Monday, August 8, 2022

Addio | Farewell

I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.

Mary Anne Radmacher

I spotted this painting in the collection of the Minischalchi-Erizzo family museum. The painter felt the need to explain, "The game, the woman, and the chilled wine, make the man drunk while laughing." I am supposing there is a moral here against wine, women and games (particularly as the boy seems to have a hand in the man's money pouch); however, I have enjoyed a very good time here in Verona with amazing wines, awesome food and great entertainment so I think we should all indulge just a little. :-)

The museum gives a glimpse into the private home of a noble Veronese family. The Minischalchi-Erizzo family lived here for five centuries until 1977. I happened upon it only because all other museums in Verona are closed on Mondays. I loved walking across the floors that 'creaked with history'.

In the afternoon I took a chance on Bus 21 again and headed back into the vineyards. Different driver. And I did not ask for assistance.

Thankfully, my goal was easily reached this time. It is quite an experience to push a button and have the security gates open. It opens into a different world. Eden perhaps.

Turns out the winery was supposed to be closed to visitors this week but the very kind Frederico Fumanelli provided a personal tour and wine tasting. His family produces small quantities of exceptional wine following on ancient tradition: Augustus' family produced wine here (you see the name Octavian on the stele). He would have a lot more statuary around the villa if not for being occupied by the Germans followed by the Americans in WWII. The latter enjoyed their time so much that they did not vacate the land until the 1960s when Frederico's father was able to return and restart production after the war years. What stories! Frederico has spent a few years in Toronto, returning home at the onset of the pandemic. The conversation flowed and two hours passed quickly.

Over the past week, I have met many friendly people and been treated to many fine experiences. Everything seemed to culminate with my visit to the Fumanelli estate. This was a fine end to a great vacation.

Tomorrow, I begin the return travel home. 
Farewell, fair Verona. Grazie mille di tutto!


Sunday, August 7, 2022

Arte eterna | Eternal art (may she be preserved)

 Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.

Pablo Picasso

Today I am in Padua, about an hour away from Verona by train in the direction of Venice. Pilgrims head to Padua to visit the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, a very popular saint who was a preacher for St. Francis of Assisi. Pilgrims come to touch the tomb of this miracle worker and view his relics: his lower jaw, tongue and vocal chords. I found the architecture really interesting because it looks Byzantine with the domes and minarets.

The main purpose of my visit to Padua was to see the world heritage site, the Scrovegni Chapel. It is a masterpiece that marks the dawn of the Renaissance. This Last Judgement predates Michelangelo by 250 years. 

Painted by Giotto between 1303 and 1305, the colours remain vivid and his figures are alive with expression. To preserve them, only 25 people are allowed in the chapel via a humidity controlled gate system and visits are limited to 15 minutes.

Next door is the Church of the Eremitani, built between 1276 and 1306. Allied bombs almost completely destroyed the church and with it the frescoes of the genius painter, Mantegna. The destruction of the church and his work is considered the greatest individual disaster to Italian art in WWII.

The conversation work to restore the structure and its paintings is jaw-dropping. Those 'splotches' of colour are bits of painted plaster that have found their way back to exactly where they should be. I am in awe of the work of these conservators.

This evening, after a quick apperitivo tasting a Buglioni Valpolicella ripasso, I took the funicular up the mountain for incredible evening views over the old pink city. Looking down I spotted cafe umbrellas in front of an old church. This being Sunday, I thought I should check it out for dinner.

My day ended with a lovely dinner at Redentore (Redeemer) restaurant. This adaptive reuse of an old religious building dates back to 1993. The salad was meal size so I made only a small dent in my fresh pasta with ragu. 

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Pietra e acqua | Stone and water


The foolish are like ripples on water, For whatsoever they do is quickly effaced; 
But the righteous are like carvings upon stone, For their smallest act is durable.

Horace, Roman poet (65-8 BC)

Today I joined a walking tour of Verona put on by the tourist information office. Lucky for me, nine people didn't show up, perhaps due to the heat, so it was just me, two Tuscans and the guide. Can't beat a private tour for 12 euro. :-)

As we walked the streets, we were told of their paving of "Verona marble", a limestone cut from the hills of nearby Valpolicella -- the same area of the great wine. Several paving stones bear the remains of ammonite fossils. Really BIG ones.

Later in the tour we could look down into a two meter hole to see an intersection of two Roman roads made of the same material. It's a wonder there are any hills left to grow grapes on.

