Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Arnold's Coffee

In case you haven't seen on my Instagram or Facebook, my coffee woes have been solved. 

I've stumbled upon what may be the sole establishment in Milan to break free of the rich espresso served in dainty, shot glass teacups tradition. Arnold's Coffee, henceforth known as my savior, boast that they can deliver "the American coffee experience," and I wasn't disappointed. 

I stepped into this piece of heaven on earth around 2:30pm; still a busy lunch time by Italian standards, and the place was packed. Now, a few hours later as I write this, it's still full of people. I guess I'm not the only one who craves my caffeine fix in the American style. 

I paid 2.20€ for a small cup of coffee, stirred in some milk, and found myself a seat by the window. I took a full 45 minutes to finish my liquid gold and relished every sip. For those 45 minutes, I was back in Dunn Bros coffee shop on University Avenue in Minneapolis. Then I had to pee, and the general unsanitary conditions of European bathrooms brought me back to reality. Honestly, I'd live in that bathroom if it meant I could have American coffee whenever I wanted. 

Fortunately, I won't have to go to those extremes, as Milan has 3 Arnold Coffee locations. If you live near the center like me, make your way to the Duomo and you'll find Arnold's Coffee on Via Orefici. Otherwise, check out Via Festa del Perdono or Via Nirone.

Arnold, I don't know who you are, but I owe you big time. 

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Verona: Castelvecchio

Castelvecchio (literally: Old Castle) is an early Renaissance fortress built alongside River Adige in Verona. In many ways, it's a twin to Milan's Castello Sforzesca. Construction on both red brick castles began within four years of each other in the late 14th century. Both were built for the reigning family of that time - in Castevecchio's case, the Scaligeri. Like Castello Sforzesca, it was originally intended as a fortress, became barracks and training grounds for various foreign legions over the next few centuries, and today, it houses a museum.

Castelvecchio is home to a spectacular collection of northern Italian art, spanning from the Middle Ages to about the late 18th century. As you wander through the ancient fortress, pieces are organized chronologically, so you really get a feel for the evolution of Italian painting over roughly 1,000 years. The sculptures and paintings are displayed in a more liberal fashion than most museums - pieces are hung on the wall of course, but they are also suspended from the ceiling or stand alone in the middle of the room. The ability to stand centimeters from a fragment of fresco circa the 5th century made for a great experience in the museum... although I couldn't help but feel a bit wary of the many guards' constant eyes on my back as I snapped away with my camera.

Though photography was permitted, flash was not allowed - so I apologize for the terrible quality of the photos. That said, here is a selection of some of my favorite pieces in the collection.

"Christ with Peter and Paul", Pelegrinus, 730. Something that always puzzles me about the evolution of art in Italy - particularly sculpture - is how the portrayal of human bodies and faces can go from the classical perfection of ancient Rome to the cartoonish style shown here. For comparative purposes, here's Emperor Antonius Pius from about 86 AD - over 600 years before Jesus and his buddies up there. He looks a bit more realistic, in my opinion.

Unknown subject, unknown artist, circa 8th c.

Christ on the cross, unknown artist, circa 8th c.

"Battle of the Horsemen," Veronese painter, 14th c.

"Saints Gregory and Bartholomew," Tuscan painter, 14th c.

Unfinished portion of the "Coronation of the Virgin " fresco in the tomb of Aventino Fracastoro, unknown artist, 14th c.

"Thirty Stories of the Bible," from the convent of Saint Caterina, Veronese painter, 14th c. This comic-book style arrangement was a common form of storytelling in the Middle Ages.

"Presentation of Christ," Veronese artist, 14th c. You may have noticed that artists responsible for most medieval works are nameless and unknown. At best, only the city of origin and a date can be estimated. Compare this to Renaissance art and you'll see a stark difference. Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and Raphael were household names and cities took immense pride in what they created. From a historical standpoint, it's a testament to how the importance of art and its role in society has evolved over time. Tough luck for the medieval painters though, whose works are largely uncredited. 

