Saturday, December 26, 2009

Giazza (Ljetzan), Verona

Christmas Day was rainy and cold, but I couldn't pass the opportunity to travel higher up in the Lessini mountains.  Giazza, is a small village in the Lessinia, the mountainous (and hilly) region covering areas of the provinces of Verona (primarily), Vicenza, and Trento. The Lessinia was a frequent destination on weekends when I was a child since, on my mother's side, the family is originally from that general area.

We headed up to Giazza travelling from the house in Tregnago where we spent Christmas day, through the towns of Cogollo (well known for its wrought iron artisans), Badia Calavena,  Sant'Andrea, Selva di Progno.  Giazza is at a relatively high elevation of m.750 and, particularly in the summertime, it is still a quick (45 minutes from downtown Verona) getaway from the heat of the city.  Giazza has a particular bavarian look and feel.  It is the last remaining "cimbra" locality in the Lessinia that preserves a form of high-german medioeval language that originates from the occupation of the lands by the Cimbri, Bavarian or Tirolean colonists that established their residence in Lessinia in 1287.  Nice museum in the village by the church. Other towns of cimbran origin are Erbezzo, Bosco Chiesanuova, Cerro Veronese, Velo Veronese, Roverè Veronese, San Mauro di Saline, Badia Calavena, and Selva di Progno.

Here is a link with pictures of Giazza (Ljetzan in cimbro) at a different time of the year.

The weather on Christmas day was not the best, it was raining, and the 30 cm. of snow that had fallen few days earlier had already melted.  We stopped at an albergo bar (in the picture), and were glad to drink our warm cappuccino and play a couple of card games of "briscola".  Pictures of the mountain above the albergo shows the cross on its top.

Had we taken a different turn in Sant'Andrea, and had we continued up the mountain we would have reached Bolca, a location frequented by visitors for its museum rich in local finds of fossils from a distant past when the area was covered by the warm waters of a sea rich of tropical plants and animals.

What was it like being there?  It was nice seeing the familiar mountains, but would have liked to travel a bit farther and reach the snow across a different route.  But dark and cold weather make travevelling the steep mountain roads a dangerous undertaking, and we headed back down to our warm house and put more wood in the stove.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saturday Night The Centrocitta' Is Alive!

Corso Porta Borsari has changed a great deal over the years. I am not sure when this happened but the area from Piazza Erbe to Porta Borsari is now a pedestrian only area and has become a very high end shopping district competing with or exceeding the likes of Via Mazzini. A great deal of custom jewelers and designer shops of international caliber line the cobblestone way.

Side streets hide well stocked bookstores, nice shops and restaurants. At the end of one of these side streets clearly a church (that I am not familiar with) has been turned into a pizzeria! This is the second one I know of in Verona ... what is happening??

Just like any Saturday night, a lot of people are out this Saturday night. They are sporting their best wears, they are strolling, and shopping, and chatting, and laughing, and eating, and shopping, and chatting, and shopping... The Melegatti store is crouded, the lights are shining on the Bauli Christmas tree.

Looking up you can see the interior of luxury apartments above the fashionable stores, their ceilings adorned with vibrant frescoes. This is the old rich Verona, this is where the younger population has come to retake the family prestige, living in their patrician Verona.

Via Oberman cosses over and connects Piazza Bra to Porta Borsari and continues onto Ponte Garibaldi, one of the newer bridges over the river Adige. Via Oberman, just as I remember it from years ago, houses quality art galleries and some nice eating places. The Astra movie theater is still in Via Oberman, I remember going to the movies there with my friends as a teenager in the 70s.

With most, but not all of the market booths from St. Lucy gone, an ice skating ring has been set up in Piazza Bra and a younger croud has clearly taken over the place. Lights, lights, lights, and then more lights. On Christmas trees, on buildings lit up in well designed compositions of color, lights strung over streets, lights everywhere. And then the Star, the overwhelming structure visible from the entire Piazza.

With snow on the ground and breaths steaming, it does not feel cold at all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Gore, Oh Al Gore, Where Art Thou Gore...?

Bad news from the homefront. The worst snow storm in decades has halted air travel for the NE and Mid Atlantic regions in the U.S. Jim will not be able to join me in this dreamy holiday time. So sad for him, he was so looking forward to returning to Verona, and I was so looking forward to sharing this great time with him.

