Friday, December 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Veronas

As the travel/book tour continues, we make a quick return to a European country I never tire of writing about...but there's an American twist to it that, for me, is impossible to ignore. See, I can't think of the city of Verona, Italy without also thinking about the city of Verona, Wisconsin -- the town where I went to high school. In the warped, mash-up database that is my imagination, I combine the two Veronas, twining them with random lines from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and lyrics from Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home."

Maybe because Romeo and Juliet were teens in their Verona, as I was a teen in mine, and maybe because they didn't have the smoothest of adolescent love lives, a problem I could relate to altogether too easily, I've always felt a certain affinity for them and their hometown.

In A Summer in Europe, my characters visit the Italian Verona and they take in several of the well-known sites, most notably, the large Colosseum-like Arena in the center of the city and "Juliet's balcony."

The Arena di Verona is an amazing amphitheater. Unlike the Colosseum in Rome, the Arena is still in use today with operatic, musical theater and even rock performances being held there regularly (Sting, Pink Floyd and Muse have all done shows in the Arena). It's home to the Verona Opera, and four productions are typically planned for every year between June and August with up to 15,000 people in the amphitheater at one time.

Juliet's balcony is, of course, a touristy fabrication, but it's a delightful one, and the fact that Juliet was merely fictional in no way stops many of us from seeking it out anyway. My husband and I went there and snapped pictures along with dozens of other travelers, and the characters in my book did the same...all of us reciting at least a few of the lines from Will's famous tragedy while staring up at that balcony.

"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid art far more fair than she."
~Act 2, Scene 2

Yeah. I first read the play in high school, in that Midwestern Verona, and spent most of freshmen English irritated by our teacher's required reading list. So many "classics" were forced on us -- Shakespeare, Dickens, that Austen woman. Stories that, in significant ways, changed my life. Funny how you so often don't realize the value of your education until long after you've left school. (Although, perhaps, I would have appreciated our teacher's choices more if I'd gotten to see Leonardo DiCaprio playing an urban "Romeo" when I was 14.)

Standing in front of that balcony in northern Italy, I laughed, remembering my high-school romantic dramas, one of which had actually taken place while we were reading "Romeo and Juliet," and appreciating the insight Will gave to us about teen relationships those many years ago. The dizzying power of infatuation. The allure of forbidden love. The irrationality of family tiffs. The ease of disaster at the hands of adolescents.

The ties connecting the two cities in my mind were strengthened yet again.

Did you read "Romeo and Juliet" in high school? College? Or was your first exposure to it through film? Do you think it's different reading it for the first time if you're a teen vs. an adult?


Jill Thomas said...

'...that Austen woman' LOL!

I first read ROMEO AND JULIETE in middle school and no, it wasn't required. Yes, I was that girl. The one who read BEOWULF (also, not required) with a flashlight on the pep bus while the other cheerleaders talked about the football team. I guess I was always a geeky bookworm, though also a red-blooded American teenager. I mean, I did love Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet video ;)

Another great post, Soul Sis. I've loved every stop of our European tour. Thanks for taking us along!

Edie Ramer said...

Beautiful pictures! I never read Romeo and Juliette, but I've seen a couple of old movies. Though the story is lovely, it's never been a favorite. Even when I was in my teens, I thought Romeo and Juliet weren't the brightest kids on the block.

I'd still love to visit Verona. Thanks for the virtual trip to the two Veronas.

Pamala Knight said...

*snickers* "...that Austen woman" You're so funny Marilyn.

I read Romeo and Juliet on my own early on, probably because it was assigned reading for my older brother (that's how I came to read Pride and Prejudice) and then for my own English class once I was in high school. The second time was better because I got the benefit of hearing other opinions on what certain passages or bits of dialogue meant.

I'm really enjoying your tour and look forward to the next stop. Thanks for taking us along with you.

Nicole Basaraba said...

I guess I'm one of the few that didn't know Juliet's balcony was visit able! Very interesting. There are just too many places to visit in Italty. :)

Marilyn Brant said...

Jill, you read BEOWULF for FUN?!! You are a fabulous woman, my dear, and So Very Cool! I would have loved to know you in high school (although you would have laughed at my complete inability to do anything remotely cheerleadery). We definitely would have bonded over Bon Jovi... ;)

Edie, LOL!! They were NOT very bright, I agree! My favorite character by far was Mercutio, the only witty one of the bunch, IMO, and I was SO MAD when Shakespeare killed him off. Still kinda angry about that, actually...

Pamala, ahhh, JA knows how much I love her ;). As for high school reading, being the oldest, I didn't get the benefit of having a sibling go through everything first, but I think I would have loved that! How amazing it must have been to be introduced to classics like P&P and R+J years before they were required. No wonder you're so very smart and well read!

Marilyn Brant said...

Nicole, I haven't been there in some years, but I'm pretty sure "Juliet's balcony" is still a frequently visited tourist site. You're living so close to Italy now (well, closer than I am -- I'm envious!!), you must go visit the country yourself! But then, of course, you will have to suffer through the intentions of well-meaning friends who'll insist you see their favorite Italian sites... I'm afraid I would force a long list on you myself :).

