Friday, June 24, 2011

Julia’s Becomes a Teenager

Well, it has finally happened. I now have two teenagers. Julia turned 13 in Milan yesterday. To celebrate, we gave her some money and she and I went shopping. We did quite well and had a lot of fun but ironically the labels in our clothes are from many international countries but not from Italy.

Rhys and Tom spent the day at the National Science and Technology museum, enjoying Da Vinci models and Marconi radios. Then the two of them decided to go shopping…for digital equipment and wound up spending twice the amount Julia and I spent. They bought a new camera so we took pictures of Julia and I in our new clothes with the new camera for your enjoyment.

Julia and I spent seven hours shopping. That seems like a long time but actually felt quite quick. We shopped on the street rather than at a mall and wandered in to the same chain stores you see everywhere in Europe. There were relatively few boutiques and those that existed were priced out of our range. We went to the Galleria downtown the day before. It is a covered street with very expensive designer clothes. Even the department store was full of sky-high prices on “new lines” in designer wear. This would be the Milan everyone hears about. Prada, Louis Vuitton and names I’d never heard of crowded for space with McDonald’s. We opted not to shop there on her birthday. In the Galleria there was a bull that grants good luck to those that step on his balls and spin. I’m not sure if that was the bull’s idea or not. Seems cruel but we took a turn because you don’t want to turn down luck when it’s offered.

We visited the “Last Supper” by Da Vinci and the Duomo the same day as the Galleria. The painting brought tears to my eyes again. It is always so moving to be in the presence of things you have heard of all your life. The painting was much bigger than I thought. It fills a whole wall! It is also more square than you usually see. I guess usually they just cut the slice with the people out. There is a door that was cut into the wall destroying part of the painting back in the 1500’s. The Friars needed a bigger door to get in and out of their dining room. You know, when you have to cut a bigger door it’s time to stop eating so much. Reminds me of Winnie-the-Pooh. We took the tour in English and it was interesting to hear all the ways Leonardo applied his knowledge of science to the painting. He must have been a really interesting man to chat with.

The Duomo (church) as big as are most Duomo’s we have visited. It is just behind the Vatican’s, London’s and Seville’s. It was fun to realize we had been to them all. This one was big because the Italian boys here wanted to impress the northerners so used the northern style and ran with it. Boy did they run. This place looks like a big sandcastle that somebody dripped wet sand over a very long time. It took over 500 years to build so they had some time. We got to climb the stairs to the roof and it was fun to walk among the spires. There are seats on the roof and they hold symphony concerts at night amongst the lit spires. It must be awesome! It is under renovation now but between that and the Scala, Milan should get on the must-see list for music lovers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Lagoon

We paid the big bucks and got a 12 hour pass for unlimited rides on the vaporetti. Then we spent the day cruising the Venetian lagoon, island hopping. We visited Cimitero, Murano, Burano and Torcello and spent almost the full 12 hours in the process.

Cimitero was the city cemetery. We had high expectations for a really macabre walk but it turned out to be a non-event. A lot of people have died in Venice over the past hundred years or so, let me tell you. There are rows and rows of tightly packed in-ground graves, apartment blocks similar to those in the Spanish cemetery, strange condominium, upscale apartment monuments with limited spaces and a more decorative environment. I couldn’t help but think of the “old folks” home of eternity. There were also numerous crypts, little family tombs all packed together in the posh neighbourhood of the island. Even in death, we segregate by wealth. The whole island is devoted to death. I wonder what happens when it floods?

The next island was Murano. This is the famous location of all the glass you may have heard about. We watched a few different people working with glass and went in and out of too many glass stores to count thereby boring the males in our family. Julia and I both found a little something to wear though we agreed we could have bought more. It is interesting to note that these craftspeople still had all of their fingers, unlike the sword crafter in Toledo. There was a store that sold glass mosaic tiles and it seemed like such a great thing to buy but we resisted. Basically, none of us felt we could do the job our heads envisioned. The island was quite charming with canals and bridges just like Venice. We saw a “DHL Express” boat piled with boxes for delivery. They are the “Fed Ex” of Germany. The route for deliveries must be a different canal in Venice because we didn't see any "trucks" there. It was fun to see their business as usual cruising the canals.

Our next stop was Burano. Jean and Vern had visited this island when they were in Venice so it made us feel a bit closer to walk the streets. This had to be the cutest of the islands. The town planner had really done a great job. Everyone’s house was painted a bright colour and the effect was cheerful and fun. We took lots of pictures here because even though the city of Venice was gorgeous with its canals, this little ‘burb was almost more picturesque…almost.

We hopped across the lagoon to the last island, the rarely visited, Torcello. This is where Venice was born. After the fall of Rome, a group of the Romans fled to hide here, on Torcello. They must have been fairly intelligent, well-off individuals to make a go of a city on an island. We didn’t see a water source and can’t quite figure out how they managed to make the place livable but history says they did. The irony is that of all the islands in the Venetian lagoon, this is the least developed.