"Polyptych of Boi," attributed to Altichiero, 1369. The prefix 'poly' means many, and 'tich' is the Latin term for wall, thus, polyptych means 'many walls.' Polyptychs are simply paintings made up of many panels. Most polyptychs served as altarpieces which were decorated on both sides, so when the altarpiece closed, an entirely different scene was shown. Though not a part of the Castelvecchio collection, the "Ghent Altarpiece" by Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck is a beautiful example of this. It's also the source of relentless studying in my attempt to memorize each panel's subject matter for an exam. At the time, of course, I thought to myself, "When will I ever use this information again!?" But look, I've accurately identified a polyptych! Dad, that tuition money was worth it after all.

View when opened...

...and closed. 

"Madonna and Child," unknown artist, 1345 AD

"Crucifix," Jacopo Bellini, 1464. Bellini is not as glamorous or well-known as his famous Renaissance counterparts, but he was responsible for bringing the early Renaissance style of painting from its birthplace in Florence to northern Italy.

"Saint John the Baptist and Saint Michael, Archangel," from the workshop of Zavattari, 1456.

"The Legend of Orpheus," German painter, 16th c. Orpheus was an ancient Greek musician and poet who had a legendary ability to charm all living things with his music. In this particular portrayal of his musical finesse by a German painter, the human form has made a bit of progress compared to some of the previous examples. Yet, the animals and landscape still have an unnatural feel to them. The artist has also made a valiant attempt at perspective, but the overall affect is still somewhat strange to our modern eye.

"Ancona Fracanzani," (translation?) Giovanni Badile, 1373. Mary, why so dour?

"Augustus and Sybil," Giovanni Maria Falconetto, 1501. 

"Deposition of Christ," Liberale da Verona (literal translation: a liberal from Verona, but in this case it's the artist's actual name), 1479. Deposition of Christ is an image that you can find everywhere in medieval and Renaissance art. It's a common religious theme - the removal of Christ from the cross - and has been portrayed by countless artists. Popular 'themes' such as this make it easy to compare techniques between two paintings of the same subject matter from different time periods.

"Sphere of the Trinity," Francesco Morone, 16th c.

Unknown title, unknown artist, unknown date - because I forgot to record it. Probably late 16th century.

"Salome," Unknown artist, mid 16th century. No, Salome does not refer to a man's decapitated head being likened to salami. Rather, Salome is the name of King Herod's daughter, and the unfortunate head belonged to St. John the Baptist. As the story goes, St. John was imprisoned by Herod after chastising him for divorcing his wife. On Herod's birthday, his daughter Salome performed a dance for him, which he liked so much he promised her anything she wanted. Naturally, she asked for St. John's head on a platter. This is another biblical image that's duplicated often; this is probably the sixth or seventh time I've seen it around. Yet I had never heard this story before coming here, seeing paintings of it everywhere, and finally looking into it. I'm no fan of the bible, but I'm not sure how a decapitated St. John could have escaped the general scope of my religious knowledge. I mean come on, the man's head is just casually on a plate!

"Deposition," Paolo Caliari, late 16th century. Another example of the deposition image, but painted nearly a hundred years after the first one I showed:

Same image - subtle differences. Faces in the latter painting look more realistic, more mournful. Christ's body is more detailed and more muscular, showing that advances in basic anatomical knowledge had been made. The background is shown more realistically as well; the subjects and the landscape are almost on the same plane in the first painting, whereas the subjects are clearly the focal point and the landscape is clearly in the background in the second.

"Christ Shown to the People," Paolo Farinati, early 17th century. It's fairly evident that this painting is much better than the first few I've shown. (Technically speaking, at least. Let's not get into that silly argument about what defines works of art as "better" or "worse.") You can see the tension in Christ's body and can get a good sense of feeling and movement. The idea of perspective is carried out well to give the viewer the feeling that they are in the painting rather than just looking at the painting, like in this previous example from nearly 300 years prior.

