FOREIGN SOIL

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I LOVE Verona.  Not Verona California or even Verona Arkansas.  The Verona. Verona Italy.

Located in the beautiful Italian Lake District of Italy’s Veneto region, surrounded by the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains and situated nearly on the shores of Lago di Garda (where I spent 2 summers trying to learn to windsurf), Verona is a town like no other.  It is an ancient place with stone walls built during the Roman times, a wonderful 800 yr-old labyrinth garden where I love to watch the sunsets, a still in-use amphitheater, men in suits carrying briefcases while riding Vespas, and all nestled among lemon groves and vineyards.  It is the City of Love.

Every time I go to Verona I fall a little more in love, and despite all the hoopla with Romeo & Juliet, I continue vowing to try and find a way a way to retire there.  I’ve enjoyed every time I’ve been there……

But then there was the last visit.

Arriving by train and beginning the trek from the Porta Nuova train station to the Piazza Bra is search of our hotel, we followed behind a little elderly couple.  In true Italian style, grandma, donned with a bonnet and apron, arm in the air clutching a wine bottle by the neck, was really letting her ‘I’m-zoned-out-because-I’m-used-to-this’ husband have a ‘what-for’.  We laughed, we were in Italy, and all was right with the world.

We arrived at our hotel to find out that we’d rented a room above a family-run restaurant.  No problem.  I had been practicing all 32 words that I knew in Italian and was determined to use them all.

“Buon Giorno!” I exclaimed in my most confident Italian to the gentleman who met us at the door.

“Hello!” he answered back.  ‘What?’ I thought? Let’s take another stab at this……

“Ho una prenotazione” (I have a reservation) I said boldly undeterred.

“Yes. Hello, you must be Janelle,” he again shot back in English.

“Seriously? I’m trying really hard here…is my Italian that bad?” I asked sheepishly.

“No, honey, it’s not your accent – it’s your shoes!  No Italian woman would ever be caught dead in a pair of hiking boots”, he laughed as he enjoyed teasing me and watching me make a fool of myself.

The thought that came to me was, ‘no American woman would be stupid enough to traipse over cobblestone streets with a backpack and fashionably matching high heels’, but rather than saying this out loud, I simply hung my head.

My new friend, Giovanni and I got along great for the rest of our time in Verona and we both enjoyed working on our language skills.

The next day was to be a full one and we were getting an early start.  We were headed out to Lake Garda for a day on the hydrofoil seeing the lemon groves and enjoying the beach.  I decided to sneak out and hit the ATM while the kids were getting dressed.  I tiptoed downstairs in the dark past all the sleeping residents and headed for the door.  So much for trying to be stealthy!  I was locked IN!  Evidently, the hotel had the same hours as the restaurant, so no one goes in or out during hours that the restaurant was closed.  Well, that wasn’t going to cut it as we had an early train to catch!

I noticed that grandma’s door was open, so in my most apologetic voice, I woke her up and asked if she could let me out.  I understand now why waking a sleeping dragon is not a great idea.  She stomped about in her robe looking for the key and scolded me in Italian with what I was sure was racial slurs against stupid American women.  She let me out, slammed the door and went back to bed.

Upon returning from the ATM, I found the door…you guessed it…locked.  Great!  First I’m locked in and now I’m locked out.  So much for be the good representative for America to a country that is not as impressed with us as we are!  I tried to knock, but that was futile.

I then got desperate as we had a train to catch and I didn’t know if the kids were even up.  I picked up some rocks, found the window to our room and began tossing stones hoping not to break any glass or get arrested.  The kids were dressed and ready to go, but then had to be informed that it was their turn to wake grandma up so they could leave.  I made sure that they had everything that we’d need for the day and considered taking all our belongings in case we were not welcomed back that evening.

We all eventually made it out alive, but missed the intended train and had to wait for a later one.  We enjoyed the lake, and ended up renting a paddle boat because our hydrofoil boat left without us.  I was a little disappointed, but a day spent at Lake Garda is always heaven on earth.

We enjoyed the rest of our time in Verona seeing all the sights and I had a good laugh at my teenaged son who just couldn’t bring himself to rub Juliet’s left breast for good luck.

I am planning another visit to Verona soon and am sure that I’ll love it as much as always.  This time I’ll see the lemon groves.  This time I’ll share the sunset in the Gusti Gardens with my husband.  This time I’ll take the Vespa tour through the countryside. But this time, however,  I’ll be wearing different shoes.

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