For three years I was lucky enough to live in a small Italian city called Vicenza. Steeped in history and magnificent architecture thanks to among others Andrea Palladio, the city was a rich tapestry woven by the wonderful people and places of that city.
Vicenza was about half way between Verona on the west, the city made famous by Shakespeares’ tale of Romeo and Juliet and Venice to the east. It also sits just south of the mighty Dolomite Alps, towering grey mountains full of majestic beauty. Different from my beloved Rockies, they were no less beautiful.
Vicenza is in the Po river valley, a fertile and lush farming area, but it also is close enough to the Adriatic Sea that the people ate more seafood than anything else. In Vicenza, you rarely saw the tomato based sauces so prevalent in southern Italy, usually, when they used sauces they were a cream base. Due to the farming, vegetables were plentiful, but pasta was still their favorite staple food.
The Italians in northern Italy, where Vicenza is don’t resemble our normal pictures that we carry around of what Italians look like. They are small and slim generally and blond and fair skinned. Being so close to Austria and Switzerland, this is understandable. They are very friendly there and the only problem with that was that they thought that US Army personnel had lots of money, or ‘molte soldi’!
Still I loved that city and treasured each day I spent there. One of my favorite places to visit was Monte Berico, which was a scenic overlook to the city. We would go up there and spend the afternoon, looking down on the city, laying on the balustrade in the warm Italian sunshine and feeling at peace. The view from there was glorious.
To the north was the Dolomites and when you looked down at the city you could see the cathedral or ‘duomo’ as Italians usually call them, its copper roof long ago turned a pale turquoise from oxidation. The duomo sat on the Piazza dei Signores, or Plaza of the Men and was surrounded by shops and city buildings. There was a large sidewalk café there where my daughter had her first Italian gelato, or ice cream, wonderfully rich and creamy, so different from American ice cream.
An interesting historical item about Vicenza is that part of the ancient road called the Apian Way still exists there. It's only a small piece, but it is pretty cool when you consider how old it is.
In the downtown area also is the Teatro Olimpico, a fabulous place to visit. It was once used by Napoleon and Josephine as their palace and you can actually sit in their thrones and have your picture taken if you are inclined to do that. One of the most fascinating things about it are the statues that are everywhere in there. They are all made of paper mache, and they looked as good as any that I saw made of marble. But one of them was a bit different—it had a hole in the knee. It seems that Napoleon didn’t believe that they were made of paper and so he ran his sword through it!
That particular statue stands in the auditorium which has the most unique staging system I have ever seen—the stage has 3 city streets on it with doors that open into shops. The shops are actually dressing rooms. It gives a deeper dimension to the stage, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they did for productions that didn’t need streets! Teatro Olimpico also has the distinction for being the oldest surviving indoor theater in Europe, as it was built in 1584.
Everything seemed to be any adventure there, from trying and succeeding in finding a Chinese restaurant and the thrill I found the first time I walked into the Calzatura Fabrico—shoe factory! Almost every woman’s dream, let me tell you!
I often found it puzzling how the Italians took it all for granted, but then I do the same thing where I live. I think that is an inherent trait in humans, we ignore what we are surrounded by everyday.
I have taken away so many grand and wonderful memories of this city and the people I met there that I will never forget. But then, I don’t want to ever forget them. I try to never let those memories slip from my ever forgetful mind, but they will live on in the pictures and stories I tell.