When we think of our modern world, we often find ourselves wondering, "What did people do before cars? Or cellphones?" Sometimes I wonder, "What did people do before perspective?" Really, what were people's reactions when they saw their faces portrayed with buggy eyes and abnormally large foreheads? How did the ability to properly duplicate a human face on canvas (or in stone) evolve?  How were techniques like perspective and angles and shadowing discovered?

While I don't have the answers to those questions, I do know that very few people find them as fascinating as I do. So, if you've stuck with me to the end of this post, I thank you.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Living Abroad: 10 Things I Miss About America

It doesn't take long after moving to a foreign country before you develop a profound appreciation for certain things in your homeland. Some of these are pretty obvious - of course you'll miss your friends and family. Others are a bit more surprising, like things which used to annoy the hell out of you when you had everyday access to them, or things you barely even took notice of. Here are the top 10 (non obvious) things I miss about America, in no particular order.

1. Pumpkins
Around this time of year, America is invaded by armies of orange pumpkins. They find their way into our everyday lives for an entire month via coffees, lattes, breads, pies, cookies, muffins, and of course their original forms, which we promptly cut up and carve hideous faces into. While Italians do celebrate Halloween, I've been really disappointed by the severe lack of pumpkins around here. No pumpkin espressos or pumpkin pizzas. I didn't even see canned pumpkin in the supermarket when, on a whim, I walked in just to look for it. Mind you, it's not so much the literal pumpkin that I miss, it's the cozy fall feeling that you get from drinking a spiced pumpkin latte from Starbucks while you wait for your pumpkin muffins to bake.

2. Football
Growing up and throughout college, I enjoyed football. I was happy when my team won and sad when they lost. That's about it. I was never a die-hard fan, just... a fan. In fact, I recall telling somebody that I didn't think I'd miss American football in Europe. Surprisingly though, I do. I check the Packers Twitter religiously to keep updated on their games and have somehow found myself more emotionally invested in the results than I ever was at home. Like the pumpkin thing, I think it's more the general feeling of watching a game on a crisp fall day with friends that I miss, not literally watching Aaron Rodgers throw a touchdown pass. Either way, I'll be happy when I can refer to football again without having it mistaken for soccer.

3. Sandwiches
Dear God above, I really miss turkey sandwiches. My go-to lunch in America was a turkey, cheddar, avocado and tomato sandwich on wheat bread and I cannot seem to properly duplicate it here in Italy. Yes, the paninis are to die for, and I'm sure I'll miss fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil on focaccia just as much once I return home. But right now, I'd do just about anything for a pound of sliced deli turkey from Lund's in Minneapolis.

4. Peanut butter
If these were in order, peanut butter just might be number one. I love, love love peanut butter. It is, without a doubt, the food I'd choose if I were stranded on a desert island. Now here I am stranded on a peninsula, and there's hardly any peanut butter to be found. Back at home, a 24 oz jar of Skippy would barely last two weeks with me. Here, I'm reduced to making a little 4 oz jar which cost upwards of 5 Euros last just as long. While I'm grateful I was able to hunt down said 4 oz jar of Skippy, I find myself eternally frustrated that there's nothing larger. They sell Nutella by the gallon for God's sake. WHERE ARE THE MASSIVE PEANUT BUTTERS!?

5. Coffee shops
For two years of college I lived a block away from a lovely little coffee shop. I'd go from time to time when I needed to study or write a paper (though I rarely actually accomplished any studying or paper writing). One of my dear friends would drop in all the time, and now I'm kicking myself for not accompanying her more often. It is literally impossible to locate a coffee shop here, which is frustrating, given the surplus of bars and restaurants that serve cafes round the clock. But a cozy little shop with squashy couches and free Wi-Fi? Nonexistent here. This also ties in with my ongoing battle against Italian coffee espresso. I still haven't formed an appreciation for the stuff, and while I wasn't a huge coffee drinker back home, I'd kill for a large blonde roast from Starbucks right now.

