Sarlat stole my heart. There's something about this little medieval…
By Steve Proctor
Not so long ago, I was sitting in an open-air café in Verona, Italy enjoying a strong, dark espresso when a tiny bird flew in and landed on a nearby table.
He ignored me as he hopped between a bowl and side plate looking for crumbs left by a recently departed couple, but I studied him carefully. For whatever reason, I found myself more entranced by his flitting than anything I had seen earlier in the morning during a tour of the city’s 2,000-year old Roman amphitheatre or a visit to the Torre dei Lamberti, an octagonal bell tower in the main square featuring a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
Thinking it would be a cute photo to share with my daughter back home, I snapped a couple of quick frames before the bird took off to find croissant crumbs at a restaurant down the block.
Located between Florence and Venice on the banks of the Adige River, Verona was one of the most powerful cities during the early rule of the Roman Empire. Despite being constructed in 30 AD, the city is extraordinarily well-preserved, with much of the original architecture still intact.
It is flat and mostly closed to vehicles so it’s easy to move around. Thanks to the Romans, it’s mostly grid-planned, so for the geographically-challenged like myself, it’s easy to find your way.
One of the striking things about the town is how clean it is. Unlike Rome or Florence where graffiti seems to cover everything but the fountains and the most closely guarded heritage sites, Verona’s alleys and half-walls have escaped the spray paint musings of hoodlums.
There is one deliberate and brilliant exception. As Verona is best known as the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the town’s leaders have set aside a wall leading to Juliet’s courtyard as a place where lovers can record their undying love in brightly coloured paints, markers and even dried out bubble gum. The words run over each other, layer upon layer. It is a true explosion of color.
Whether or not you believe the balcony in the inner courtyard was actually where the doomed lovers pined away, the local guides present it as fact. Juliet’s House, the Casa di Giulietta, is visited by hundreds daily.
In the shadow of the famed balcony, a brass statue of “Juliet” stands in a medieval garden with people lining up to have their pictures taken beside it.
A close look at the statue reveals that the patina around the left breast has been worn smooth. As in Florence where rubbing the snout of a bronze boar in the market area is supposed to bring good luck, local legend suggests that a brush of Juliet’s bosom will bring you luck in love.
With the magic of the garden, the passion exposed on the Love Wall and the enthusiasm of the throng, I certainly couldn’t resist reaching out and offering a gentle caress.
For those unwilling to suspend reality, there are guides who will reveal that despite its lofty title, the historical evidence suggests the house was actually a bordello for many years before it was purchased by the city and turned into a tourist attraction.
There was plenty to photograph in Verona. At every corner, wrought iron balconies overflow with flowers, towers pop up at the end of narrow cobblestone lanes and small rooftop statues fight for the attention of the camera lens with imposing cathedrals or rustic paintings that appear under dark wooden eaves.
Upon my return to Canada, I was pleased enough with the results to self-publish a calendar featuring many of the shots from Verona, but the photo that still brings the biggest smile to my face when I think about the trip today, is the bird staring into the teacup.
Steve Proctor is a communications consultant in Canada (email@example.com) and an avid seeker of travel bliss.