It turns out Gabbia d’Oro means Gilded Cage. I get the décor now. Copious is the breakfast spread. It includes several forms of chocolate and honey straight from the comb. Among the many frutta arrayed are slices of a most delicious melon like a slightly subdued cantaloupe, which, with a generous slice of prosciutto, contributes to the wellbeing of the universe. Scanning the joint, our auditory faculties reveal that we are the only Americans. Good.
The revolutionary itinerary for today begins at the Castelvecchio, Verona’s medieval fortress built by the ruling Scaligeri family in the 14th century. The Castelvecchio is now the repository for ecclesiastic art from ancient local churches unable to care for their treasures. Chronologically, we meander halls beginning with solemn medieval statuary and ending with dark mannerist agonies. Our path sometimes leads out of doors around battlements and through the keep. One side of the castle abuts the river and from there we get a good look at the bridge the Scaligeris built at the same time. The retreating Germans blew it up in 1945, but the enterprising Veronese recovered the brick and stones from the river and rebuilt it.
Verona was a perfectly situated medieval city – the Adige River on three sides and on the fourth, a wall extending from river to river. The Scaligeris were swaggerers way ahead of their time, giving their progeny proto-hip hop first names like Cangrande (Big Dog) and Mastino (Pit Bull). For several hundred years, Verona maintained a fierce independence, only to succumb to inevitable Venetian dominance.
After a short long walk, we arrive in the Piazza San Zeno. The Basilica of San Zeno may be considered a minor one Catholicism-wise, but the church itself is an utterly glorious structure. The façade of pale golden stone includes one of the earliest examples of a rose window in Western architecture. St. Zeno was a local guy martyred in the fourth century; this church of his was begun in the 10th century and completed in the 12th. Its remarkable features include a ship’s keel ceiling, really two wooden hemispheres, a lower one split at the apex and flanking an identically proportioned one inserted above, a vivid altarpiece by Mantegna, and a set of monumental bronze doors with 48 panels of great charm and emotion and varying decipherability. Oh God, Zeno himself is either lying in the crypt or in an urn somehow part of a sculptural diorama labeled as ‘Laughing San Zeno’. This is exhausting and fascinating.
We have worked up an appetite, yet mill around the piazza in a daze. “Over there, Joss,” and I point to a row of red tablecloths under a row of plane trees. We sit. The waiter recites the menu. Three kinds of lasagna are available. Joss orders the radicchio one and I pick the artichoke. They come and they are exquisite, just perfect in their savory modesty. We stroll back to the hotel along the river.
After a rest in Gabbia d’Oro, we attempt shopping. Joss can’t seem to psyche herself up to spend euros. I’m too dumpy these days for Italian cut clothes. Pfeh. We chance upon Juliet Capulet’s putative residence, which is a horrid tourist magnet slimed with sentimental graffiti. We are drawn and repelled in equal measure. But we learn that San Zeno’s crypt, legend has it, was the duo’s fatal rendezvous. Another discovery, right next to Gabbia d’Oro – Pretto, purveyors of the most excellent gelato. Coconut and coffee in a cone, per favore.
I pull a name out of a guidebook and motivate us to a noted restaurant. We’re early and requested to return at 19:30. Wandering the neighborhood, we stumble upon the Scaligeri tombs, over-the-fucking-top confections of gothic nonsense, spotlit in the twilight. We are seated at the restaurant and throughout the experience, remain the sole diners, enjoying a semi-adequate meal.