Besides the Arena, Verona's other major Roman ruin is the Porta Borsari. The Romans would have called this entrance into their city the Jovian gate after their supreme deity. That name was forgotten by medieval times so it became the gate of the toll collectors. Borsari refers to their purse in which they carried the levied coins (think bourse/purse).

From this beautiful vantage point overlooking the Adige river, the guide explained that up until the beginning of the 20th century it was forbidden to build on the north side of the river because it was demarcated as a military zone. Hence the architecture is very different. For a future trip, the tourist office has a self-guided walking tour pamphlet of the Liberty style architecture in this area.

I was shocked to learn that just one day before the end of World War II, the Germans bombed all the bridges as they retreated from Verona so as to hinder Allied advancement. All of the bridges have been rebuilt from their original materials as much as possible.

The bridge in the photo above was the private bridge of the Scaligeri family. Later in the tour, we passed their very ornate Gothic tombs. It was noted that they built their tombs on elevated platforms so that people would have to look up to them for eternity.

After the tour, I walked to the arcaded portico of Via Sottoriva that runs alongside the river. Here were the old warehouses when the river was the city's thoroughfare for business.

And I found Osteria Sottoriva, an old riverside eatery that serves only wine, beer and grappa (as I was told upon entering and reminded of when I thought I would end my meal with an espresso). Its wine selection is impressive. I enjoyed a glass of Tasi's Garganega Brut for 3 euro to accompany my Vitello Tonnato, which was so delicious that I finished the entire plate.

Thinking I should walk off some of that veal, I wandered over to the Ponte Pietra (the "stone" bridge). It has been reconstructed from the stones of the original Roman bridge. I will return this evening for a better view of the bridge as I dine at the riverside restaurant on the right side of the photo. 

Stay tuned! :-)

A thunderstorm was brewing as I set out from the hotel to the restaurant. The wind was joined by rain just as my 7:30pm reservation was called. Sadly, on account of the high winds and rain, all balcony reservations were moved inside to the restaurant's lower level. While nice, it lacked the view of the Ponte Pietra so I took this photo following my lovely meal . . . after the thunderstorm had passed without almost a trace on Verona's cobbled streets.

When I booked Restaurant Ponte Pietra, following research that took me "I don't know where", I had no idea it was a Michelin star restaurant. This is my first Michelin experience. The meal and service was exceptional. 

A newly-engaged Canadian couple was seated at the neighbouring table. As we all enjoy foodie experiences we struck up an immediate bond. Ivan kindly provided the visual memory for the evening (above). By this point in the meal, I have already enjoyed a glass of Franciacorta and a glass of Il Moggio from Umbria so please excuse my inebriated smile. With the octopus, burrata and green beans I am enjoying a glass of light Valpolicella. A perfect pairing. Dessert of a peach tart with raspberry confit was paired with a Soave Reciotto. Bellissima!

I can't help but sleep well this evening. Buona notte!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Strada non dritto | Indirect path

Choosing one path implies giving up the other. Those who want to go anywhere get nowhere.

Mario Furlan, Italian life coach

As I munched away on my lunch plate of various, delicious cold Italian vegetables, I noted the Philosophy Calendar atop the display case. The word 'Strada' (road/path) stood out for me -- I suppose just because I am on the road. I should have paid attention to the full meaning of the quotation.

Had I paid attention, it may have foretold potential challenges as I ventured onto a local bus headed into the countryside in search of a vineyard. I had some of idea of where I was heading but thought it wise to enlist the help of the bus driver to ensure I got off at the right stop. 

Unfortunately, his help left me a good five km beyond where I should be. Being somewhat at a loss as to what I should do, I went into the bar beside the bus stop and in very poor Italian explained I had a "small problem". A kind gentleman having lunch at the bar set me on the right path to catch the next bus heading in the opposite direction. I ran into him two more times on Bus 21. I was most fortunate to happen upon someone who knew the bus route firsthand (may I say, unlike the bus driver?). 

With this help, I arrived at the correct stop, at this nondescript corner with a small sign pointing me in the direction of the Masi vineyard where I had booked a tour. Yes, it does appear to be in the middle of nowhere.

Nevertheless, the adventure opened up beautiful landscapes full of grapes, ancient residences and a lot of light industrial construction along the route.

And the tour introducing Masi's wine-making process and the tasting session were well worth the adventure.

