I’ve always loved Italy since my parents took me to Florence aged six in 1971 but I didn’t discover Verona until I was thoroughly grown up.
I lived in Florence for two years between 1985 and 1987. I was lucky enough to rent a flat belonging to a friend of a friend’s nonna, a treasure of a woman in a black twinset and pearls and a gold cross set with coral that had been bought for her on the Ponte Vecchio in 1919 and which she’d never taken off. She was eighty and gone to live with her daughter and the flat was exactly what you’d expect. Dark wood and horse-hair sofas, crystal glasses used by Miss Lush, the very bed Lucy Honeychurch slept in, and a pensive little Bernadette Soubirous keeping an eye on you in every room plus crucifixes of course, crucifixes everywhere. I loved it. The plumbing had a mind of its own and the floor tiles were cracked but they were sixteenth-century floor tiles, the stove must have been the envy of the block in 1955, the balcony served as scales (anything over 123lb and it would creak and threaten to spill me on to the street), and the cat was called Topo Gigio. I don’t think he knew.
Then someone died. It took me twenty years to go back. Not to go back to Italy, I’m not that insane, just Florence. I got off the train on the first of May 2005 and on the second I got back on; it was that awful. Florence had changed too much and not enough. I found the flat and it was part of a B&B so I stood in the street and gazed up at the reinforced balcony and my heart’s eye saw geraniums and a fat ginger cat nestled in the morning sunshine where a young couple sat smooching. I had expected to feel mellow and sentimental but instead I was overwhelmed so I did the sensible thing and went for un caffe and I decided I would find my own special place without bittersweet memories.
From the train I phoned a friend in Florence from these days and he cheered me up (as only a man would) by telling me Topo lived till he was 18 and died under a picture of Our Lady of Lourdes looking out on to his balcony. I was glad Topo lived a long life and died peacefully but I had to lose the signal and cry for half an hour anyway. In another half hour I was in Milan fighting with the ticket machine (some things never change, and the entire Apocalypse will be held up by the Archangel Gabriel trying to get a ticket down to Rome) and my friend’s wife called and said, “Meet us in Verona at the weekend, it will make you feel better.”
I love that woman.
I got off the train in Verona and like all Italian railway stations it’s full of stairs so I’d had my weekly work out before I struggled into my taxi. Ten minutes later it deposited me at a B&B and this was – more or less – the view. I say more or less because this photo is from a long the road a bit taken this year. I forgot I was depressed and that I thought I’d die on the way out of the railway station although I suppose I wouldn’t have – in Italy if you look as if you’re expiring people will rush to you with water, inhalers, advice about herbs/vitamins, and offers of an ambulance.
I had been living in Como and had had enough. It was too wrapped up in business, an awful love affair, and a friend’s crazy brother whom I’d gone right off helping. I decided at that moment, standing on the doorstep of the B&B that Verona would be my place. And it has been. I’ve lived there, worked there, painted there, and was stupid enough to leave. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to live in Italy full-time again (money and health, not Brexit) but as of now I have the opportunity to work there off and on for a few weeks at a time. I am happy.
Verona makes me happy.