Jim spend 4 1/2 years of his early US Army life in Verona, Verona is where we met, dated, married and started our family 31 years ago. We will spend Christmas apart, the first time in 31 years but we will, like many other times in our lives together, make the best of what is handed to us. We will make lemonade! or like Margherita says, we will make limoncello!

It started snowing once again this morning over most of northern Italy, including Verona. Time to head out again this afternoon to the city center to take a closer look of Teatro Romano, Santo Stefano, Castel San Pietro, Ponte Pietra, and Juliet's Balcony.

Gore, oh Al Gore, where art thou? Warm it is not....

There is so much to see, and to walk in the snow it will be a treat. The Teatro Romano was built in 100 B.C., 2100 years ago!!! What does that mean to the people that walk by every day on their way to work or school? What does it mean to live in the houses hanging on the rocky cliffs behing the Teatro? How does living your life everyday in the proximity of such ancient testimony of human art impact people's lives? How has it impacted my life? Ponte Pietra, Castel San Pietro, Teatro Romano...they were daily sights for me on my way to school...

A few steps to the left of Teatro Romano, a narrow set of steps starts off Via Castel San Pietro, a most romantic setting for young lovers. The winding steep marble steps take you all the way to Castel San Pietro right above Teatro Romano. I didn't walk up the steps today, it was still snowing hard, and I didn't think it was a great idea. But I have walked the winding steps many times in my younger years, and the reward is always great. The view of Verona from Castel San Pietro is breathtaking, the red roofs, the Adige river, the churches and their steeples, the walls of Castelvecchio....

Time to cross Ponte Pietra, my favorite and the oldest bridge over the river Adige. I met a lone young woman, couldn't have been more than 21 years old, from Australia, who is spending her summer vacation in Europe. I couldn't help thinking she was my daughter's age, wasn't her mother worried for her daughter a world away travelling alone? She had missed Juliet's balcony in Via Cappello, so I helped her with directions. I headed there as well later and I met up with her again. Glad she could see it, no tourist should ever leave Verona without seeing the balcony.

At Juliet's house I wrote my love message on my business card....and left it on the wall with million others.

Al Gore, it is still snowing and it seems the entire world is covered in a blanket of white stuff!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Spirit

I hopped on bus 13 on my way to the city center. The bus was crouded with young recruits 19-20 year old young men on their Saturday night furlow get away from the structured military life. Their lively exchanges reminded me of my young soldier at home. Their accents clearly from other parts of the cocuntry and their short haircuts were clear give-aways. They asked me (probably because I was looking at them with a friendly smiling face) where they should get off and I asked them if they were stationed at Ponte Florio Montorio and they said yes. I didn't tell them that I was born in Ponte Florio 50 years ago, in a house across the street from the Caserma. I didn't tell them that I have a son in the National Guard in Virginia who may, some day, serve hand-in-hand with them in some distant part of the world. I kept all that inside of me and just smiled, and told them where they should be getting off to get to Piazza Bra.
Piazza Erbe always takes my breath away. This was just like any other time. The display of Christmas lights hanging over the piazza makes it appear as if it was snowing ....just more pictures to capture the magic...
I walked up the steps of the Tribunal and followed a small group of people to a display of nativity scenes from schools across Verona and Provincia. This was no ordinary display. A green theme was obvious thorought, and the children, and their helping adults, had used all kinds of recyled material to constuct their project. From computer mother-boards to plastic gloves, to empty coke cans, to pasta shapes. The display was quite large, occupying ... sqt of the building.
I rushed to find the source of music I could hear, and found a group of very young children singing Christmas carols. These were Italian traditional carols, and the children, wonderful in their pink, blue, and green smocks, performed well with fresh and well rehearsed voices. These were MY Christmas songs, the same songs I had sung many many years earlier not too far from there. What a warming and touching gift.
How could I escape the Christmas Spirit after a day like this?
Link to Palazzo Della Ragione

Friday, December 18, 2009

Neigborhood Holiday Party

I had a great experience last night. I attended a neighborhood holiday party. Due to a decrease in school age children some of the old school buildings have been turned into community centers. One such school is my old elementary school Giuseppe Mazzini in the Biondella / San Pio X area in the eastern part of Verona. It was a brand new school when I started first grade in 1964, now it serves the community well providing classes for maily the older generation, gym, dance, art, computer, and many other.

