PART 9 OBSERVATIONS from the SADDLE of a BIKE
Three of Shakespeare’s plays were set in Verona and one that comes to mind is Romeo and Juliet, I think because I was required to study the play in the latter years of school. It is difficult to understand why the educational authorities would think the youth of working class folk, which is what I was in the 1950s, would be interested in the writings of Shakespeare. I found his writing far too complicated for my simple mind.
However in latter years I have attempted to raise my Shakespearian level of awareness and seeing we were close to Verona we decided to visit and see the balcony from where Juliet uttered the words ‘Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou, Romeo?’
For reasons unbeknown to me I believed that Juliet actually stood on this balcony and wooed her lover, however I have since learned that the story is purely fictional. There is a general consensus of opinion among those who study Shakespearian history that he never visited Italy although he was inspired by events in that country on a number of occasions.
The balcony is not an original feature of the house, it was added to give authenticity to the story. The building to which the balcony is attached was bought by the Verona city in 1905 and the balcony added in the 1930s. The house was bought from the Cappello family because of the similarity to Juliet’s surname, Capulet. Soon after it was declared that it was Juliet’s house the famous tourist attraction and deception was created.
Some time ago in an attempt to understand the writings of Shakespeare I went looking in a secondhand bookshop for a summary of Shakespeare’s work. When I approached the bookshop owner he indicated that Shakespeare’s works were ‘down the end of the aisle over the sink’. If I was ever to put my mind to writing a third book it would be a children’s book with the title ‘Shakespeare Over the Sink’. The book would not be about the bard or his work but about a cat named Shakespeare who slept among Shakespearian books over the sink in a bookshop. The basis of the story would revolve around Shakespeare (the cat) inviting alley cats into the shop at night and taking them via their imagination to exotic places described in travel books in the shop.
Today the balcony from where I thought Juliet stood is visited by six million people a year and it, along with many other locations in Europe, is a victim of tourist overload.
Europe these days is suffering a tourist invasion and it will continue while airfares remain low and cruise ships continue to ply the waters. There is not a city or major town in Europe unaffected and since beginning our Encountering the Past adventures in 2012 we have seen an increase to the point where locals are rising up and demanding their lifelong places of living back.
The previous image of the Juliet balcony depicts a tranquil atmosphere but this was not the case on the day we visited. Below the balcony was a mass of tourists intent on leaving their mark on Shakespearian history. The reader might be thinking we added to the tourist throngs, I suppose we did, but due to the way we travel we would rather be considered as travellers.
The following photograph shows tourists viewing the deception.
I’m not sure what the pieces of paper pinned on the far wall are about and even though it can’t be seen in the photograph the walls were covered with graffiti. There was a time when the lovesick could write to ‘Juliet’ and she would reply. But the paper mess on the wall is just that, an untidy pointless mess.
There is a sign in the courtyard indicating a fine if people deface the walls. Obviously it means nothing to the pen-wielding visitors.
The tourist blurb says, ‘There is a tranquil statue of Juliet in the courtyard and if you rub the right breast of the statue it will bring you luck in finding your own true love’. There is one word for this thinking and that is ‘bunkum’.
All I can say about Romeo and Juliet’s courtyard is ‘been there, done that and I won’t be back’. The visit to the so-called monument did little to enhance my understanding of Shakespeare’s work.
Everywhere one turns in Verona Romeo and Juliet are loving, there are all manner of kitsch items awaiting the gullible and we asked ourselves ‘who buys this muck?’
Not all of Verona is on a commercial bent, it is a beautiful old city dating back to Roman times and in a city so old there are unusual aspects of history to be discovered. An example, although not of the Roman era, is the 16th century Hostel Villa Francescatti, where we stayed.
The hostel is located on a hill overlooking the city and staying there was a pleasurable Verona event. The hill to the hostel was what we refer to as a 300watt hill, meaning we had our Add-e motor battery set to the 300watt setting, needed in order to ride up the steep hill to the entrance gate.
On our way up to the hostel a number of Africans came out of a section of the hostel and cheered us on to the door of the hostel. Staying in the hostel were about seventy African asylum seekers and I spoke with a number of them. They were very polite and called me sir. One unfortunate young man was missing a leg from the knee down and when I asked him about the loss of his leg he told me he had stepped on a land mine in Libya.
If you happen to be travelling on a strict budget a room such as where we stayed might not be within your means and if this was the case dormitory accommodation might suit your pocket better. The following image shows the dorm beds at the hostel.
These days there are mixed dorms whereas in days gone by males and females sleeping in the same room would have been a definite no. Bev and I do not go looking for dormitory accommodation but if it’s getting dark and one is desperate, which was the case when we arrived in Verona, we would have happily stayed in one. Staying in a dormitory means one is more likely to meet fellow vagabonds, much more interesting than those one is likely to meet in a hotel.
When poking around the gardens I came across a few oddities which I will now detail.
Underground rooms off the chapel are now used for the storage of ‘stuff’, a great place for a bowerbird (collector of the unusual) to explore. It is hard to imagine how things of importance for living at the time have been abandoned and simply left to die. Sue, an avid reader of this blog, would love poking around the dark caverns of the hostel.
Entrances to other tunnel caverns were overgrown and I managed to scramble through and to my surprise I found an abandoned laboratory. From what I could determine the laboratory was used for the study of natural sciences such as insects, plants and geology.
From the hostel it is downhill in three directions and the lowest point is the river. The city is located on the Adige River which happens to be the second longest in Italy. The Adige rises in the South Tyrol in Austria and flows through most of northeast Italy for 410 kilometres to the Adriatic Sea.
During WW2 Verona was one of the most bombed cities in Europe. In 1945 fleeing Germans destroyed all the bridges across the Adige and if you look closely at the above bridge it is possible to see the terracotta brick repairs, which would have been done soon after the war ended.
The Castelvecchio Bridge was built in the 14th century over earlier Roman fortifications and the reason it has battlements in the form of merlons and embrasures (which I wrote about in the Ljubljana post) is that the bridge was part of a castle fortification. The bridge allowed those living in the castle a quick and easy escape if the need arose. The bridge and castle were used for military purposes during Venetian (1202-1797), Napoleonic (1799-1815) and Austrian (1804-1867) periods and today it attracts tourists by the thousands.
The arena was built in the 1st Century A.D. between the end of the Augustus reign and the start of the Claudius era. Little did they know that the arena today would be world famous for operatic performances.
That note brings this post to an end. We trust you enjoyed the read and the next post will take us to Milan and even though we have been there before we have never visited the cathedral, which we intend doing. Click on FOLLOW if you want to be alerted each time we do a new post.