My non-straight path did in the end lead to the vineyard owned by Dante's descendants (only in Italy!). Dropping the great philosopher's name reminds me that I was walking through an Inferno of 42C today. Our guide mentioned that the extreme heat and drought conditions mean that the grapes might be harvested in two weeks time . . . much earlier than normal.

Tomorrow, I think I will keep my feet planted in Verona. Buona notte!

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Lentamente, lentamente | Slowly, slowly

Smile, breathe and go slowly

Thich Nhat Hanh

My motto for the day has been "slowly, slowly." Solar radiation bounced upwards into my face off the stone pavement below my feet as I left the hotel at 9:30am. Before noon, temperatures hit 40C, so heat-survival-protocols were enacted. 

I thought it was smart choosing to visit an art museum on a hot day because art museums need to be temperature controlled and temperature control means air conditioning. Right? Wrong. Temperature control in the Castelvecchio Museum means open windows and a few standing fans for the comfort of the guards.

Castelvecchio (Old Castle) was built by the 'Medicis' of Verona, the Scaligeri family, in c. 1350 as a residence and fortress. The Venetians made it their citadel when they took control of Verona in the late 1700s. Then Napoleon's troops used it as a barracks, who were followed by the Austrians who used it as an arsenal. Each made changes to the old castle but it obviously had 'good bones'. In the 1960s, Italy's renowned architect Carlo Scarpa transformed those bones into a wonderful (albeit non-air conditioned) art museum.

Thankfully, and surprisingly, the original frescoed walls from the Scaligieri palace survived in one of the rooms.

The museum's collection of sculpture and paintings is amazing. It may not be the Uffizi but it's a real treat. I came upon an early painting by Pisanello (refer to yesterday's post). I am lucky to see the delightful Madonna of the Quail because it was stolen from the museum in 2015. Inside job, I'm told. Thankfully, police recovered it two years later.

My very special evening started with the degustation menu at Enoteca Segreta. (Click on their logo at the top of the website for some food porn.) The chef's menu with 'rare' wines was outstanding. If you are ever in Verona, seek out the secret wine cellar.

The fabulous meal was the perfect prelude to the spectacular staging (and singing) of Puccini's opera Turnadot under the stars in Verona's Roman amphitheater ("Arena").

I cannot remember the last time I saw midnight. Being out at midnight in Italy feels so good! Especially walking with a nightcap gelato in hand. :-)

Now it is going on 1:00am so I will say "Buona notte" and see you "a domani".

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Vedere, Ascoltare, Imparare | To see, to listen, to learn

If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.
Robert Baden-Powell
I was surprised to come upon modern sculpture within a fourteenth century church. And I was also surprised that I was so moved by it. Created in 2009 by Hermann Josef Runggaldier, this statue of the Annunciation graces the upper church of St. Fermo. The simplicity of his captured expressions resonated with me as did his intention to present Mary as a "woman of listening". I walked away vowing to listen more.
Another exquisite Annunciation appears in the same church: this one is the first signed and dated work (1426) by Pisanello, an artist of high esteem in the courts of Venice, the Vatican, Milan and Naples (as well as Verona, it would seem).
That my Dad's hand-me-down camera could capture this detail of the Brenzoni Mausoleum (upper right corner) is almost as impressive as the art. Thanks, Dad! :-)
Earlier in the morning, I visited the basilica dedicated to Verona's patron saint, San Zeno. In this stunning Romanesque church you can see multiple layers of frescos painted over one another. I guess it is a common desire to redecorate every hundred years -- even if your walls are covered with masterpieces.
Also fascinating was the graffiti carved into the coloured wall plaster by supplicants seeking divine help.

Following a day of visual delights, my evening found me immersed in the culinary arts of pasta-making inside a lovely old palazzo with charming Valli as our patient teacher of a class of four. There is fresh tagliatelle in my future. :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Sono qui | I am here

There are no strangers here. Only friends you haven't yet met.
William Butler Yeats

After plane, train and bus trips, the masked traveller arrived in Verona.

After checking in, I happened upon my first exquisite gelato under a renaissance arcade. Sicilian almond topped by caffe. Delicious!

With my mission to get my cell phone connected to an Italian provider (a not-so-straight-forward feat), I treated myself to my first apperitivo in the Piazza dei Signori. All the cares of the day's travel and technology challenges melted away.

Returning 'home', I meandered past the same arcade with the gelato. Such a lovely first evening.

Now, after re-learning how to post a blog, I am ready for a good night's sleep.

Perhaps I will dream of more adventures tomorrow!