6. Netflix and Hulu
Now I'm sure you're asking yourself, "Why does she want to waste her time watching T.V. shows? She's in Italy, for God's sake!" True, but I'm not vacationing or studying abroad for a short period of time in which I should live it up every waking moment I have. I'm living and working here, I'm exhausted at the end of the day, and sometimes I just want to watch Juan Pablo on the Bachelor, okay!!?? Much to my dismay, Netflix and Hulu are "not available in my region." Thus, I've resorted to (which actually has a massive selection of free T.V. shows), but sadly, they don't have The Bachelor. I guess I'll just have a marathon waiting for me whenever I return home.

7. Free water
In America, I drank water directly from the kitchen sink, and it's free and complimentary at restaurants. Here, I'm told the tap water "isn't always good," (the vagueness is a touch worrisome) and you can expect to pay anywhere from 1-3 Euros for water at a restaurant. Families buy bottled liters of water like we buy milk and refilling a bottle is frowned upon. Now, if the tap water tends to be a bit dirty, fine, I won't drink it all the time. But I can't get behind the whole paying for water in restaurants thing. It's annoying and I miss the days when I could mindlessly bother the waiter for "more water, please."

8. Free (and clean) public restrooms
So you're going out for a day of sightseeing. Not wanting to waste the price of a metro ticket on a glass of water at lunch, you drink your fill before you leave the house. A few hours later you're at the Duomo and need to use the bathroom. First, good luck finding one. Second, be prepared to pay. Third, consider purchasing a home STD test immediately following your use of the restroom. Okay, so all that might be a bit of exaggeration, but let me just say this. Public bathrooms in Europe are few and far between, usually cost a Euro to enter, and aren't the cleanest places on earth. God bless America and our bathrooms that are polished with tax dollars.

9. The U.S. measurement system
Cooking is done in grams, bodies are weighed in kilograms, distance is measured in kilometers, and temperature is recorded in celsius. What? Math has never been my strong suit, so I'm grateful for the conversion app on my iPhone. But it can get a bit tiresome converting cups and tablespoons into grams for a cupcake recipe, wondering if you've gained or lost weight when you step on a scale, and being momentarily freaked out when you check the weather and see it's going to be twenty degrees that day.

10. Target
After much Googling and asking around, I have come to the devastating conclusion that Milan does not have an Italian version of Target. Nowhere in this city does a structure exist that houses fashionable clothing at a reasonable price, home decor that makes you feel like a grown up, and Archer Farms brand food that looks healthy but really isn't. I suppose this is for the best; after all, I don't need any designer Missoni clad fashionistas glaring at me as I walk down Via Montenapoleone in my Target brand Missoni shirt, but still. I miss utter bliss of wasting time in Target with a friend, each of us vowing to stick to our lists but always leaving with a few extra Chobanis, a new mascara, or on those crazy days, a new set of sheets. Target, I think of you often. Know that no matter where in the world I am, you are forever in my heart.

**Edited to add: Problems 1 and 6 have been solved!! A friend in America is sending me a pumpkin spice latte in the mail, and two people have offered solutions to get around my Netflix/Hulu woes. Thanks guys!! :)

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Verona: Romeo & Juliet, According to Me

"Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?" Cried Juliet from her balcony.

"I'm on Via Capello, just about to arrive at your house. Sorry it's taking so long. There's about a trillion people crowding the streets," Romeo replied, sounding annoyed. "Ugh, and they're totally blocking the door to your house. Can we just reschedule? I can't stay long anyway, I'm supposed to be meeting Mercutio later."

"No. I've been waiting all day. Get yourself up here, now!" Juliet hung up the phone.

Romeo rolled his eyes and fought his way through the crowd towards the door. Pity I left my sword at home, he thought wryly to himself.

