The Sights & Tastes Of Verona
By TIMOTHY TEICHGRAEBER
This sidebar is a supplement to Amarone: The Slow Wine of Valpolicella
The city of Verona itself is adorable. Especially after the tourist season ends and the balance of tourists and locals seems to find a healthy balance. The population is only about 250,000, but Verona is rich in history and literary references, even if often shaded by the glamour of nearby Venice.
When you’re there, in Verona, you don’t get the feeling that Verona ever really aimed at getting bigger. But it does entertain tourists, including Shakespeare fans. Shakespeare set two of his plays in Verona and several others elsewhere in Italy.
It’s widely believed that Shakespeare never visited Verona, but in his time Italians enjoyed a reputation for both sophistication and violence, which made for great theatrical fodder. The Veronese are also a lively bunch. There is a saying in Italy that “Venetians are great lords, Paduans are great doctors, people from Vicenza eat cats (at least during wartime, allegedly) and people from Verona are all crazy’. During Shakespeare’s time, novellas—light, dramatic stories—were popular in both Italy and Britain, and may have inspired Romeo and Juliet. It has also been speculated that setting plays in Italy made Shakespeare less vulnerable to domestic political suppression. Maybe that’s why he also set plays in Padua and Venice.
Visitors scribble love notes on the walls of a dark alley approaching the Juliet’s fabled balcony. Nevermind that the balcony was added the suitably old house within the last century. Tourists take pictures of each other groping the breasts of a bronze statue of Juliet. This has gone on so long that they rubbed a hole right through the statue, but Juliet in bronze was such a good draw that the Veronese generously created a replacement.
From Juliet’s balcony it’s a ten minute walk to the city center and Verona’s beautifully restored Roman arena. Bloody gladiator battles have given way to civilized summer opera productions. This is one of the best preserved Roman arenas in Europe, and a spectacular venue for live music and theater through the better part of the summer.
Local shops peddle leather goods like shoes and purses, jewelry, and the latest fashions (this is Italy after all). Windows display cakes, salumi and bottles of the Valpolicella. There are shops dedicated specifically to artisanal foods including local heirloom rice varieties like Vialone Nano (meaning a dwarf named Vialone), the sine qua non of risotto.