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July 2012 Archives

July 4, 2012

Verona for visitors

A week ago today, we arrived in Verona - a surprise trip for Keir's 65th birthday. The surprise was a bit spoiled by his guessing the destination at Glasgow airport (my fault, for suggesting he took a rain poncho, which gave him enough of a clue). But I'd have had to tell him on the flight anyway, because the BA flight arrived so late at Gatwick that it was clearly going to be a matter of jogging to the departure gate for Verona. Apparently they don't guarantee the connection.

Anyway, we made it (just) and had daytime free to sightsee. The Verona card is brilliant value: 2 days for EUR15 gets you in to almost everything, even free bus rides, although Verona's historic centre, within a meander of the River Adige and enclosed by the city walls, is so compact that we just walked everywhere. Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet here and Verona happily exploits this connection in the shape of "Juliet's house" (complete with famous balcony, constructed c 1930!) and "Juliet's tomb" both of which are pleasant and interesting visits if you don't take an unduly literal approach.

Evenings were devoted to a meal followed by opera, with a civilised 9.15 start and finish times ranging from 1.15 to 1.30 am). Temperatures were in the mid to high 30s!

We started with the Giardino Giusti, created in 1570 by Agostino Giusti, with a wonderful avenue of tall cypresses, glorious panoramas over the city rooftops and a labyrinth which we enjoyed bumbling our way around.

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After the Teatro Romano with its fantastic museum of mosaics and statues, we went to the Church of Santa Maria in Organo, famous for its extraordinary marquetry. The music stand in the foreground was made from tiny pieces of wood by Fra Giovanni di Verona:

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This extraordinary monk created about 25 of these masterpieces between 1477 and 1501. Here is another in the choir stalls, close up, so you can see how he created the perspective:

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July 6, 2012

Verona for opera

Keir's birthday treat was to see opera outdoors in the Roman arena of Verona, and of course this became my treat, too. Long ago, I had got tickets for Verdi's Aida last Thursday, Mozart's Don Giovanni Friday and Bizet's Carmen on Saturday. The whole experience was a total revelation: I had no idea that opera could be staged so compellingly. No effort or expense was spared, and at times the huge stage hosted several hundred performers, professional dancers as well as singers, horses and other animals, and amazing lighting effects. The arena is a giant oval, about 140 m (460 feet) on its long axis, by about 110 m (360 feet) wide.

Not knowing the venue, I had begun with more affordable tickets for Aida, at centre back of the arena, moving us closer the following two nights. There is no sound amplification, and the better of the singers needed none, but we both thought the orchestral sound in Aida muted, not surprising outdoors and from a distance of about 120 m. Still, the ballet was truly superb, and the way the torch bearers filled the whole height of the arena was magical:

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Don Giovanni was designed by Franco Zeffirelli and both sets and costumes were amazing. Our seats were superb for this production, and the Don was brilliantly sung by bass-baritone D'Arcangelo. His appearance and acting was great for the role of rake and playboy, although his surname is ironic for the bragging rapist and bully. He is centre stage in this shot of the dinner to which he invites the avenging Commendatore, and the next shot shows his descent into hellfire where he gets his just deserts.

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Carmen was also designed by Zeffirelli, and here words fail me. The other two productions had featured live horses on stage, but when one of the soldiers cantered across the crowded stage to break up the fight between Carmen and her fellow worker in the cigarette factory, my heart was in my mouth: at only six rows from the stage, we wondered if we were even safe! The flamenco dancing was extraordinary. Here is Escamillo, Carmen's latest lover, a toreador showing off:

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July 8, 2012

Lake Garda: Loch Lomond in the Dolomites?

A week ago, on the day of Keir's birthday, we took a bus from outside our Verona hotel to Lake Garda. OK, it's much larger than Loch Lomond (about 6 times larger, apparently) but it's a very similar shape and its character varies similarly between southern and northern parts. Only the sun shone and it was in the 30s Celsius.

The bus cost less than 5 euros and took under an hour to Sirmione, a historic town situated on an improbable peninsula at the lake's southern end. So we walked into the Hotel Flaminia and were pleased to find our room ready. Its balcony overlooked the lake, so we could see the boats coming and going. The hotel lounge area included a pontoon from which I swam, dodging the swans and boats: of the two I was more nervous of the swans, which don't worry me on land but when you're swimming they kind of tower over you and you feel defenceless.

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The hotel is just in front of the castle, Rocca Scaligera, and Keir was pleasantly surprised to find that 65 year olds get in free! Here are some shots of and from the castle:

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We walked to the so-called "Grotto of Catullus" (actually a Roman farm, although Catullus had a house nearby) at the northern tip of the peninsula, where Keir also got in free. I was beginning to think "roll on my 65th birthday, there are compensations" - at least in Italy. Here are some more views of this very photogenic place:

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Il Vittoriale, Gardone

Our decision to go to Gardone last Monday was capricious: the boat trip across Lake Garda seemed about the right length, the departure time was civilised and on a Monday we knew that most of the visitor attractions in the area would be closed. Although Keir knew a little of Gabriele d'Annunzio's history, he knew nothing of the local connection and I (like many people, I suspect) had never heard of this extraordinary man: politician, poet, philosopher, photographer, philanderer, air pilot, collector, self-publicist, soldier and man of action.