"Six Euros, please," a dour looking woman just inside the door told him.

"Excuse me?"

"Entrance fee is six Euros. Six for the balcony, seven for the accompanying museum. Are you a student or over 60? You can get a small discount."

"Do I look over 60?" Romeo asked sarcastically. "Let me in, I'm here to see Juliet."

"You and everyone else. Pay, or leave," the woman snapped.

Romeo sighed and texted Juliet.

Crazy lady downstairs charging me to enter. Do you have six Euros? I'll pay you back.  

"Ugh! You always do this Romeo, always!!" Juliet shrieked so loudly Romeo heard it downstairs. And that's my cue to exit, he thought.

Juliet threw her phone off the balcony in a fit of rage, where it hit an unsuspecting tourist on the head. Thinking it was a clumsy Asian or rude American who had hit him, the tourist whirled around and punched the man behind him in the face. The small square erupted in chaos right as Romeo came trudging out of the house. Unwillingly ensnared in the fight, he did his best to defend himself, but without his sword he was nothing. A burly German tourist pushed him roughly into an iron gate which bore hundreds of gimmicky locks, upon which people wrote the names of their true loves. Blood spattered the Post-it notes stuck to the adjoining brick wall, obscuring little girls' pleas to Juliet for love advice. There, slumped against the names of lost loves from all over the world, Romeo suffered a brain hemorrhage and died.

A few hours later, following a long and restful nap, Juliet descended from her balcony. A young man who had been knocked out during the fight was just coming to.

"What happened here??" Juliet cried as she stepped outside.

"I don't know," the man answered, looking around. "Some sort of fight. All I remember is being hit on the head."

"Typical. Men are always fighting over me," Juliet said matter-of-factly. "I'm famished. Want to get some dinner?"

"Uh, sure! Where?"

"I dunno. Let me ask Siri."

Juliet wandered off with the young man, never once noticing Romeo amongst the fallen. His dead eyes stared, unseeing into the gift shop selling shirts, mugs, posters, and candies bearing his name. Though to this day, some will argue that it was Juliet who suffered a worse fate following their argument: after a night of (unprotected) passion with the random tourist, she found herself pregnant and husband-less, for the child's father had caught a flight back to his native Uzbekistan the very next morning.


 My visit to Casa di Giulia, as it's referred to in Verona, was rather less exciting than that riveting tale. Hidden away on Via Capello, Juliet's house is a modest apartment looking over a small square that's packed with tourists like sardines in a can. I had expected it to be busy, but not nearly as busy as it was. There were more people gawking at a balcony than there were admiring the city from the top of the Lambert Tower. Like Romeo, I didn't even bother to pay the six Euro entrance fee to see the inside of the house or wait in line to have my turn on the balcony (which would also mean appearing in about 60 "Our Trip to Verona!" photo albums around the world).

Instead, I stood alone in a corner and marveled at the power of words. I doubt Shakespeare had any notion that, four hundred years after writing Romeo and Juliet, his story of star crossed lovers would still be thriving and a bible of sorts for modern day romanics. And I'm certain he never imagined people from all over the world would flock to Verona just to look at the balcony where Juliet uttered those now famous words.

Supposedly uttered, I should say. Apparently, the notion that Juliet Capulet lived here is a rumor started by a tour guide in the 1970's to attract more visitors to Verona. Yet I guarantee you that at least half of the people who come to Juliet's house truly believe that it was actually Juliet's house. Of course, this means that those people believe Romeo and Juliet is a true story. Now, the rational (and cynical) part of my mind tells me that of course, Romeo and Juliet is pure fiction. There are absolutely no historical records that hint towards the existence of any of the characters in the play.

Then again...

