on the bill. Did not see any elephants milling about for its evening’s inauguration performance. We DID do the exterior. Details on how the Arena’s outer structure was robbed of its stones, bricks and the distinct marbles from this part of Italy… a creamy white and a soft pink marble though the later appears as salmon… to construct the growing & prospering Medieval city. Recycling can be damaging yet, t’was the norm years and years ago. Efficient, fast, easy, everyone did it. Done. Even in the little Tuscan village where I live, the perimeter walls of the castle above were dismantled to extend the town below. All that remains is a twenty-five foot high wall forming a part of my courtyard. See?

The guide said Verona is colorful. And that it is! Not in our contemporary sense of color, so inured are we from computer-generated extravaganzas of unlimited choices of shade, tint and tone but, in the contrast of materials, stolen or bought, of rusty brick against a pale stone or, back to those two marble colors of cream & pink… salmon… for instance. Real color colors enter when one actually enters inside. Take the lovely Basilica of Saint Anastasia. The ceiling is a creamy stucco yet, its arches and architectural detailings are in a medley of rust, green, orange and blue patterns to outline and to spark the eye.

I would like to add that Verona is rich, truly rich visually. Wrought iron gating & gratings at the small tomb complex for the Scaligero Family, piercing the hazy blue sky for a photo, marble monuments, nearly mini-buildings or, one, a column with a dominating Lion of Venice on its tippity-top over-seeing the famous & bustling Piazza d’Erbe. Even the silly whale’s rib swinging high above a bricked arch entranceway to the same piazza lent an air of decoration and richness. But nothing beats, for better or worse, for the bad or other the brutal stupidity of tourists whose have so unimaginatively incised their graffiti emblazoned on the walls of the not-really-Giuletta’s-house-but-some-silly-English-tourists-started-the-craze. What are we supposed to do with BO + ML? Take them as genial appellations, demonstrations of L-o-v-e? You can inscribe dears but, do learn from those frightened teenagers. Thank you.

Other important aspects to remember about Verona…

the number of wine shops… or, enoteche, in the Historic District. Verona could easily be considered the Wine Central of Italy. It definitely is around April of each year for the enormous international wine fair. Hard to avoid since, to the West, Valpolicella, to the East, Soave, and to the North & South other wines of distinction hale. Stock-up. They all ship. Oh, and there are wineries to end your days in a winery. Cheers!

and the number and variety of restaurants, trattorie and osterie in the city. You will not starve.

also the array of stores, shops, ateliers and botteghe in the grid of streets in central Verona. Particularly good are the small, one-of-a-kind women’s clothing nooks, which demonstrate how clever the Italians can be with needle & thread. Not to worry, there are also the major brands about too.

And finally, outside the city is the magnificent Lake of Garda. The list of villages to visit is lengthy: Sirmione, Garda, Torre del Benaco and Malcesine on the Eastern shore and Portese, Salo’ and Limone on the Western. Beware: takes a day to go all the way around. Besides, the eating, drinking and le passeggiate, there is a knock-me-dead house-garden-fantasy land… a submarine is in the garden… once belonging to the the poetic, literary force of nature, Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s and his Vittoriale degli Italiani. Have your iPhones handy.

Photos from left to right: the whale bone suspended under the Arco della Costa… or, the Arch of the Rib-bone; the how come it is still intact iron-work of the tomb complex of the Scaligero Family. Normally, such things are outside the city’s walls; and the viral graffiti of L-o-v-e at La Casa di Giulietta, ne Capuletti and NOT Cappelli, the last name of the original owners of inn, lo’ those many years ago, and now the establishment is condemned to be what it is thought to be by hundreds and thousands of tourists.

Forrest Spears and Your Italian Concierge is a concierge and travel planning service. If you would like our help for a trip to Italy, please contact me or, visit our website at www.youritalianconcierge.com.