His house, gardens and citadel of Il Vittoriale stands just above Gardone and although the Prioria, his actual house was closed (it being a Monday), we found the visit wholly fascinating. He had a distinguished career in World War 1: after losing his right eye in a flying accident in 1916, he continued flying, undaunted, and two years later led the daring raid that dropped 400,000 pamphlets in Italian and German over Vienna. In September 1919 he led 2000 men to occupy Fiume (now Rijeke) and was received as a deliverer by the Italian nationalist faction of its population, who named him governor. Although he was expelled at the end of 1920, it was an extraordinary episode. He later became infamous for his relationship with Mussolini, although it emerged that they were poles apart on many issues, and d'Annunzio was contemptuous of Hitler, whom he called "that evil clown".

Between 1921 and 1938 d'Annunzio built his last residence here, collecting symbols and relics of his own life and of various campaigns. This led to some strange exhibits in his garden, for example one building houses the motor torpedo boat MAS96 of his Buccari hoax "beffa di Buccari" and over a round theatre space hangs the airplane from his daring flight over Vienna. And the most surprising garden ornament I've ever seen, built into the hillside, is the bow section of the warship Puglia (used as a minelayer in World War 1 and retired in 1923), donated by the Italian Navy. The epic story of how this cruiser was dismantled, transported and installed is told in the display room at the foot of a mast.

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D'Annunzio was a brilliant self-publicist, and when sales of his first, self-published book were flagging, he announced his own death in order to boost sales of the new edition, a ploy that worked brilliantly. (I wondered about this idea to increase sales of Rucksack Readers, but have been discouraged by kind friends from trying.) But I've just discovered a website devoted to his memory, and found that you can, 74 years after his death, sign up for a monthly newsletter about him. How delighted would he have been? Doubtless he would also have had a blog, a Facebook wall and have been a prolific tweeter.

July 20, 2012

A bicycle post

Having had my Flying Scot bike (handmade by Rattray in Glasgow) for over 40 years, I have finally realised that it's time to part company. It doesn't suit where we live (atop a steep hill), it doesn't go onto or into either car, and anyway I'm getting too old and stiff comfortably to swing my leg over its crossbar. So, with heavy heart, I listed it on eBay yesterday and it's already attracted a lot of interested questions as well as a first bid. I still love its classic clean lines and lean efficiency:

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and here is its splendid front post decal:

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The next question was how to replace it, and the answer (I hope) is a very different solution, a folding bike, but also handmade in Britain - namely a Brompton. If you don't already know about these bikes, have a look at this video showing the brilliant inventor, Andrew Ritchie, doing a leisurely fold and unfold it in under a minute. Most owners manage it in under 20 seconds, I am told.

When it arrives, I'll 'fess up to how long it actually takes me. Because Brompton make everything by hand, and their bikes are highly in demand, orders are on at least 14 weeks' lead time, but I am hoping that my recent eBay purchase will arrive on Monday.

July 25, 2012

Brompton: pure dead brilliant

My Brompton arrived on Monday afternoon, but it was raining hard. Never having had a new bike before, I felt reluctant to get it filthy on day one, so I just folded and unfolded it indoors, awestruck at how the chain, gear and cables seem to avoid getting trapped or damaged. Today was its first proper test, thrown in the boot together with Amy's bike and taken to Beechwood Park in Stirling, so we could practise together on the mini roads and roundabouts.

I'm getting rather fond of its appearance, and of its idiosyncratic folding pedal and odd gears (derailleur x2 combined with Sturmey-Archer x3 makes 6 speeds!):

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It doesn't have a stand, nor does it need one because it takes seconds to part-fold it into a "parked" position. I think it looks well on our front porch and it could live there, but Keir has other ideas:

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It now takes me 20-30 seconds (but that's after only two days so maybe I will improve) to complete the folding into a neat, stable parcel that can be trundled on its miniwheels. As a piece of engineering, it is pure dead brilliant.

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Although it lacks the vintage lines of my Flying Scot, the Brompton's ability to live securely inside a car boot seems a huge advantage: no need for a bike rack, tow bar let alone to disassemble the bike. It combines well, not just with other forms of transport but also with visits to places that aren't bike-friendly, making it much more compatible with everyday life. And it rides amazingly well on its 16-inch wheels, so I'm already building up speed. Apparently the unassisted cycling world speed record (51.29 mph over 200m) was set in 1986 on a small-wheeled Moulton.

Meantime, as a result of my eBay auction and various questions about frame numbers and its history, it is now clear that my Flying Scot 496R was made in 1950 so it's nearly as old as me! Apparently this makes the bike even more sought after, so age must work differently with vintage bikes than with women: I'm clearly moving in the opposite direction! However, I was delighted to see its inclusion in a specialist Flying Scot website gallery, complete with photo credit. How kind of Bob Reid to act as archivist for this wonderful example of British bike-making history.

About July 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in July 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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