Letter from Europe – Verona, Italy
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
Whether you studied the play in school, or watched Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes fall hopelessly in love on the big screen, the tragedy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has burnt a hole in our collective consciousness. I’m sat writing in the courtyard of Palazzo Victoria, just a few blocks away from the 13th century house of Dal Cappello — the infamous Capulets. Every day, hundreds of star struck lovers crowd into the courtyard or call plaintively to one another from Juliet’s balcony. It is said that if you touch Juliet’s statue you will find the love of your life; true or not, the bronze statue is polished to a shine across its chest, so clearly no one is taking their chances.
Verona is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its history and culture predate the Montagues and the Capulets by more than 1,500 years. Palazzo Verona is itself built on the top of Roman ruins: you can see the remains of the walls, still standing after two millennia, through glass panels in the stone floors, and explore them on a subterranean tour with Veronality. The history here is revealed to guests layer by layer. The Roman parts are the oldest, but turn a corner or climb a staircase and you’re likely to come upon medieval frescoes one minute and contemporary furniture by Gaetano Pesce, the unquestioned Maestro of Italian design, the next. Palazzo Victoria is as much a museum as it is a hotel.
The courtyard, cool and shady beneath broad, cream parasols, the oversized house plants creating a green oasis in the urban environment, is completely hidden from the street and thus wonderfully quiet. I have been here since mid morning, first sipping on the best Italian espresso, then lazily segueing into a drawn out lunch. At the restaurant, Borsari 36, Executive Chef Carmine Calo has created a menu which, while true to its Veronese roots, catapults the local ingredients and flavours into the modern day. I fell head over heels in love with the taste of the buffalo mozzarella risotto with green peas and pork belly, and with the innovative presentation of the tiramisu in two layers of a silver moka pot. The single raspberry stood out vividly against the burnished metal.
With such decadence on my plate, it will certainly be necessary to spend a few hours of what’s left of the afternoon walking it off. Thankfully, Palazzo Victoria is in the heart of the Old Town, with every street presenting something new. I’ve already marvelled at the Porta Borsari, a 2,000 year old limestone gateway resplendent with Corinthian capitals, and admired the diverse architecture in the Piazza delle Erbe, the site of the Roman forum. But I’m saving the best to last. Tomorrow night, Bob Dylan is performing live in Verona Arena, the city’s Roman amphitheatre. One of the best preserved structures of its kind, 15,000 spectators can still sit in the round, witnessing the spectacles on stage. In the summer months, the world’s greatest opera singers cause the ancient stones to reverberate with the strengths of their voices; let’s see if the Nobel laureate has similarly impressive vocal power.