Beam me to Verona, Mr. Scott
The line was about six deep at the hotel reception desk, and moving slowly. Tired and restless about a week into my travels, I decided to wander about the luxurious, modern lobby and have a quick look.
From around the corner, I heard some music and laughter, so I followed the sounds to investigate further. I found a hostess standing in front of the entrance to a big, vaulted space; behind her, a Plexiglas dome with several large spheres swinging from the arches, all lit up with black light and pulsing laser beams from every direction. Electronic music blasted from the speakers.
The hostess asked me, “Klingon, Romulan, o Federation?”
“È Klingon, Romulan, o Federation, Lei?”
I pulled my passport from my jacket pocket, “Americano.”
She rolled her eyes and pointed me back to the reception desk in the lobby.
Thirty minutes later we returned to the intergalactic party with Mr. Leardini, the manager and our host at the Crowne Plaza Verona. His English was excellent, but still he was tasked to explain why a Star Trek convention had taken over this lovely property just outside of the historical center. In any case, it looked like a lot of fun; part Halloween freak show, part 1982 high school prom. But upscale all the way, including a buffet filled with fizzing cocktails and a bounty of appetizers made from various foams, gelatins, and other odd concoctions from far off galaxies.
We didn’t linger, though, already late for our dinner reservation in the main part of town. Passing Mr. Spock on the way out, I gave him the Vulcan peace sign, and he returned with, “Live long and prosper, Signore.”
Then before I could even make sense of it all, we were transported from the future, back to a 14th century cantina called Il Banco Prosciutteria where we settled in for a slow dinner. For the record, I prefer the traditional cuisine of the past over the molecular gastronomy awaiting us in the next century.
We sat down at a long table in the basement and were immediately bombarded with every type of meat, cheese, and wine from Verona and the surrounding provinces. We picked from huge common plates, obsessively taking pornographic photos of the food as only bloggers can do. Then more wine arrived, and then some pasta—then more wine, and then more pasta. You get the picture. (And if not, I hope I’ve provided enough of them below to stimulate your imagination—and appetite.)
A Quick Trip to Verona Center
The next morning we met a local guide for a quick trip to Verona, whose historic center has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2,000. Whenever I visit any Italian city for the first time, I play a little game where I imagine living there. I have my own mental checklist of things that I run through, which has been edited significantly since our piccolina was born. I’m happy to report that Verona has now claimed a spot in my “Top Ten List.”
Well, it didn’t hurt that it was a perfect sunny day as we approached the Castel Vecchio Bridge (or Ponte Scaligero del Vecchio Castello), listening to our guide tells us the history of the Della Scala family, who ruled the city for about 130 years during the 13th and 14th centuries. The most famous of these was Cangrande I. Not only was he a great warrior, but also a patron of the arts. He even protected Dante during his exile from Florence, and the great poet rewarded him with a shout-out in his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy.
Of course, Verona’s history is a lot older than that. It’s not for nothing that it’s often called “Little Rome,” and now that I think about it, maybe that’s part of its subliminal appeal for me—it’s a smaller version of the city that I love the most. Sort of. I mean, you can see the similarities if you want to. But without the chaos, noise, and kamikazes on Vespas, it’s really quite a different place. There is the Arena, which one can’t help comparing to the Coliseum. However, coins found under the floor of Verona’s Arena suggest that it is actually older than its more famous big brother in Rome, probably built around 30 B.C.
Romeo, O’ Romeo…
Yes…(sigh)…we made the obligatory stop at Juliette’s balcony. I wasn’t too thrilled about it, since it’s little more than an invented photo opportunity. Shakespeare’s play was complete fiction, of course—there never was a Juliette, and most scholars say that Shakespeare never even set foot in Italy.
And yet it was by far the most crowded place on our quick trip to Verona; a tourist trap in every sense of the word, because once you wedge you’re way into the tiny, packed courtyard for the mandatory picture, you have little hope to escape in less than 15-20 minutes, forcing you to browse the cheap souvenir shops directly next to the balcony.
I made the most of it, however, by posting a love note to my own Juliette(s) back home, which made for a much more personal photo.
Back to the Future
Back at the hotel that first night, I was more than a little tired, not to mention soaked in wine and grappa. The Star Trek party was still going strong at 1:00 a.m., but my room was like a hermetically sealed vacuum chamber, blocking out even the slightest sound. What’s more, the bed that awaited me was the most comfortable mattress that I’ve ever had the privileged to lay my weary body upon. More than a mattress, really, but a cosmic cloud, smelling of lavender fields and chamomile. This is not by accident, as the hotel provides some sleep enhancement products, which help to ensure that their guests are well-rested for either an early morning business meeting, or in our case, another full day of high-speed tourism.
I drifted off to sleep, hearing the voice of William Shatner saying, “Space, the final frontier…”