and Pakistani music from Anadi Athaley
October 25 Frizzante
Our pal Silvio invites us to Frizzante, a new bar in Verona (via Marconi 15). Bruno, the owner, worked for a time in Franciacorta and has spent time in London. As the name suggests, the list of Champagne, Franciacorta and Trento Doc is ample. We breeze through a few glasses of Ferrari Perle (on of my favorite sparkling wines) and head out to the movies.
October 20 Canova Museum
We are off to Antonio Canova Museo e Gipsoteca (www.museocanova.it) with Tiziana. It was Canova’s home and has a superb garden as well as the sculpture exhibit.
October 19 Roberto Bravi’s Atomic Family
Robert’s work has been exhibited in Germany…but this is, I believe, the first time that something has been organized for him in Verona.
October 12 through 14 Sherlock Holmes Conference in Venice
Our first meeting point is in front of the Venice train station at 3 p.m. Like a good Anglo-Saxon I arrive at 2:45 and start scanning the horizon for deerstalkers. I see none. At 3:10 I find my invitation – the one with the nice big silhouette of the great detective on it. I display it prominently and start cruising the pavement in front of the station hoping that someone will step up and confess to harboring some interest in Sherlock Holmes. In this way I meet Patrizia. We spot other likely candidates and soon have a nice little pack. At 3:40 Ivo the organizer of the event, appears leading a gaggle of Spaniards.
If “Italian Time” can be translated as “late”, to understand “Spanish Time” requires an Einstein-ian calculation that includes both time and space: for, after this first brief siting, the Spaniards disappear into an alternate universe, rarely to be seen again.
At 3:50 our tour begins. “I will give the tour in three languages,” says a smiling Ivo. Kate and I communicate telepathically and peel off to go get an aperitif. We find a café and sip Venezianas (a.k.a. Campari Spritzes).
Our next appointment is at the Casino at 6 p.m.. We take our seats and are treated to some welcoming remarks. Among these is the rare bit of information that the difference between Sherlockians and Holmsians is that Holmsians are serious. And just what does that make Sherlockians? I ask myself.
My hand shoots up in the air. I imagine myself racing down the aisle and grabbing the little man by his bowtie and shaking him while sayings things like: A lift or an elevator, a bonnet or a hood….whatever the word, the thing itself remains the same. I would then drop him back in his seat turn to the assembly and declaim: What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!
I realize that this behavior would do little to further my cause. I let my hand fall back to my lap and contemplate the venue’s décor. The room itself is perfect –high ceilings, gilt detailing, Venetian glass chandeliers and sconces with tipsy shades. The walls are covered in faux marble.
The Concert for Two Violins and Holmes begins. The violinists Sara Pastine and Federico Mechelli play with passion and are greatly appreciated. Shouts of Brava! Bravo! Bravi! resound. Congratulations to the organizers for this venue and program.
We have an hour to kill before out 9:30 dinner reservation. We end up wandering the darkened alleyways looking for the restaurant. Streets narrow to the width of Clydesdale’s rump. At 9 no Italians are out and about. They are all at home, behind closed shutters, watching CSI Miami. We wander on – the trek takes on the nightmarish quality of that Escher staircase image: you feel like you will meet yourself coming up another set of stairs. And in a sense this happens. Thrice we turn corners and come face to face with other small packs of bewildered Sherlockians. Finally Takeshi Shimizu, a Londoner by way of Tokyo, says: “I think I know how to get there.” Mercifully he does.
Day two of the conference begins. I turn a corner into the piazza in front of the deconsecrated church in which the lectures will be conducted, and I spot Bruce. Bruce is an Italian from Verona (my town) who has assumed the name Bruce in honor of Nigel Bruce. He is a collector of Sherlock Holmes films and books and he believes that the other Italian Sherlockians don’t take him seriously. He is, of course, absolutely correct.
Bruce’s Sherlockian interest is more a symptom than a hobby. I am sure that you have all heard of autistic children who can play complicated piano concertos but who cannot tie their shoes. Well, that’s Bruce. His balding head is chocked full of erudition and arcane Sherlockian facts but he is incapable of schmoozing, or even holding what would pass for a normal conversation. I should tell you now that Bruce hangs around on my little street waiting for me to come out of my flat. The poor fellow quite literally has no one else in Verona who will sympathize with his collecting compulsion and his narrow conversational range. After a decade I have grown used to Bruce, and his sudden appearance no longer fill me with dread. I know that my role is to be that of benign listener. He is, after all, a Sherlockian and I therefore want him to be happy.
