Thursday, September 21, 2006

Travel Chronicles III - Summer - From Montagnana to Mantua and back

Tuesday 10th - Montagnana - The forbidden cathedral

On tuesday the first objective was to see the cathedral of Montagnana, which we had failed to see the day before and that I meant to visit since the time I had originally discovered the place, two years ahead.

One thing is to be said of Montagnana's cathedral: it is not really a cathedral, being that there is no bishop or cardinal, but it could very well be considering its size, which is huge in general and gargantuan if compared with the dimension of the city itself. Practically speaking, in a city that is about 800 meters long, this church measures 64 meters: with the same proportions, Saint Peter in Rome would be something like 2 kilometers long .

The internal turned out to be partially under work (what is, the restoration year of the whole italian north-east?), but all in all quite rich and interesting for such a minuscule city and once again, actually even more, I got the feeling everyone was staring at us wondering something on the line of "who are these invaders?".

Tuesday 10th - Mantua - Don't say "rabbit", ever.

If Verona was the city of the Scaligers, Mantua was the city of the even more influential Gonzagas, who ruled it for almost 4 centuries starting in 1328. And while Verona could had been Catullus' city, Mantua is Vergil's' one and is so proud of it to represent it in the city's coat of arms (see the little face in the upper left quarter?).

Anyway, Mantua was probably the most tense of our visits, not because of the city itself, but because of a "little" diplomatic incident happened towards the end of the day. Anyway, Mantua was also the city where we walked around the least and the only one where we missed one of the major venues we had listed as "must see" before leaving (yes, we actually sat down before leaving making a list of "must see" and "to see if possible" venues).

What we did was to walk to the church of Sant'Andrea, which for a moment I incredibly identified as the cathedral of the city and from there, passing in fro,t of the "palazzo della ragione" (left) and it's wondrous tower of the clock, to Piazza Sordello, where the real city's cathedral and the main entrance to the ducal palace are. It would indeed be more correct to say "palaces", being that the Gonzagas spent centuries connecting all their properties in town and even the castle of the city in a single, huge, entity.

We headed for the palace first and there the ticket seller made me smile. As I asked a full and a reduced (under 25 years) ticket she looked at us and said "who's the reduced one?". Still smiling, I decided to get also an audio guide, despite having my faithful guide with me, just because they look funny consisting in a cd player with two connected earplugs. So it was that we marched in the palace, Susanne holding the guide and, consequently, me at a kind of a leash (which I suppose she enjoyed a lot) and for almost three hours we adventured in the palace, included Pisanello's rooms and the overly famous and truly magnificent Mantegna's "camera degli sposi" (while we couldn't see the Castle of San Giorgio, being prepared with a large exhibition right about Mantegna for the 500th anniversary of his death).

Out of the palace, tired, we looked for a place for lunch and, being my favourite (and only) restaurant in Mantua was closed, we walked back and settled right in front of the ducal palace where I had a sandwich and Susanne... yes, a salad. Which, by hindsight, would had brought the catastrophe later on, but I didn't know, then.

Anyway, after lunch, we moved to Mantua's cathedral, with it's painting and frescoes by Giulio Romano (who is also the architect of the whole building) and the wonderful sagrestia painted a fresco, and then took a wide walk around the castle and along the lake that surrounds the city on three sides, finally heading towards "Palazzo Te", the last of the things we meant to see. But it happened that along the way we noticed a shop offering sales and Susanne decided for a brief check.. which became a 90 minutes stop while she tried this and that, and then again. So it was that by the time we were out, it was too late for Palazzo Te and we instead headed towards Piazza Virgilio, a nice green spot in the heart of the city created by a general of Napoleon, at the time military governor of the city, at the end of the XVIII century.

And there it happened. I can't remember how we actually got to the topic (lunch could had helped), fact is we were suddenly talking of rabbits. Quite insanely, at Susanne (proud owner of a huge black rabbit) saying how much she likes rabbits I happened to reply "oh, I like them too... roasted, mostly". Yet we were still evidently (to both) joking at that point, but then she expressed her concerns about what to do with his rabbit now that she's moving and how taking it to Mainz could had affected, with her living on her own and having no one to leave him, her possibility of coming again to see me in Rome. At that I, joking, I swear, replied "I suppose you'll have to choose between him and me, then". She got it seriously and got annoyed, said something I, in turn, misunderstood totally (lovely things happening when two people have an argument in a third language) and the consequences were two hours and a painfully long train trip in almost absolute silence .

Tuesday 10th - Montagnana - The drink offered and the one denied

By the time we were back home, anyway, the situation had been defused and things were made even better by the owner of the apartment where we were staying who, when I went to settle the bill, offered us two large glasses of a drink made mostly of Ananas juice (which I hate, but Susanne loves) and I do not know what else.

As we went out for dinner, tho, we saw the other face of hospitality in Montagnana when, sitting at this kind of bar, we ordered a mix of cheeses and hams, which were adequate, and a glass of wine which was basically empty, made even worse by seeing the others around us getting routinely the same glasses but half filled up. I didn't particularly feel as a quarrel and gave up, but we got back to them anyway... by the end of the evening, between by camera's bag, Susanne's pockets and my shirt's right sleeve we took away twelve sugar packets (the one you usually get in bars with coffee) for next morning's breakfast.

Relaxed and chuckling for our little bravado, we finally got home and prepared to go to bed when a "Oh bloody hell" was heard "the toothpaste, AGAIN!" followed by a "Oh, we'll buy it tomorrow" as an answer. With a hint of a snicker in it, I could swear.

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