Back in December the members of the Veneti nel Mondo held their annual Christmas dinner at Villa Brunetti Banquets in Franklin Park. What it turned out to be was a fantastic reunion with many of my fellow traveler friends to the wonderful country of Italy. We were able to reminisce as we once again, tipped a few glasses of wine while enjoying a very good meal.
Don and Maureen Peczek showed up with Don carrying a bag of hair hats for those that wanted to buy one. Don had started out on our trip wearing a “hair hat” which is a baseball cap, but instead of the top being cloth it is made with fake grey and black hair. The effect on a grey head of hair is to look just like a full head of hair under a sun visor cap. That might not mean much to most people but to some people—thin haired or balding—it’s a fountain of youth. Of course I bought one!
One of the great things about the trip to Italy was that we were able to visit so many cities with a local guide to point out the highlights. It was gratifying to see the local guides treat our guide Simonetta with respect as the lead tour guide. Just as I have extensive knowledge of the Pullman neighborhood and the Pullman Factory and am always seeking additional information, the local guides also dispense current information and trends along with their historical facts. As a matter of fact, anyone in Italy serving in an official guide capacity must pass an annual test to keep their tour guide licenses from expiring.
I visited the Ponte Vecchio in Bassano three times in the few days we spent in Bassano. The bridge was undergoing structural repairs so, just like when they work on the Kennedy or the Dan Ryan, they closed half of the bridge all the way across the Brenta River and left the other half for traffic. By traffic I mean everything from bicycles to Vespas to baby strollers and groups. You always had to be aware when you were walking on the bridge because you never knew when a Vespa might come zipping through.
Walking along the Brenta River to the Ponte Vecchio you will find yourself walking in the Viale dei Martiri the “Valley of the Martyrs.” The beautifully shaped and maintained trees have name plaques or photos affixed to them, which commemorate the 31 partisans and Alpini troops that were hung from the trees by German soldiers during WWII. As visitors begin walking on the Ponte Vecchio and stop to admire the view from the bridge, their eyes latch on to the pock mark bullet holes still visible as a remembrance of the martyrs sacrifices.
During the war the Ponte Vecchio had been once again partially destroyed. In 1948, the Alpini Troops insisted that they rebuild that portion of the bridge to honor their fellow Alpini. They are also honored with a museum in the lower level of a taverna at the end of the bridge.
For one Euro you can enter the lower level and visit the Museo degli Alpini. There are many artifacts and, where possible, notation is made of the persons or artifacts in the photos shown. There are numerous weapons, uniforms, maps, books, personal stories and personal items on display. I spent a good hour viewing the museum and learning of the respect the Aplini earned through their personal sacrifices.
At the end of the block just off the Ponte Vecchio is the Caffé Ponte Vecchio. My good friend Gina Frighetto Sachiewicz from St. Anthony’s 8:30 Sunday mass had mentioned that one of her cousins managed this café. On my second visit I was actually able to meet her cousin and to give him her regards.
When it came to shopping on our trip, most every city had its marketplace set up with temporary canopied stands or a variation thereof. When we were in Bologna, after settling my things in our room at the Hotel Tre Vecchi, I took a walk and saw the local marketplace as it was closing up. I managed to get some photos but it was obvious that all sellers had to clear the square by a certain time so that the square would become an open space for the citizens to walk through. The vendors moved at quick pace to remove their merchandise and then take down their pole vaulted canopies and load it all into their trucks or vans. In the morning I returned to see these same vendors retracing their steps of the previous night in reverse order as they set-up their canopies and then restocked their merchandise displays.
In Bassano del Grappa, we were fortunate to have arrived in time for the weekly market day, which meant a lot of walking and shopping. As a matter of fact, before I left for my personal visit to Padua, I headed to the market to buy an umbrella to use as a walking stick and for the somewhat wet weather I knew I’d be encountering. When I returned from my day in Padua, I actually had enough time for a return visit to the Ponte Vecchio.
As I walked through the town, I saw a familiar couple ahead of me. Don and Gloria Strazabosco had decided to take a walk into town to buy an “Alpini” shirt for one of their grandchildren. I don’t recall any of the prices being outlandish considering that stores had set prices but the open market was a place where bargaining was acceptable practice. Using Euros, we always had to keep in mind the exchange rate, which at the time was about $1.26 to $1. In other words, for every four Euros, we were paying five dollars American.
Since this was my first tour of Italy and, not knowing if it would be my last, I bought souvenirs — a lot. In fact, I ended up with so many souvenirs that I had to buy an extra suitcase. It became a joke but one that everyone shared because others had bought many souvenirs and had also taken many pictures on their first trip.
I went out of my way to purchase small snow globes in each of the cities we visited because my granddaughter Fiona and grandson Ethan get pleasure from seeing the snow falling in the globes. Upon my return I presented them to the kids and watched their eyes light up with the snowfall in each of the twelve globes.
After reviewing my 5,000 photos, I’d say it’s time for me to wrap up my Veneti nel Mondo Italian Viaggio by mentioning my personal favorites and what was of most interest to me. First of all, I was fascinated by the Italians we crossed paths with. They all looked very healthy, well exercised, and not overweight and they were all active. This could be due to the climate, their diet and the fact that, by necessity, there’s an awful lot of walking each and every day. Another thing regarding the Italians we saw: style. European fashion is not just a comment on a garment, but a style that is fine-edged with remarkable innovative detail and what can only be described as an eye-catching flair. There is no need for a fountain of youth because the people we saw stay active enough to maintain their youthfulness.
When I think of all the art we viewed, both religious and secular, it makes me proud to be a creative American Italian and to realize the ancestral legacy I share. The climate of Italy that permits the outdoor display of statues, bronzes, architectural wonders and gardens of such unheralded beauty causes me to yearn for a daily vision of such beauty. I appreciate with all the more pride that I am a board member of the Italian Art League so that I too can have handing in ensuring the sharing of that creative legacy.
The lack of open space for the residents of the cities we visited led to ingenious floral arrangements in their allotted space. This resulted in many vertical floral arrangements that covered, climbed and vined their way to rooftops over century-old bricks and doorway mantles. I took many photos of these arrangements due to their simple and stark beauty as they seemed to spring forth out of nowhere.
The truth of the matter is that this trip, my fellow travelers, the sights we visited, the people we interacted with, and the ancestral connections I felt have opened my eyes and given me a new appreciation. I’m not solely speaking about Italy, I am talking in the context of the greater world and how appealing our differences are when they creatively pour forth beauty which can only result in shared love of that beauty.
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