I’ve always loved Italy. My parents took me to Florence aged six in 1971 but I didn’t discover Verona until I was thoroughly grown up.
Between 1985 and 1987 I was lucky enough to rent a flat in Florence from 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 bought for her on the Ponte Vecchio in 1919. She was eighty and had gone to live with her daughter and her flat was exactly what you’d expect. Dark wood furniture and horse-hair sofas, crystal glasses used by Miss Lush, glass-fronted cabinets full of venerable china, the very bed Lucy Honeychurch slept in, and a pensive little Bernadette Soubirous keeping an eye on you in every room. And crucifixes, of course, crucifixes everywhere. I loved it. The plumbing was as temperamental 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 and the balcony served as scales (anything over 123lb and it would creak and threaten to spill me on to the street). The cat’s name was Topo Gigio. I don’t think he knew.
Then someone died and I lost my tenuous grasp on the plot of life. I went home to my folks and it took me twenty years to go back. Not to go back to Italy, I’m not that insane, just to 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 I got tearful so I did the sensible thing and went for un caffe. 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. If I was a man I’d have sneaked off and married her while Marco was watching the football one Sunday afternoon. Really. I would. And if I had my kitchen would be gleaming like the sunshine on the loch. But I digress.
Verona was love at first sight[INSERT PHOTO]
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 the 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 and taken this year. I forgot my depression. I forgot I’d expected to die on the stairs in the station (probably wouldn’t have – in Italy if you look as if you’re expiring people will come to help). I decided at that moment, standing on the doorstep of the B&B that Verona would be my place. 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.
And Verona has been my place. 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 at the moment I can go there for work for a few weeks at a time so I am happy.
Tiramisu, btw, literally means ‘pick me up’.
Verona makes me happy.
Find your happy.