The whimsical, imaginative part of my mind - the part that desperately wants to find a time machine to take me back to Tudor England so I can get to Henry VIII before Anne Boleyn does (and presumably, before the syphilis does) - tells me that nothing is impossible. Many of Shakespeare's plays were based on fact. Who's to say he didn't hear a tale of ill-fated lovers in Verona from some Italian visiting England? And, as Rick Steves puts it, "You just walked down Via Capello, the street of the cap makers. Above the courtyard entry is a coat of arms featuring a hat - representing a family that made hats and which would be named, logically, Capulet." (If you didn't know, Juliet's last name is Capulet).

Then AGAIN...

Though the house part of Juliet's house dates back to the 13th century, the balcony was added during the 20th. Despite the prominent use of cell phones in my version of Romeo and Juliet, we all know Shakespeare's version happened well before the 20th century.

I pondered all of this as I watched masses of people purchase locks to put on the iron fence with the hope that as long as it remained locked, their relationships would be intact. I watched as they paid six Euros to enter Juliet's house, the inside of which contains a bed used in one of the film versions and "art inspired by Romeo and Juliet." I watched as they knelt on the pavement to hastily write a letter to Juliet and dropped it in a box containing thousands of other letters. I watched as couples strolled - I mean, maneuvered - their way through the square with stars in their eyes, each of them thinking that only they had a love strong enough to rival that of Romeo and Juliet's. Might I add that I too was there with my one true love, a love I firmly know to be more powerful and everlasting than that of anyone else: ice cream.

So, whether that is Juliet's house or isn't, whether it's a waste of time and money or not, one thing is for sure: it is a source of intrigue and inspiration, even for a cynic like myself. After all, I just devoted an entire blog post to it, didn't I?

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Verona: Past and Present

One thing I really loved about Verona is how the past still functions in the present. Many of the historic sites or places have been adapted to fit modern needs while still maintaining their "oldness," so to speak, and there are random bits of historical architecture everywhere you look. For example, Roman and medieval portals - entrances to the city - still stand at random points in the street - though you no longer need to pay the toll in order to pass.

Upon entering the city center through one of these portals, you'll see the ancient Roman arena. Built in 30 A.D. on a piece of land that was, at the time, a few miles outside the Roman city center, its first few centuries of existence saw lots of bloodshed. Gladiator battles pitted man vs. man and man vs. animal in Roman times, and public beheadings took place there during the middle ages. Thanks to a newfound appreciation for the arts cultivated during the Renaissance, the arena started to be used for opera performances. This trend continues today, and it has also seen the likes of One Direction, Duran Duran, The Who, and Whitney Houston. The arena can fit up to 25,000 spectators and as everyone knows, is the blueprint for our modern stadiums. 

The arena's entrance fee is 6 Euros, but if you have a student I.D. that still remotely looks like you and are capable of mumbling "Sono studentessa/o," you can get in for 4.50. Visitors are free to climb up and all over the seats (the lower half of which have had cushions added to them). But... to be completely honest, I was a little disappointed. When it comes down to it, it's just a massive stone complex, and it lacks the romance and intrigue of a well-known arena like Rome's Colosseum. To be fair, it may well have been the horde of teenagers belting out awful Disney songs in Italian on the stage in the center that tainted my arena experience. Oh, and just a friendly hint: those "gladiators" posing with that poor little boy in the above photo are not affiliated with the arena. They're just a local group that prey on tourists by overcharging for a gimmicky photo. Stay away! 

Right outside of the arena is a relatively small, thin column positioned rather randomly in the piazza. 99% of people probably just walk past it without a second thought. It's called a devotional column, and most piazzas had one back in the day (back in the day in this case = middle ages). People would gather around the column to ask for blessings for the market. The one in Verona is still intact, and today people gather around it to gawk at the street performer posted up beneath it, who I strategically did not photograph because I found him frightening. 

