Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fashion and romance in Verona





An official came by to check all the passengers’ tickets on the train to Verona. When I showed him my ticket, he informed me that it was dated for the next day and therefore invalid. I had bought it at the station the night before rather than the day of because I was nervous about using the Italian train system for the first time. I even spoke with a person at the counter rather than using a self-service machine to be sure that I didn’t mess anything up.

The officer demanded that I purchase a correct ticket for 60 euros, explaining that tickets purchased on board were more expensive. My original ticket had cost me about 10 euros. I only paid 35 euros for my flight to Venice. I didn’t even have 60 euros with me. I explained that the ticket office had made a mistake. I argued; I pleaded; I raised my voice. The man would have none of it, and I ended up paying with my Visa.

Admittedly I’m a sensitive person and tend to get emotional. But I usually maintain my composure in upsetting situations that don’t involve relationships or underachievement. But I handled this incident anything but gracefully. —Scusi— a man said a minute later, motioning that I was sitting in his assigned seat. I started crying. And when the tears started flowing, they wouldn’t stop. As we continued on our two-hour journey to Verona, I sniffled into a tissue an empathetic Italian man had handed me as my eyes and lips began to swell. A repulsive sight, I’m sure.

But it only took about an hour in Verona for me to decide that it was all worth it. I'd never been to a place that was just so pretty. On the edge of the town’s historic center a 14th-century brick castle bridge offered views of a storybook-perfect town along the river — rolling green hills, medieval steeples, and neat rows of colorful houses. Chic Italian girls on vintage designer bicycles with baskets breezed past young families breakfasting in elegant outdoor cafes. To me, the festive Christmas markets and the piazzas boasting ancient fountains framed by pastel buildings and the fairytale balconies spilling with green ivy and the Renaissance windows with flower boxes were worth the steep train fine. (I’m beginning to recognize that I’m an aesthete. Does it make me shallow that lovely things make me so happy?)

Around 10 a.m. I saw a tall, willowy woman with a chic silver bob and oversize sunglasses teeter by in red heels, sheer black pantyhose, and a voluminous grey fur coat. No pants. And it was Saturday. It seemed like all the people I saw kept getting better dressed. I began to think that I was meant to be born in a place where parading the streets in a killer coat and heels with your family on a Saturday morning is expected. (Maybe I’m a bit bitter after suffering unfair criticism for overdressing most of my life. It’s amazing how much it irritates people when they feel you put in more effort than the occasion called for.) Later the locals came out for their compulsory evening stroll, the passegiatta, and in Verona’s pedestrianized historic center this stroll could double as a high fashion parade past the luxury brand stores lining the main strip, Via Mazzini. And I shamelessly relished every minute of the world-class people watching.

Along with its world-renowned opera festival, Shakespeare’s choice of Verona as his setting for Romeo and Juliet is Verona’s claim to fame? “In fair Verona where we lay our scene … A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life,” so the play goes. Visitors can photograph Juliet’s balcony where she urged Romeo to “deny thy father and refuse thy name” and even pay to tour her house, now a museum. The balcony is absolutely perfect, but the rest of the sight is presented in such a junior-high, pop-tart style that I couldn’t help rolling my eyes.

Not that I would ever fall for the idea that Shakespeare’s play was based on true events and a real couple... Okay, I admit it, after touring Juliet’s house and searching out Romeo’s residence and seeing Juliet’s tomb marked on the map, I was quite confused and started to think that maybe all along I had been unaware that the tragic individuals in the play were more than fictional characters. I’m not that gullible it’s just that the Verona tourist sector is just that shameless in their presentation of everything as fact. I mean, the entrance to Juliet’s “house” was completely plastered in sentimental notes to the suicidal teenager from pining visitors.

And that balcony was good.

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