Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |  Volume 7, Issue 26, Tuesday, June 26, 2012



VERONA: City of Love

By Neeman Sobhan

I am revisiting this north-Italian city after two decades, with my husband and a girlfriend. We are free-wheeling overnight visitors who wish to soak in a place without trying too hard. We allow ourselves two tourist stops: something authentic and something cliché but fun.

The first is the famous Roman amphitheatre, the Arena. The second is the popular temple of love that has given the city its epithet: the house with the coat of arms of the Capulets or dell Capello family on the arch leading to the courtyard of a famous balcony. You guessed it.

Perhaps it's more appropriate to call Verona the city of romantic myth rather than love. Also, consider that almost every old city in Italy that flourished in a gilded and turreted medieval past is set in the aspic of romance. So, even above Verona, I could name Firenze or Venezia as the city of love. Except for one important fact: while Firenze might have nurtured beauteous Beatrice lingering on the Ponte Vecchio to inspire the poetry of Dante for all times; and Venice, city of Don Giovanni and Vivaldi and gondolas, shimmering like a mirage between sea and sky might still inspire real lovers, Verona trumps with the legend of Romeo and Juliet.

“Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene…”

Who does not remember the first lines of the great Shakespearean tragedy about the feuding Montagues and Capulets? So between Shakespeare and the hordes of pilgrims of love arriving in this fair walled city to seek out the earthly address of the legendary lovers, Verona has acquired its crowning title.

So why is it a myth? Because even as the house on number 23, Via dell Capello near the Piazza delle Erbe in the heart of Verona is called Juliet's House, it cannot be verified that the Capulet family actually lived here. But isn't love about faith?

So, even on my second visit to this city, my friend and I leave our skepticism outside with my husband and his cigar in the crowded courtyard and enter what has become a must-see on a tourist's itinerary: La Casa di Giulietta.

The graceful many-storied house is scattered with frescoes, paintings, ceramics and antique furnishings from the 16th and 17th centuries, but not necessarily belonging to the Capulet family. The view of the tiled rooftops from the windows is more genuine than the bronze statue of Juliet down in the courtyard, but the sense of the past is intact. Even the bed used in the Zefirelli film and displayed in one of the rooms reinforces a sense of drama. It's like entering the pages of an engaging historical fiction. The combination of facts and fantasy is just right for a what-if ambience.

We pose on the balcony, which we know was added in 1930! But the magic is in the imaginary space and not the structure on which we stand. We return downstairs as if from another time.

The disappointing thing for me about this second visit is that the entire passageway to the courtyard is defaced by graffiti and stick-on notes of the lovesick. In the early eighties when we first came here it was long before the film 'Letters to Juliet'. Since then Club of Juliet with her secretaries answering the mail has become over-evident and a thriving business.

That evening we line up at one of the Arena's many entrances with concert tickets bought earlier. It is too early in June for the opera season, which is a pity. Everywhere, there are posters announcing the 90th festival of ballets and operatic performances at this renowned stage, from 22 June to 2 September. Visitors should keep this in mind. Luckily there was a pop concert happening tonight. Laura Pausini may not be Bizet's Carmen, but she is a famous and melodious excuse to be spectators on the steps of this well preserved pile of ancient history dating back to the 1st century AD.

We are borne aloft by the milling throngs to our sky-high stone seats from where we watch the evening sky crush the sunset colours into violets and plums then into a bruise blue canopy above. From our height we can see the towers, domes and surrounding rooftops as well as the stage. The night deepens; the lights come on; and at the exact hour of nine, through the thundering applause of the packed arena Laura appears below running up to the stone stage. Like a burst of fireworks, her warm voice fills up the sky, and the hearts of her admirers, especially when she announces that the proceeds from tonight's show go to the recent earthquake victims of Italy.

My friend is awed by the bonding between singer and audience, the chemistry, the energy. The connection is electric, and she is torn between listening to the singer and watching her thousands of fans, all of whom sing along with her, accompanying her in each and every song like a pitch-perfect chorus. What we are watching is better than rehearsed opera: we are witnessing instant art, the spontaneous drama of everyday Italians -- all lovers of music and poetry, participating in a creative act. Laura weaves her audience along, knitting us into ballads and foot-tapping songs, creating a sense of unity.

Tonight the Arena is a true temple of love -- the much larger and truer love that encompasses humanity rather than the merely romantic feelings between individuals that isolates them from the rest of the world.

Perhaps, Verona is the city of love.


RB's Dettol launches a TV show

Reckitt Benckiser may not just be a name you are very familiar with -- their sub-brands have a huge bearing on your life. From cleaning your toilet (Harpic) to getting rid of mosquitoes (Mortein), Reckitt Benckiser, a UK-based multinational company with sales in about 200 nations, has them all.

Dettol -- a ubiquitous name in every household -- is also owned by RB. After a stream of good initiatives over the last fifty years, such as disaster-relief programs, school hand-hygiene campaigns, new-born baby support and other public awareness programmes to help uplift the health and hygiene habits of Bangladeshis, RB now turns its attention to a reality show.

RB understands the emotional link between mother and children; it is the most valued and precious of bonds. Tapping into that, Dettol has come up with a show called Dettol Shera Ami Shonge Ma. The show will be aired by RTV. In this game show, mothers and their children are going to take part in many exciting games and performances from which eventually the best mother and her child will be selected and honoured.

-- LS Desk


Fashion House Mumu- Maria is offering discounts of up to fifty percent on their summer collection at their Banani outlet. Saris, shalwar kameez sets, fatuas and children's wear done in unique designs in muslin, kota, katan, silk and cotton are available here. Also available are Tangail and Jamdani saris. Address: House 37, Road 6, Block C, Banani. #01833328380, 01833328381



Purple haze

By kaniska chakraborty

Till date, whenever I feel down, I listen to Jimmy Hendrix's Purple Haze.

The song has never failed to snap me out of my blues.

So when I found purple solace in a saucepan, I was definitely happy.

OK. Rewind.

I found some lovely looking black grapes at Spencer's.

Picked them up on a lark with no particular idea in mind apart from carrying them for lunch.

That evening, on TLC, I saw an episode of Chuck's Day Off in which he prepares breakfast for his wine supplier.

Along with bread and eggs and bacon and what not, he also made a grape conserve.

Basically, he stewed seedless black grapes with little sugar to create what looked like delicious sticky jam.

I had black grapes, I had sugar. The rest was a no-brainer.

I took a saucepan and put the grapes with a little sugar to get them going on a very low flame.

The biggest temptation was to keep stirring them and popping them to let the juices out.

But Chuck did not do that.
So I also resisted for a while.
And I kept peeking in the saucepan.

Soon my vigil was rewarded. Dark purple juices were oozing out of the grapes that were collapsing in the slow heat.

Slowly, alchemy happened in the saucepan.

All the grapes had released their juices, which with a little help from the sugar, had reached liquid candy consistency. The little orbs that were the grapes now lay in the juice, creating little hillocks in the purple landscape.

Took it off the heat and let it cool for an hour or so.

There was a deep purple (there I go with my rock music fascination again!), sticky, shiny semi solid jam.

Took a little with a spoon. It was solid enough to stay on the spoon, but liquid enough to be slurped up easily.

It was like an explosion in the mouth. Intensely grape-flavoured, insanely sweet and tart at the same time. Right consistency to coat the tongue but not clammy so that the coat remains. And the little grapes provided little bites in the otherwise smoothness. And the purple colour. Brightened up the humble toast that got a generous smear of the jam.

Next thing that I did was to buy some more of that brilliant grape. Need to do another batch, this time to last a little longer.


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