Edward Alban

Edward Alban

Edward Alban was born Luis Eduardo Albán in Ecuador, (1938) and has lived in Savannah, Georgia since 1952. He has taught Economics at Auburn University, SUNY Potsdam, Armstrong State University, and Savannah State University.

Since his retirement in 2000, he has traveled throughout Europe and South America and pursued his new avocation for languages and literature, publishing poetry in regional literary periodicals, as well as two larger works, which include Stories that Words Told Me, (Authorhouse 2007), and a novel Dialogues of the Sleeping Mind, (Dog Ear, 2011).

 

Verona

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The train left Milan at 12:30 and by 2 pm we were in Verona amid a drizzle which soon escalated into a downpour and forced us to buy more umbrellas to add to our growing collection of forced buys. Fortunately, I found an inexpensive one for under $5 which came in a cute plastic casing in the shape of a wine bottle. Salud! We also made lemonade out of the rain. We took refuge in a restaurant and had dinner while it poured. By the time we finished dinner the sky had quit crying, the sun was smiling, the squares were filled with people resuming their activities and Verona’s wet streets turned cheerful again.
     Verona is a medieval jewel that preserves the charms of its antiquity. Here you can rewind time for centuries and even millennia. While there are dozens of towns like that in Europe, Verona is unique because it is immortalized by Romeo and Juliet. This is where Shakespeare placed them; this is where he saw them kiss and where he heard them swear their love to each other in lines that will endure to the end of time. Here is the home of the Capulets and Montagues. Here is the hall of the great ball where Romeo first saw Juliet from a distance and exclaimed smitten: “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright.” Here is where Shakespeare observed Romeo still staring at Juliet before meeting her in person and saying to himself: “See how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek!” Here is the balcony where Juliet stood intoxicated by love on a beautiful summer night which she wished would never end. Here is where they said good night a thousand times, prompting Romeo to say: “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I would say goodnight till it be morrow.”
     Verona’s air is suffused with love because of these two hapless lovers who, having lived and having loved and having died young here, impart the town with the sense of their love story. You can almost breathe the ineffable and indistinct aroma of spring in the air, even when it isn’t spring. Romeo and Juliet live –not as ghosts, but as living characters of an eternal human condition that is trapped in the stones, the passage ways, the balconies and gardens of the fairy tale world that is Verona.
     Today we only took a sip; only a drop from the vial of Verona and it was so sweet, it awakened a thirst for more. I think we will come back. We were here much too briefly, just long enough to know that there is much we do not know, but would love to know more of.
     Verona enchants people. They come, they fall in love with the city and they stay. The great diva Maria Callas was one such. She came; she loved Verona and lived here for many years. Movie directors, artists, poets and musicians come to recharge their inspiration here. This city, like Paris, like Savannah, is a city that treasures its history; that respects the past and works at preserving it. While the world changes in a mad rush to nowhere, cities such as these become bastions of the beauty of yesteryear and like little islands to the wastelands that surround them, they preserve their old beauty and they keep that endless charm that only history bestows.
     There is a movie that was filmed on and around Verona: “Letters to Juliet,” (2010) that expands on this idea. It stars Amanda Seyfried, Gael Bernal Garcia, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero. I didn’t think much of the movie when I first saw it, but I loved the photography and the feel of the area. Now that I’ve been here I want to see the movie again.
     One of the subplots of the movie involves two older people who find each other again after 40 years and rekindle their love –Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero. Strangely enough, this is a case of fiction imitating real life because the actors were reliving the role they played in the film. I just read the review of this movie by the late great Roger Ebert who had interviewed Vanessa and Franco back in 1967. It is worth passing on. Here is an excerpt from that review.
     As it happens, this story stirred memories of romantic memories in my own life. Once in a small hill town outside Rome, under a full moon, I stood before the balcony being used by Franco Zeffirelli for his great film “Romeo and Juliet” (1968), and heard Nino Rota hum his theme music to Zeffirelli. Some years later, I stood beneath the “Juliet’s Balcony” in Verona itself with a woman dear to my heart and saw the notes pinned to the wall.
     And the very first movie set I ever visited, before I was yet a movie critic, was “Camelot” (1967). On that set I met and interviewed Vanessa Redgrave, who was not yet 30, and Franco Nero, who was 26. They played Guenevere and Lancelot. They fell in love on the set, married and had a child. Finally on New Year’s Eve 2006, they married. Even earlier, Franco walked Vanessa’s daughter Natasha Richardson down the aisle when she married Liam Neeson.
     So you see, when Vanessa marries Franco 40 years after falling in love with him, and they are playing characters who meet after 50 years, and this all has to do with Juliet’s balcony — reader, what am I to do? I am helpless before such forces.

