As planned Courtney and I woke up to go to Vienna and biked to where the bus picked us up and sat ourselves down in the back at 8 in the morning. The sky was gray, the air chilly and damp. The weather did not make me especially happy to make the trek (in all honestly I would have rather spent more time in bed and hung out around Parma), but from what people had told me, repeatedly in fact, Verona would be gorgeous. And, since this was Courtney’s first time in Italy, I wanted her to see more than the small city of Parma. In other words, I didn’t let the nasty weather and long drive deter me from waking us up and bringing us to the bus. I had the hopes that the day would be worth it and I think I was right.
We arrived in Verona two hours after departing Parma to a small city which had industrial outskirts completely non-reminiscent of the romantic, Shakespearean city which I had pictured. We drove further within the center, however, and came to the ancient amphitheater and city walls which seemed to separate the old city from the newer, industrial, disgusting part of the city. Perhaps, I thought, as we parked the bus, the city would actually live up to all of the hype! The weather, unfortunately, had not changed in the slightest, which meant that we would not have the added benefit of another glorious day as we had in Parma. From experience, Italian cities (and probably all cities) are much more welcoming and beautiful when the sun is out. Otherwise the damp, grayness can take away from the beauty of the city and make one long for the comforts of a bed and a warm cup of tea. Still, I entered Verona with the positive attitude that it would be beautiful and Courtney would enjoy herself!
Our first stop was the amphitheater where I had to make a presentation (in Italian) in front of the group that taught them about the structure. Two things: 1) This was not exactly a presentation since I had been presented with a sheet describing the amphitheater and 2) I’m not sure of the use of making the presentation because I know that more than half of the group barely would have understood a word I had said if any of them were listening. Still I did it. The structure is massive, being the third largest amphitheater surviving from Roman times. It could hold somewhere between 20 and 30 thousand people before people began to strip it of its stone for use in other building projects. Like the Colosseum in Rome, this amphitheater could be transformed into an arena for water sports, including boat races and naval fights. The entire thing was constructed out of pink and white marble from the hills of Verona. It looked bare and dismal, as the sand of the floor and faded marble clashed with the gray sky, but still the image of it in Roman days, under a summer sun made quite the impression upon me.
I love visiting and sitting myself near representations of the past. For me to see, to touch, to investigate the world of the past interests me more than almost anything else. I transport myself to the old world and try to imagine how ancient people’s lived. At times I’m amazed by how similar their world was to ours and at times I’m marveled by exactly the opposite. I wonder at their building and artistic feats; feats which it seems that modern man could not execute today without the help of advanced technology. I use the objects around me as portals to the past where I can hope for a glimpse into the societies of the past. As a “historian” I look for connections between “our” world and “theirs”. When I come to these places I cannot help but turn the past over in my head and try to make those connections. For me, in other words, historical sites and objects will always be interesting, and will always amaze me, but that’s because I’m nothing more than a simple nerd.
From the amphitheater we entered the downtown city which must resemble Verona of the past. The pedestrian streets remained narrow, crowded with the slanted buildings and paved with marble! This entire downtown section, one of the oldest parts, had streets that were too narrow for cars or even bikes, which means that either modern city planners hated modern transportation or the city has not changed much in the past 600 years (which I think to be true). The buildings were quite old, but still housed every high-end shopping store you could imagine! We walked along and enjoyed the old city with its mixture of ancient buildings and new stores. Our next stop was Juliet’s “house” where we saw one the representations of Shakespeare’s famous story; Juliet’s balcony. Besides the cheesy, obviously fake and touristy aspects of the house, the small courtyard surrounded by Medieval buildings seemed to me to be exactly what it would have looked like in the 1500’s. In fact, I think it actually was what it looked like in the 1500’s. Again, another place for me to transfer myself into the past.
We continued our tour of the city, stopping here and there for people to give presentations to which nobody listened. The main piazza of the city, surrounded of course by beautiful old buildings (one of which still had remnants of frescoes on the outside walls), had a market where Courtney bought some beautiful strawberries. I was quite surprised that strawberries existed here in the fall, since Italians tend to only eat those foods which are in season, but they looked and tasted magnificent, which meant to me that they must have come from the south of Italy where they probably are still in season. Courtney and I wandered the square a bit, thought about buying some things, decided against it (you’re welcome Dad and Chris!), and then failed to listen to my groupmates’ presentations (whoops). Finally, after seeing a cool old church (only the outside of it) which had three elaborate tombs, we were released for a two hour lunch break. Thank God, because for some reason I was quite hungry!
Brian’s parents, who were in Parma for an extended weekend, came with us to Verona. They, intelligently, did not follow us around the city and instead kind of did their own thing. However they brought Brian, Matt, Courtney and I to lunch at a pizzeria in the main piazza of the town. The pizza was pretty good (but still not as good as that of New Haven!) but it was nice to talk with some people from the USA. Inevitably we began to talk about Boston College, about future plans, about next year’s living situations, about next year’s classes, about our majors. Every time that these conversations come up abroad two things happen: 1) It’s assumed, because of my studies that I’ll either go to law school or do something similar; and 2) that I start to miss BC. To deal with #1 first; I don’t know what I’ll be doing with my life after college. So many things are up in the air and so many depend on situational occurrences that I cannot possibly say what I’ll be doing two years from now. I have many paths open to me; many possibilities that could all lead to a different place or lead me to a different career. I don’t mean to say that I have no plans, nor any idea of that which I want in life, because these I CERTAINLY have. I dream constantly, but I also envision myself taking numerous paths towards these dreams.
