I will take you there on a train coming from Venice and heading towards Rome. If you leave Venice at 7:05 pm you will get to Verona at 9:22pm and then transfer to a train which will leave at 23:36 and get to Rome by 6am. That will give you two hours in my Verona. Follow me now as I take you onto the train I rode myself.
Verona is where the bard lay his scene; he colored the city as his stage and filled it with his characters. Verona is where there are gucci stores filled with modern day Juliets, an old Roman arena, and a large piazza spilling with Christmas market goodies. But I want to show you a Verona which you can reach neither by great books nor modern jets. This Verona is a place which is nowhere else, a Verona filled with fairy dust and eventide and can be explored through these words, or never seen at all.
In my Verona leave your umbrella stashed in your backpack. The downpour has just stopped and left the train station greasy with sitting rain. Walk down the road till you reach the main street which is not the heart of romantic Verona but we are going to pause here. Reflective puddles rest on inky blue cobblestones which glimmer from the white Christmas lights wound around the trees. With the taste of surreality in the air we can begin to see the moment unfold.
There is music in the background as you head towards the second largest arena in Italy. Close to the musty Roman stone structure, it’s dark and quiet. Peer inside. Nothing plays games there now, nothing but moonlight and rainwater smiling back. Walk to the other side and there is an odd combination of modern and ancient as a group of people dressed as Santas give the scene a contemporary soundtrack of jazz and rock music playing from black bulgy speakers.
Pass the fashion centers where there are large magical wreathes of light hanging above the uneven streets. Head to the Christmas market and listen to the merry bells while waiting for mulled wine. Behind you stands a kind Italian man who tells you “Piacere”, which means “please to meet you,” and you tell him in enthusiastic but weak Italian that you are only visiting for a semester but that you love this culture. As you walk away sipping the sweet warm wine, you know that you will never see him again but your life is a bit better for those fifteen seconds.
Now we find ourselves in a quieter part of town where we can see the balcony of Juliet if we press against the iron rungs of the closed gate and look in. If it was day and you went inside, you would just be a tourist. You would smile because Romeo and Juliet are made up characters. It is not fiction now. Here, late at night, they have shut the gate because Juliet has gone to bed. For an instant, Juliet is as real as me.
You see, it would be so easy to say that it is just Verona at night… maybe it is… but have you ever seen Verona just at night? Have you ever been to a place which you have only seen through a curtain of glitter made by rainy reflection and the shadow of magical darkness.
It doesn’t last forever or the spell would be broken. We walk back along the slope of the old city moat which has a depth lost in darkness. Look closely and you can see your silhouette against the old reddish stone wall. Your transient shape is, for a moment, etched against the enigmatic remnants of history.
If you take the night train now to Rome it will probably be uncomfortable because I can’t afford any better. The seats are hard and dirty blue and have sharp edges. But before you go… I didn’t mention the center of this Verona, the deepest heart of my Verona.
I have saved the best for last. It’s on the way back to the sleepy station. Walk a little slower, a little more reluctantly. Try to breath in the soft Verona magic and open your eyes for the most wondrous moment of all.
Stars there, hundreds and hundreds of stars. Hundreds and hundreds of stars all flickering have fallen and flutter between the shadowy leaves of the largest tree. These tree branches aren’t like that of other trees, wound with pretty lights. There is no string of lights, every leaf winks white light as the wind makes the tree sigh, aye me. The entire spectacle glitters like heaven. Spin slowly, very slowly, while looking directly up at the celestial body only a couple feet above your head, just out of reach but only just.
Then everything blurs. All the hundred of lights on the tree began to dance and melt together. Blink quickly so you can keep seeing how beautiful it is, don’t let the tears fall. But the light still dances and the tears wrenched from a too-happy heart still fall. Its a funny thing–crying because something is so beautiful. If you haven’t cried from beauty, do it before you die. If it sounds unrealistic, you need to see a little more of reality. Please, find your own place that is no where else but your heart and which only those to whom you show your heart can see it.