We are milling in front of the church. Suddenly there is a whoop from a waiter at a café in the middle of the piazza. He grabs a broom and an hysterical rat about the size of an 8 ½ narrow races toward my black shoed feet, perhaps in the mad hope that they are rodent-allies. I leap about moaning: omigod, omigod. The rat dashes for the wall, then returns to my feet, then dashes toward the wall and back to my feet. He is finally corned and bludgeoned by the waiter who wields the broom like a mallet. After this quintessential Venetian experience we stagger inside for the first lectures.
Our next group excursion is a visit to a boathouse museum. 80 people pack into the area and receive a nice potted history of canal boats. We then line up and wait our turn to ride in one. There are three boats that hold from 12 to around 17 people. At around 9 p.m. I am handed into the last boat – the rowdy boat. We glide through the canals peeping into people’s kitchen windows and – in some cases – waving and blowing kisses to the ladies who are peering down from the windows to see what all the commotion is about. Ours was a lucky boat in that we got the added thrill of watching our boatman tumble into the canal. I was near enough to see the terror in his eyes as he clung to the slippery, rocking side of the boat. Fortunately his face did not dip below the surface of the water. Had that happened it would have been a tragedy.
Day three finds us at the deconsecrated church. I hear derisive remarks about the noisy Americans in the rowdy boat. I immediately step up to defend the honor of my countrymen. “A Frenchman was the Master of Rowdiness,” I declare. My protests are to no avail.
Stefano Guerra regales us with information about a play featuring Sherlock Holmes that was performed in Italy and he mentions that BRUCE! had – years ago – written a paper about various plays featuring Holmes. Bruce is not on hand to hear this positive reference as he is arriving by train from Verona. I feel a pang, which I identify as despair. I have, I realize, developed a tenderness toward Bruce, similar to what I feel toward small stray animals. He may be a mad Sherlockian but he is MY mad Sherlockian, and receiving acknowledgment from the only group he could possibly be a part of would make him happy.
Around 100 participants signed up for this weekend, 34 of whom are non-Italians, coming from the USA, the U.K., Australia, Switzerland, France and (in theory) Spain.
“The fact that so many people from around the world have come here is very humbling,” says Enrico Solito, a past president of Un Studio in Holmes, the Italian Holmes fan club.
“The key to our society is friendship, so to host so many friends is a great pleasure,” says Michele Lopez, the newly elected president of Un Studio in Holmes.
The conference ends and Peter Blau takes three happy Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes to Harry’s Bar for Bellinis. God Bless, Peter Blau.
And now for those who are or might become fans of Sherlock Holmes, let me mention THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MISCELLANY by Roger Johnson & Jean Upton “This is the best introduction to Sherlock Holmes that I know and it also serves as a valuable work of reference. Written by two experts, presented with wit and published as an attractive hardback at a very modest price – there’s no better bargain for the beginner or the regular reader.” -Amazon reader review.
10 October Lunch on the Orient Express
I take the train from Verona to Venice. Around 25 other journalists arrive and we board the Orient Express. Yes, I am a lucky woman. We will be taking a tour of the train, then sitting down to lunch, arriving back in Verona at around 12:30. The cars are filled with burnished wood and plush chairs. The private compartments come equiped with bathrobes, slippers and everything a well-heeled traveller would need to pass the time as the train speeds along from Venice to Paris.
All the Real Passengers (as opposed to Journalists) look as if they travel with personal valets – no loose threads, so scuffed shoes, no creases in their slacks and no stray hairs on the sleeves of their cashmere jackets. Their faces look as if they have just been massaged with revitalizing essential oil. I like looking at rich people. And I like eating foie gras, pan-fried salmon and little mounds of caviar (well, 5 tiny eggs on a biscuit, actually – but that’s enough) on good china plates and dabbing my mouth with a proper linen napkin.
What was all this in aid of? The 21st edition of the Merano Wine Festival (http://meranowinefestival.com). This exceptional opportunity to taste fine wine and gourmet food products takes place on 9 – 12 November and bills itself as “an exclusive event for gourmets.”
With dessert (Caramalized white chocolate mousse, pears sauteed in rum on nougat shortbread biscuit – too much of a good thing) we are served 2011 Dindarello from Maculan. Fragrant moscato to the max. Sweet and pure on the nose and palate.