This lack of a plan likely is a reaction to my pre-Boston College days when I had planned on attending the Culinary Institute of America. I thought my entire life was already planned. I would be a student of the culinary arts. I would do extraordinarily well, be placed in a fantastic restaurant, become a famous chef, open a restaurant, be extremely successful, get a TV show and retire young enough to start a family. Well, wouldn’t that be the life? At the time, though, my stubborn brain saw no other life path for me; that was it. I had my plan and I would do it without veering. I hope that now, with my “lack of plan”, I have matured because I understand the fluidity of life. Nothing is set in stone before it happens and I cannot expect my life to go a certain way without any speed-bumps, wrong turns or unexpected gifts that completely alter the path that I had set for myself. Now I have goals in mind, options by the tons. My path is wider and under construction. It can change at a whim and my travel, my life, will not fall apart because there is no definite plan. I can go anywhere; I live without blinders.
As for the other happening of discussions with people from America while abroad, I have found that my absence from BC has done exactly what I had hoped it would; it has made me miss Boston College. At the end of last year, my sophomore year, I started to become tired and annoyed with the monotonous life of a BC student; work, gym, homework, study, party on weekends. Every week, every day was the same thing, with the same people. I needed a break. I needed a change to break the endless cycle of same. Abroad provided this perfectly. But now, as I talk to people from home, or meet up with other Boston College students abroad, I find myself itching a bit to get back to the life that I left in May, especially since when I return I will once again be living with some of my best friends at school and two doors down from Courtney! After a couple of rough semesters at BC it’s nice, and comforting, to be able to say that I miss the place.
We finished lunch and continued to walk around Verona. We walked to the river, which was a gorgeous aqua marine color. Behind it was a series of hills that apparently housed the original inhabitants (pre-Roman) of Verona. There was an ancient Roman bridge that had been bombed, but was reconstructed with the same stones as before. We walked through the ancient, windy streets to the Duomo which housed a combination of Gothic and Renaissance paintings. It was gorgeous, as most Italian churches are. We walked through an old castle and across a bridge where we took group pictures and goofed around before going back to the bus to leave. Overall I would say that Verona is a wonderful city to visit in a day. It’s stunningly beautiful, but after a little bit of time it grows tiresome.
That night Courtney and I went to eat dinner with Anna and Aldo. After the double date with Andrea and Giulia this dinner would be very interesting especially since neither Anna, nor Aldo, speak English very well. But I knew, or hoped, that this dinner would be one of the highlights if not highlight of Courtney’s Parma experience. Few things in this world compare to a true Italian mom’s dinner, especially when the mom could very well be a professional chef and the company is as amazing as it is every time at their house.
We arrived on time (a miracle for us) to a table full of food. There was marinated eggplant, roasted peppers and heaps of prosciutto and salumi. Anna’s first words on seeing Courtney were, “Che bellissima!”. She told me we were an adorable ” couple and that I had “fatto un buon scelto!” (made a good choice). Instead of going straight to the table we sat down around the coffee table and spent about 15 minutes talking. They wanted to know about Courtney’s family and studies. She spoke, for the most part, in Spanish, and they, for the most part, understood her. I did, more than the previous night however, play more of a translator role because when Courtney could not explain herself to them in Spanish I would have to try in Italian since neither of them know too much English (thought I’m certain that Anna knows more than she lets on!). Then we moved to the table where we had one of the most memorable meals of my life.
The food, needless to say was spectacular and even though I was not terribly hungry after a pizza lunch, I ate tons of food. I couldn’t stop! The eggplant, peppers and prosciutto reminded me of family dinners at home and are likely three of my favorite foods in the world. After the peppers we got tortelli di patate con un sugo di funghi (I told them how much Courtney loves mushrooms). These were a mixture of cremini and porcini mushrooms, with a couple of oyster mixed in. To my surprise Aldo picked them himself in the mountains! In fact, he does this quite often! I’m so jealous/impressed by his ability to do so. Wild mushrooms are one of the most incredible foods in the world and unfortunately, unless you pick them yourself and know how to pick them, cost tons of money. The tortelli, fresh of course, were perfect, so much so that I had to have seconds and thirds. We then had chicken marsala (with the same mushrooms) followed by a strawberry tort with strawberry cream which was one of the best desserts I have ever had. I couldn’t believe Anna had done all of this.
Actually, it’s easy to believe that she did this because she is one of the nicest people in the world. Besides being a wonderful chef, her and Aldo are the kindest hosts in the world. They love having students, and friends for dinner. They welcome everybody with open arms. Also, they are incredibly interesting people who have lived tremendously varied lives. They have traveled far, seen much and lived life to the fullest. There are never awkward silences with them and the entire dinner we conversed about life, travel, Spain vs. Italy vs. USA, literature and food. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. It was so much fun and so interesting. I never wanted it to end, ever. After a while, though, I could tell Anna was tired so (around 11–we got there at 8!) Courtney and I left. When we were leaving I could have cried because of the wave of gratitude I felt towards Aldo and Anna. They did an incredible thing for us, all by their own desire. I know Courtney enjoyed that more than almost anything else. It was the experience of a lifetime and when someone allows you live that experience there is not much you can in thanks, nor is there much that you can do. Without words and without actions I have only feelings. How can I show my gratitude? I gave Anna and Aldo each a big hug. I’m still thinking of someway I can pay them back for the amazing gift they gave us. I cannot believe it.