     Don’t you just love Roger? Helpless before the power of love after 50 years and the magic of Juliet’s balcony! Indeed, this balcony is magical. I will enclose pictures.
     Piazza Bra. But Verona is not all old musty antiquity. It has its newer everyday area with shops and restaurants and this is where we were most of the few hours that we spent here. We hung around the tourist area, around the Roman Amphitheater and around a cute little piazza nearby with a name which is, I kid you not, “Bra.” The Roman amphitheater is in the center of town and is used as an open air theater. As a matter of fact, they were doing Verdi’s opera “Aida” there tonight. This opera is set in Egypt and as we walked around outside the amphitheater we could see the props and paraphernalia for the opera ready to be assembled on the stage. There were red roses with petals as big as a person; there were human legs from the knee down that were the size of a refrigerator and humongous pyramids. I would have loved to see how they were going to use them.
     Suddenly, as we moseyed around, we saw an odd couple beckoning us to join them. They were extras for the production later that evening. He was dressed as a Roman soldier in full regalia. She was an Egyptian princess, a Cleopatra look-alike. Would you like to have your pictures taken with us? JoAnn went first and I took the pictures. Then it was my turn. As if to spice things up and make the picture more bizarre, the Roman soldier then took off his helmet and put it on me. He also gave me his sword, which I raised up in the air as I cried out: Hail Caesar! It doesn’t get more ridiculous than that. It was fun.
     JoAnn sat down in the little park called Bra before a fountain while I went scouting around. I liked what I saw and told myself: Oh, yes, I would enjoy coming back here. Then I spotted a sight-seeing choo-choo train and we hopped on it and went riding, snaking through the narrow streets of Verona, going across the river, the Adige, and seeing more things that we would like to return to. And so we left Verona, but with that thought in mind.
     At the train station while we waited for about an hour, we chatted with a nice young man, an Italian college student who had studied in the US, I forget where. He spoke perfect English. The subject of the World Expo in Milan came up and he asked us if we had seen it. We didn’t miss much he told us. He had been to it and was not terribly impressed. He was, above all, disappointed by the American pavilion which he said was nothing more than a video with President Obama extolling the virtues of conservation and growing healthy food.
     It felt good to travel on the train without having to worry about luggage, with our hands free and without care. On the seat across the aisle from us were four Italian ladies, in their 50s I would guess, who were returning to Milan. One was going to Turin. What a delightful bunch! We were friends in no time at all. The hour and a half flew by on that train. My Italian got quite a work out, although one of them did know some English and another spoke French.
     They asked where we were from and I told them we had two homes, one in Savannah and one in Kansas and that we travelled back and forth. They couldn’t believe the distances of the US; that Kansas is only halfway across the country and that it is already over 1800 kilometers (1200miles) from Savannah. They gasped at that. I told them that sometimes we flew, and sometimes we drove. When we drove, it took us two and a half days and we drove carrying four cats in tow. That broke them up. Quattro gatti… one mumbled incredulously, shaking her head.
     Did JoAnn speak Italian? Only one word, I said. And what was that? “Magari” (maybe, hopefully). How come that? Because she likes the sound of it. She thinks it sounds like the name of a cat. More laughter.
     I told them where we’d been in Italy and that we had loved everywhere we’d been to. They were delighted and flattered to hear that. And Verona? Did we like Verona? Oh, yes, I assured them; but we had seen so little of it. Well, then, they added, you must come back. I replied that I would love to someday. Then one of them objected: but why sometime? Then another pressed: yeah, why not next year? I responded with one word, the magic word: Magari!
     They laughed heartily and looked at JoAnn. “Ah, there’s your word. Ha capito?”
     “But of course. I never miss ‘magari.’”
     I then pulled out my smart phone and showed them the pictures of our fiftieth wedding anniversary, the pictures then and now. That always brings chuckles. They passed it around and studied it, looking at us and smiling. “How old were you then?” one of them asked me. I replied: “Catordici.” That’s 14 in Italian. They really cackled when I said that. They didn’t believe it, but yet they knew what I meant by that.
     Something about me intrigued them –maybe it was the accent, or the looks or both. I read their minds and told them that I was originally from Ecuador, but that I had lived in the US for over sixty years.
     “E parla Spagnolo?” one of them asked me. Of course I speak Spanish! In fact, don’t be surprised if my Italian slips into Spanish words sometimes.
     “Actually, we’ve caught a few of those already,” one of them wisecracked. More laughter.
     We were all having a grand time. It is a joy to talk to the locals while abroad. Time passes by so pleasantly. We discover our kinship; we feel that bond of humanity which, despite distance and language, reveals our commonality. Oh, yes, we have different plumage, but we are all feathers just the same. We are all birds.
     “Have any of you seen the show Il Commissario Manara on TV?” I asked them. I could see shock on their faces. Of course, we have! Why would you ask? The shock is that you have seen it! “Don’t tell me they show that in the US?” one of them asked me. I had a lot explaining to do.
     “No, they don’t show that in the US. I have seen that show because I subscribe to an Italian-learning program over the internet called: Yabla Italian. This is a delightful way to learn languages. They have Yabla Spanish, Yabla French, etc. Although they do offer grammar lessons, the majority of their video presentations are about culture, about everyday Italian life, about art, cooking, travel, music, history, news and they also show some TV shows. Each presentation has subtitles both in English and Italian. You can stop it at any time, you can replay, fast forward and rewind. A lot of it is done tongue-in-cheek. I love it. I have learned quite a bit since I got it, last April.”
     This particular show, which ran in Italy from 2009 to 2012, involves a young sheriff, Manara, and his lovely assistant, Lara Rubino. Both are in their early thirties. They fight like cat and mouse because they won’t admit to themselves that deep down they love each other. So far they prefer to hide their true feelings, but the love and the attraction are latent, palpable and it causes problems at times. The show has good detective work, they do solve crimes, but it also has a lot of comedy. We started comparing notes on the train. Did you see the one where…? And the one where they almost kissed? Then one of them asked me: “What do you like about that show?” Without hesitation, I immediately responded: “Lara Rubino.”
     They roared laughing, but they all understood. Did JoAnn also watch that show? Yes, I tell her about it. She’s seen an episode or two.
     The train came to a stop. We said our very warm goodbyes and then as wayfaring friends will always do, we went our separate ways, looking for our own little corners hidden in the night of Milan.
     Tomorrow is our penultimate day in Italy.

 
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All text on this post: © Edward Alban
Published with the permission of Edward Alban