Last night I was in Verona, strolling after dinner through a multigenerational sea of people on a wide sidewalk promenade. It was made so wide by the town’s Venetian overloads in the 17th century, so the town’s beautiful people could see and be seen. This morning at breakfast, a tourist asked, “What on earth was going on last night?” I said, “It was just a Thursday night in Verona. The passeggiata is a much-loved sport here. It could have been just about anywhere in the Mediterranean world.”
Here in Verona, Romeo and Juliet seem to be on every tourist’s mind. The “Balcony of Juliet” is a crass and throbbing mob scene, as every tour group in this part of Italy converges on it all day long. As they take snapshots of each other rubbing the statue’s polished breast to get “luck in love,” their guides tell stories about the completely bogus balcony.
But simply out and about, there are little love stories everywhere. I enjoy the simple moments when a snapshot of love flutters in and out of my world like a butterfly: A guy on a bike, with his girlfriend sitting on the handlebars embracing him as somehow he pedals gracefully by. A happily frenzied couple in their 25th year of running a restaurant together with a perfect rhythm of serving great food. He says their goal is to “stir emotions with their cooking.” She says, “Like a cherry under alcohol, he never ages.”
Today Verona is overrun with families: it’s a kids’ fair. Grade-schoolers in tiny numbered jerseys run a kiddie marathon…dads jogging at their sides carrying their water bottles, and countless proud little faces smiling through the exhaustion. Five-year-olds in chef hats learn to make pasta from patient teenagers. Moms give little ones coins to activate the human statues on the pedestrian mall–as kids look with wonder at the statues suddenly coming to life.
When I visited a hotel I recommend, Rosella insisted I see her wing of new rooms. Like all the others, each room had an erotic collage on the wall above a double bed with red heart-shaped pillows. I commented on the passion the rooms evoke. Rosella said her hotel is all about the union of man and woman. She makes all the art while running the hotel. While her husband steamed me an espresso, I commented on her energy. She pointed to her husband, saying, “Amato gives me energy…he’s my mezza mela–half an apple.” Apparently, when soulmates find each other in Italy, it makes the apple whole.
Here in the “land of a thousand bell towers,” people have a great love for their towns as well. As my guide walked me through the cloister of the church, she showed me the tombs of the great early scientists–local boys who made good and whose names live on in their greatest discoveries: Fallopian tubes and Eustachian tubes. Occasionally I scribble in my notebook, feigning interest so as not to disappoint my proud local guide.
Verona, so famous for love, gets countless letters addressed simply to “Juliet, Verona, Italy.” The Juliet Club (www.julietclub.com) has 10 volunteers who actually respond to these mostly lovesick people. My hunch is they live in lands where people are not so connected.