As I walked into the school and joyned the group of people attending the fest, I kept looking for familiar faces, hoping to recognize teachers or students from long ago. A group of ex-Alpinis (mountain soldiers, pround and tough) was performing a typical repertoir of mountain songs. The old men stood proundly sporting the feather on their characteristic hat, sang loudly and with pride. Their last song was a typical one for the Alpinos and they invited the audience to join in:

La me morosa vecia....
la tengo de riserva....

My old girl friend....
I keep her as a spare....

A poem by Berto Barbarani, the Veronese poet, concluded the program- The Alpini cooked Risotto con il Tastasale (Risotto with some sort of pork sausage) for the entire group. I like the Alpini!

A live band with a repertoir from the 60s provided the dancing music, not the best band, but no one seemed to notice. Familiarity was certainly prevalent as many accomodated the old woman who clearly loved dancing, and who, when no one could keep up with any longer, went solo on the dance floor.

Food, wine, dancing, lottery prizes, family and friends, what more? It was a familiar time for me as well, although I no longer am part of this community. It does not take much to fit right back in when family and neighbors open their arms wide for you...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Basilica di Sant'Anastasia

I attended an awesome concert tonight in a most beautiful setting. The Concert of Santa Lucia was in the Basilica of Santa Anastasia. The church is undergoing some renovation, most of it completed at this point. The result is spectacular. The vibrant colors of the frescoes is complemented by the beautiful overall architecture with massive pink marble columns, crossing arches, and a feel of true Italian art.
The Basilica sound friendly architecture is most appropriate for concerts. This concert had some big international names of excellent quality and reputation. There was a limited number of tickets (400) for the concert and there was a full house.
I am listing a few:

  • Corrado Rovaris, of our Philadelphia Opera Company, Accademia I Filarmonici, and of the I Virtuosi Italiani.
  • I Virtuosi Italiani, of intenational fame, a full orchestra of literally the Virtuosos of Italy.
  • Ensemble Vocale Continuum, a full choir of professional standing.

Music was various pieces of A. Corelli, A. Marcello, and A. Vivaldi.

Enjoy a virtual tour of the Basilica Sant'Anastasia. Click on Interno della Chiesa for a view of the interior.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christkindl Market in Piazza Dante - Piazza Dei Signori

What a great surprise crossing over into Piazza Dante, and finding that the statue of Dante Alighieri was surrounded by well crafted booths in the making of a Christkindl market. Nice display of all things from the SudTirol region , items of clearly high quality, somewhat pricey, not the normal market quality, though.
I walked through the area, stopped to get strudel with hot vanilla sauce and whipped cream, yummy, very yummy. The weather is cold, but good food can warm your heart!. There was sudtirol beer, brutwurst, speck, cheese, genepy liqueur, and a lot of other goodies. High quality Christmas decorations and wooden toys from the Nuerimberg region of Germany. I have inserted a picture of the Christmas decorations.

And all this under the watchful eye of Dante Alighieri, the father of the Italian language.

Another surprise when I discovered that the market continued in the Piazza Della Ragione, with a small wooden house where Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) was receiving children. Too bad my camera had run out on me at this point. I was happy to find a stand with all natural items and I bought another heating bag for mom and dad, a natural fabric bag filled with aromatic grains that when heated or chilled, will hold heat or cold and will disperse the aroma when applied on aching old bones...
Another successful trip downtown in my beloved Verona. Just a hop on and off a bus for me, love it, love it, love it!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Photos of Piazza Bra, Via Roma, Via Mazzini

Fritters in the making. You can get them rolled in sugar or with Nutella-

Arena di Verona, currently open for a large display of Nativity scenes from all over the world. I will visit next week with Jim and will post pictures.

Live statues of angels. Locals out to make a few Euros.

Roasting nuts with caramel...all kinds of nuts and sugar, torrone of all makes, shapes, and sizes.

Foods from various regions Sicily (candied fruits and olives galore), Umbria (wildboar salami)...

Verona, I am here!

Yes, I made it here! I made it to Verona... after a long trip from Richmond, Virginia, via Chicago and Munich. It was snowing in Munich (brought back memories of years back when we moved to Germany from the U.S. and we arrived in the midst of a snow storm!), but it was sunny in Verona when I arrived.

