Verona, the original, home of Romeo and Juliet, is a relatively small city. Notwithstanding this, it’s gusto for culture is big and global. The mix runs from traditional to cutting edge, frequently hand in hand.
A September weekend is a perfect example. Palazzo Forti Gallery, an important city run modern art venue opened a new show of local artists called The Gentlemen of Verona (Women are included), Peter Pan was onstage in the two thousand year old Roman Coliseum known as The Arena, at the fairgrounds the Marmomacc marble fair (perhaps the most important in the world) was ongoing, Tocati (Tag, you’re it) (or more simply, your turn), presented it’s ninth annual street games festival, the Masi Foundation held a gala awards presentation honoring outstanding individuals in different cultural categories and various galleries held openings, at least one of which hosted live jazz to set the mood for paintings of major jazz musicians. I am absolutely certain I’ve missed something here but you get the idea.
Obviously I couldn’t attend all, multiple events were scheduled for the same time, but I managed a good sampling.
Verona is a world center for marble. Its annual Marmomacc fair does not disappoint visitors. World-class designers, architects and building industry experts converge for days of seminars, round table discussions and meetings. Massive stone is everywhere you look, as are the equally massive machines used to move and work the stones. Marble comes in colors you couldn’t imagine. It is worked into forms you couldn’t imagine. Walls of sinuous three dimensional waves for your home or office, bath tubs that seem to be fountains stolen from a piazza at night, landscape pieces, large, robust items and delicate twining floral inlays. It all travels from the furthest points of the globe for you to admire here. Verona itself is known for a red marble that fades to a light pink in the sun. You can look down and admire it under your feet everywhere, as the sidewalks are made from slabs of it. You might even find a fossil preserved underfoot. Marble makes for a perfect meeting of world culture and Veronese culture, an ancient and prestigious material still in style after thousands of years.
Friday evening found me following the opening festivities for Tocati. This year eight countries from around the world participated with their traditional games and entertainment. Speeches, parades and small tastes of the different offerings started things off. At nine the entertainment started on stage. A music group from Croatia led things, followed by Taiwanese acrobats, a musical face off between a Swede and a Neapolitan, all brought to a rousing dance finale in the piazza by a Mariachi band playing those classics we all know and love.
This year’s international flavor gave emphasis to Verona hosting the first World Congress for ITSGA (International Traditional Sports and games Association). Unesco was present for this big step in making known the importance of traditional games as part of the World’s cultural heritage. Presentations and seminars took place indoors while games were played outdoors (mostly). Saturday, I had great fun learning Russian Dance Games inside an old deconsecrated church. Brasil, Taiwan, Mexico, Algeria, Congo, Iran, Portugal and Sweden scattered across the city to play with the Italians and all visitors.
Saturday night the Masi Foundation took over the Philharmonic Hall to present their Thirtieth Awards for cultural excellence. There are three awards. The First is the Grosso d’Oro Veneziano prize given for spreading a global message of solidarity, civilization and peace. This year the award went to Don Luigi Mazzucato, founder of the medical association CUAMM working in Africa. The Civiltà del Vino prize was awarded to Jaques Orhon, a French sommelier journalist who lives and works in Canada and who is considered the most authoritative individual, on Italian wine, within the Francophile world. The last prize for Civiltà Veneta was awarded to three individuals who have garnered international importance even as they maintain and honor their Veneto roots. They are Giuseppe Battiston, a marvelous actor, Arrigo Cipriani of Harry’s Bar, always associated with Italian Quality ( and Hemingway), and Massimo Marchiori, the mathematician who invented the Algorithm on which Google’s search engine is based. After the presentations the evening continued with a reception in the adjoining Lapidary Museum courtyard where guests sipped Masi wines and lined up to chat with the award winners.
Verona is famous for its “star crossed” lovers and is visited for it’s ancient monuments. But cultural exploration and growth continues and evolves in new directions. No one is more aware of past excellence and the need to carry it forward than the Veronese themselves. The challenge is in respecting the roots while moving forward. A thought underscored by a small scene as I left Tocati late Sunday morning; in the middle of the festivities a row of classic Nonne Italiane (Italian grandmothers) sat shoulder to shoulder knitting away. Some traditions should never die.
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