Speaking of markets and piazzas, Verona's Piazza Erbe is my favorite piazza I've seen so far. You can make absurd statements like "I have a favorite piazza" when you live in an Italian city. A piazza is just a square, and Italian cities have loads of them. Piazza Erbe is probably one of the few that looks very much like it used to centuries ago. It dates back to the Roman times, when it functioned as a forum - a meeting place for politics and law - and of course, as a marketplace. The fountain in the middle of Piazza Erbe has been bubbling for nearly 2,000 years, and the statue of a lion that sits at the northern end has been there since 1405, when Venice conquered Verona. 

Today, Piazza Erbe is still home to a market of sorts - vendors line up to sell fruits and vegetables, pastries, handmade leather bags, and a few "I visited Verona!!" t-shirts and keychains. You can also find a plethora of tasty restaurants and gelaterias surrounding the square. Here, I found a deliciously cheap sandwich and the first of too many gelatos. 

Do you see that tower in the upper left corner of Piazza Erbe? It's one of the few remaining from the Middle Ages, back when the town was full of them. Noble families built towers to show off their wealth to one another. If you see a bell tower that either stands on its own or is connected to a smaller structure that isn't a church, you can be almost certain it was constructed by an important family. Torre dei Lamberti, or the Lambert Tower (built in 1172), is another that's still standing in Verona, and for 6 Euros you can climb 245 steps to the top. 

Clearly, it's worth the climb. Verona's terra-cotta rooftops seem to go on for miles, and the Italian Alps make for a stunning backdrop. The Lambert Tower sits in the Romanesque Palazzo della Ragione, which is home to yet another beautiful and well-preserved piece of architecture: an outdoor staircase, completely original and intact since its construction in 1447. I stood at the base of the staircase for fifteen minutes to get a photo of it without people strewn all over it. As I watched person after person lay on the banister and pose with freakish arm gestures as if to say, "Yeah, man, look at me! I'm on a staircase, b*tch!" I wondered how many of them even knew anything about what it was they were standing on. In other words, STOP POSING LIKE THAT, YOU'RE DISGRACING THE STONES WHERE VERONA'S ELITE ONCE TROD!! Ugh.

But anyway. Just outside Palazzo della Ragione is Piazza dei Signori, or "The Lord's Square." This little area is a melting pot of architecture; the buildings surrounding it span from the middle ages to the Renaissance. You can easily tell which are from the Renaissance; just look for the frescoes. Like medieval nobles and their towers, wealthy Renaissance families did their bragging with exterior frescoes. I find it pretty remarkable that much of what can be seen today is, for the most part, original and unrestored.  

In the middle of Piazza dei Signori stands a somber looking Dante Alighieri. Quick history: this is indeed the Dante behind The Divine Comedy, the self-narrated tale of his journey through hell and purgatory to reach heaven. It was the first literature to be written in something other than Latin, the language of the church. Dante took a hodgepodge of spoken dialects and called the written result "Italian." For this reason, it was accessible by the masses and wildly popular. It also depicted several well known popes and other church figures in less than flattering situations (Pope Boniface VIII buried up to his head in the 8th circle of hell, for example) and for this reason, Dante was exiled from Florence to Verona, where he lived out the rest of his life. As Dante became a literary genius in history's hindsight, Florentines tried to reclaim him as their hero and even built him a tomb in the 18th century. Verona has maintained a tight grasp on him though, and his body lies not in Florence, but in nearby Ravenna where he died. 

On the topic of tombs, literally right around the corner from Piazza dei Signori are the Scaligeri family tombs. Remember how Florence had the Medici family, Siena had the Borghese, and Milan had the Sforza? When Italy was divided into kingdoms, Verona and the surrounding area had the Scaligeri. Their bodies still lie in the fanciful tombs created for them in the 15th century, which are surrounded by the original wrought iron fences. Not a bad place to rest for all eternity! Just watch out for what looks to be the first version of barbed-wire, though. 

Speaking of resting, this might be enough history for one post. But there's still alot more to see in Verona! Let's spend the night back in Piazza Erbe and pick it up another day, shall we? 

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emilan: October 2013