Of course I had my plate of sweets waiting for me at home, the stars and moon shaped sweet cookies, and the chocolate covered torrone...mmmm. I was happy to go to Piazza Bra today with mom and to see the St. Lucy market, what a treat! We bundled up, the air is cold, but nice... look at my dearest old mom, isn't she gorgeous... mink hat, leather coat with fur collar, gloves in her favorite leopard pattern... so happy to be there with me... The piazza was crowded with young and old Veronesi, sharing in the happy festivities. The Piazza is home of the big roman amphytheater Arena and in the summer is overtaken by tourists, there to enjoy the best of the best of lyrical productions. But today the atmosphere was definitely Veronese.

We walked very slowly from stand to stand, did I already say VERY slowly? ...we walked under the big "Stella" and made it to the fresh hot frittelle stand and bought some to eat. We both agreed they didn't taste the way they used to... but it was just great to pull large chunks of hot doughy fritters and walk around with sugar covering our mouths ...yummy. We walked around the Piazza all the way to Via Roma and then back to Via Mazzini, the trendy shopping area of Verona. We ventured slowly very very slowly down Via Mazzini and all the way down to Via Cappello by Juliet's balcony. The mood was happy and ligth with children still wound-up by all the sugar and yet asking for caramelle (candies).

We walked to the city bus stop, exchanged some nice words with a nun fom the Salesiani order, she was waiting like us for the bus. With so many people out, the bus was very very crowded, but we pushed our way in and made it to our neighborhood in the eastern part of the city, all the way with mom asking me about my purse...worried about shoplifters... all was good, all was great. Dad made us coffee when we got home cold and tired from this busy afternoon. Verona and family is great.

I hope you will enjoy seeing these pictures of Verona, the fritters, mom, the star, and live statues of angels.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Santa Lucia In Verona

The timing of my departure (Friday Dec. 11) coincides, by design and not by chance, with one of the most treasured traditions of my childhood in Verona. On the night between the 12th and the 13th December, Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) accompanied by her donkey and carrying a bag of goodies and toys, visits the houses of children, and if they have been good that year, she will leave them presents....or else a piece of coal. I remember waking up early on St. Lucy's and finding a "piatto" (a plate) of goodies, "pastafrolla" cookies in the shape of stars, a tangerine, an orange, some nuts, bars of "torrone" or "mandorlato", and chocolate. I would also find my gift, a baby doll I later named Susanna, or a play telephone, or a small toy piano.

This is a time of celebration in Verona, that marks the beginning of the Christmas Holidays season. Piazza Bra will house the St. Lucy market ("banchetti di Santa Lucia"), I understand starting on the 10th of December, and will be filled with the traditional and not so traditional goodies for children of all ages. The "Stella" will be on display in Piazza Bra, an artistic representation of the Christmas Comet Star. This is no regular star, it is built in steel, it is 70 m high, it weighs 78 tons, and it is positioned as if its tail is coming out of the Arena. At night it is particularly spectacular, as it brightly shines to light the entire piazza. I have heard that on December 23 there will be caroling by the star. I will confirm and let you know.

So, my trip was planned to make it just in time for the festivities of Piazza Bra and Santa Lucia, and dear 79 years old mom, has confirmed that I was good this year, and a "piatto" will be there for me on the morning of December 13.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Aromas Of Piazza Erbe

I will be travelling this month to my beloved Verona. This is a picture of Piazza Erbe, one of my favorite spots in Verona. Piazza Erbe has changed over the years. When I lived in Verona and was attending high school, I would walk through the crowded piazza where merchants had parked their semi-permanent structures and packed as much "stuff" as possible in their cramped "stores". You could find clothing, leather and non-leather bags, tourist trinkets, groceries, vegetables, ice cream, and my favorite, the "bomboloni". Fried donuts hot from the oil, rolled in sugar. Or you could get a square of sweet "polenta", a fried pudding, the yellow color of the real polenta. The smell of the fried goodies was irresistible and called you to the stand. You would wait for your turn as the old woman worked the dough and the old man handled the frying pans. The stand was always busy, and churned out orders at a steady pace You didn't mind waiting . In the winter, across the piazza, you would find an old man selling "caldarroste", chestnuts roasted on coals, handed out in cone shaped paper wrappings. The aromas of Piazza Erbe are unforgettable.