Kristin said...

Somehow, reading the classics with 9th grade English teacher/bb coach, Mr. Reiter, did not make them as appealing as they are today! You DID have Mr. Reiter freshman year, didn't you?

Marilyn Brant said...

Ohhh, the times we talked about P&P on the bus going to school... ;)
I had Mr. Reiter for "Great Books" senior year. He wasn't my favorite. Robert Redford saved me from hating "Gatsby" during his class, LOL. For freshman English, I had Mrs. Leifke, who I liked because she was nice and also taught French. Did you ever have her for anything?

Beth Watson said...

Wow, I learned a lot from your post Marilyn. I had no clue there was a Juliet's balcony in Verona, Italy. That Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes starred in a remake of Romeo & Juliet. (Just put this on my must watch list.) And that you were from Verona, WI. :-) I've driven through Verona numerous times. My family is originally from Monroe and Argyle WI which is like 45 min south of Verona. We used to stop at the Hardees on the corner in Verona when we went to grandma's when I was growing up.

I don't recall ever having read Romeo & Juliet. I saw the movie when I was in Junior High. I don't think it was for school though, it seems like they used to play it on TV frequently.

Can't wait to make it to Verona Italy one day and stand on the balcony, calling out for my Romeo...

Robin Bielman said...

Adding Verona to my list ... I'm going to have to spend *weeks* in Europe when I finally get there!

I read Romeo and Juliet in high school, but haven't seen any of the films. And to be honest, I wasn't a big Shakespeare fan so I really only remember the balcony scene.

You mentioned Robert Redford and The Great Gatsby in a comment - that I loved!

Kristin said...

Nope, I never did have Mrs. Leifke. Hmmm, I can't remember if I even took Great Books, but I must have. Now I'm wondering if we read P&P, R&J, Invisible Man, Autobiography of Malcom X, etc. freshman year, or if I'm mixing up classes. I KNOW I had Romeo & Juliet with Reiter though...I can still see, & almost hear, him reading from the play. And Death of a Salesman...surely that wasn't freshman year!

Marilyn Brant said...

Beth, it's a small world! I didn't realize your family was from the Monroe area! And I remember that Hardees in Verona :). As for Leo's Romeo + Juliet, I thought it was a fascinating version of the story because it's modern and edgy but they use all of the original language. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it after you see it!!

Robin, Robert Redford improves everything! And, yes, you ARE going to have to spend weeks in Europe!! I was thinking of you this week when I watched "Midnight in Paris" again -- this time with my hubby. He loved it as much as I did, and I was glad you'd recommended it so highly this summer ;).

Kristin, you read the Autobiography of Malcolm X?! We never did that one -- not in Freshman English or in Great Books. Hmm... And I know we read Death of a Salesman at some point, but I can't remember now WHEN that was. Maybe the same year as 1984? (I know Ms. Schroeder and Ms. Levine were spearheading "Big Brother" activities for that book during my junior year & your senior one. :) Catch-22 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest were Great Books novels when I was a senior, and I remember reading Childhood's End as a freshman. Don't recall much from sophomore year, though, except for a bunch of depressing Sylvia Plath poetry...

Kristin said...

Ok, definitely did Great Books, because I have those books on my shelf, and remember reading them in high school now that you've reminded me. Perhaps Malcom X was in college, though I don't remember my lit classes heading that way...they were more Dickinson & Faulkner & Naipul & Conrad type classes. I remember writing more than reading in sophomore year...though I do believe that was the year of The Old Man & the Sea...ugh. And how can you make a smiley face about the Hardees! Don't you remember the beautiful old house that was on that corner before they knocked it down to make room for all of the retail?!

Happy New Year to you & yours!

Marilyn Brant said...

Kristin, ohhh, sorry! I don't remember the lovely old house you mentioned, but don't take that as a sign of not caring. I'm so disoriented in Verona now, it feels like a new city to me. I could barely find my way around town the last time I was there, so much had changed to my eye, though it would probably help if I visited more than once every 5+ yrs... :)

And, re: books, I'd forgotten about Old Man and the Sea. I second your "ugh." I haven't picked it up even once since H.S., but every time I see something about Hemingway (loved the way he was portrayed in "Midnight in Paris"!), I think, "Oh, maybe I should read it again as an adult. Maybe I was too young to appreciate it." That feeling always passes, though, and I never do reread it, LOL.

Hugs and Happy New Year to you, too!!

Jakki L. said...

I really enjoyed the post, Marilyn! We read R&J freshman year in hs, but I do not remember much of it then (or anything of educational purposes from hs).
I then re-read it in college and of course ended up teaching it my freshman, hoping I was doing a better job at obtaining and retaining their attention. ;)
I love the connection you make between your two Veronas!
Hope your book/blog tour is continuing to go well! :)

Marilyn Brant said...

Jakki, thank you! I laughed when I read your comment about not remembering much of the educational stuff from high school... I know just what you mean!! There were a few random bits of information that stick out, but it was mostly the social dynamics that I remember ;).