To get back to Venice, we caught the wrong boat and wound up on a lovely tour of other places before the boat turned around and brought us back to Burano and finally on to Venice. It took about two hours and was a very nice sunset cruise.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Verona is very close to Venice so while we decided to visit for a couple of reasons. First, it is where Romeo and Juliet was set. Second, they have an old Roman Arena where they still show operas in the summer. It was only an hour’s drive so we left late in the day so we could have a bit of time to sight see before having dinner and catching a show.

We bought tickets to see Aida at the arena. The coolest thing about the show was the fact we would be sitting in seats the Romans had sat in to watch their shows 2000 years ago! We bought tickets in the “riff-raff” section of the theatre. In ancient times, the theatre was divided into sections depending on what social standing you held in society. The very closest seats were on a special platform and were reserved for the elite. From there, it went back in the different guilds, like capmakers or knights. Finally, in the very highest area, with no seat assignments sat the poorest citizens and women. This was where we sat. The Romans designed the arena with many arched entryways to help facilitate the large numbers of people attending. Everyone attended. It was free, supported by the very rich. The guilds and elite of society had their seats assigned so they didn’t need to get their early. Just like in ancient times, we arrived almost two hours before the show to secure a good seat. Unlike ancient times, there were no fist-fights that broke out over where to sit.

Our show was at night while the gladiator fights always took place all day. The arenas used to have canvas lids that could be pulled over to shade people from the sun. It must have been beastly hot. During intermissions, people would go back into the arched gallery areas to chat, eat and drink. Those without assigned seats couldn’t leave, unless they had someone who would hold their seats while they were gone. It would have been nice to have had a canvas awning over the arena as the weather was not stable. It rained off and on up to about 15 minutes before the performance. Everyone had umbrellas and it was beautiful looking down over the colourful crowd. As the rain stopped, the umbrellas disappeared. You didn’t see people taking them down. You just saw them all up and then suddenly noticed they were all down.

The performance was in Italian and as we don’t speak Italian we couldn’t understand what they were saying. Visually, however, it was very entertaining. There were lots of elaborate costumes and people flooded the stage to dance, march and sing. They even had characters up behind the stage posted along the very top of the arena. These were centurions with torches. They didn’t use microphones because the acoustics of the arena is why they still perform there to this day. Even though we were quite a distance from the stage, we could hear the performers clearly. At the beginning of the show, everyone lit candles picked up as you entered. This is an old tradition dating back to a time before electricity when the audience had to bring the candles to light up the space.

During the show, it started to rain again and there was a low hum throughout the audience. It grew in sound until it drowned out the performers as everyone moved to cover themselves from the rain. Then the orchestra leaped up and ran for shelter. The singers stopped suddenly and waved. We all clapped and cheered. Then they ran off the stage as well. The rain lasted for about 10 minutes and then we watched and cheered on the cleaning crew as they mopped the stage, the orchestra pit and so on. There must have been a choir in the audience because we were serenaded with singing while we waited which drew loud appreciation from the audience as well. When it started to rain the second time, we decided to leave and the masses followed. We missed the end of the performance but we had read the story before we went and we knew the lovers died. Who wants to see that, anyway?

Before we went to the show, we strolled around Verona following the Rick Steve’s self-guided walk. We walked beneath the original Roman Arches that led into the city and a fountain that still works 2000 years later. We found Juliet’s balcony and forced Julia to go up onto it so we could take her picture. There were hoards of people in the courtyard and Julia was a bit nervous about standing out in front of them. True to her Fine Arts training, however, out she went to pose. If she called for Romeo we couldn’t hear it above the rabble of the crowds. The balcony is purely fictitious as the families in the story are from Shakespeare’s imagination only. However, there is a carving over the arch leading out of the courtyard. The guilds in medieval times each had a symbol marking them and this symbol is of a hat. If there was a capmaker, it does follow the family name might have been Capulet. However, that is where the historical fact ends and there is no real proof of that either.

Visiting Verona and seeing the balcony was neat as Rhys had just read Romeo and Juliet for his English course. Julia also picked up the play and read it. While Rhys and I discussed the play, she would often volunteer opinions or answer questions before Rhys! We all thought it was pretty funny that there is a volunteer group of people in Verona who answer letters written to Juliet. This is just wrong in so many ways. First, she is a fictitious character, people. She never existed except in the mind of Shakespeare. Okay, assuming you have a fairly weak understanding of the line between fantasy and reality, she lived during the medieval era back in the 13th century or so. I don’t think she’s still around, even if she DID exist. Finally, did you people not READ the play? She DIES at the end. Sorry to be a spoiler but there are only a few people resurrected that I know of and they didn’t wind up in Verona!

The whole visit to Verona was exciting and fun, regardless of the rain towards the end.