On Friday May 9th I was the featured speaker at an event at the Castelvecchio in Verona. The event was the brainchild of film-maker Anna Lerario and her husband Antonio Bulbarelli, sponsored by the office of the Mayor of Verona, and put together by Verona's Ministry of Culture, all to promote my work bringing the story of the city's history - and especially the person of Cangrande della Scala - to life. It was timed to coincide with the release of my novel THE MASTER OF VERONA in Italian by the publishing house of La Corte Editore.
It was incredible.
The day actually began with a viewing of Anna's documentary about the province of Verona in a theatre packed with elderly viewers. After the film, I was invited on stage to talk a little, and also to meet a lovely scholar and gentleman named Giovanni Rapelli, who has made it his life's work to study the links of the Latin and Italian tongue to the Etruscans.
After lunch and a bit of down-time, Jan and I started off for the Castelvecchio. The event was scheduled for 5:30, though we had to wait a bit for all the people swarming downstairs. I was nabbed at the door first by longtime readers, some local, some having come as far as Lyon, France. Then I had a quick interview with a reporter as the dais was set up and everything put into place. Then we were into it.
250 Veronese packed the hall. There wasn't an open seat, which was both thrilling and terrifying.
Things kicked off when Antonio played the book trailer for my series that Anna had made for me. Singing along with it live was Patty Simon, she of the beautiful voice who had recorded the soundtrack for Anna's documentary on Cangrande and also provided the vocals for my trailer. She's quite beautiful, and ridiculously talented.
Next Antonia Pavesi from the mayor's office spoke for a bit. She was followed by the head curator of the Castelvecchio museum - a museum that houses the famous equestrian statue of Cangrande. He spoke for a time about the prophecy that I feature so prominently in my novels, that of The Greyhound (Il Veltro). He said it was the only true prophecy in all of Dante, and that I'd gotten it right.
He was followed by my publisher Gianni La Corte, who spoke about how Anna had reached out to him on my behalf, and how swiftly he became enamored with my writing and the story I was telling.
Then it was up to Anna to speak for a bit. She began by reading part of the letter I had written Verona to sell them on the trip. That done, she told the story about how she had bought my book when she was doing research for her documentary on Cangrande, but did not open it until she was finished because she didn't want to be influenced. Reading it, she was amazed at how many things this American author from Chicago had gotten right (this was a recurring theme all week - why was an American writing about Verona?). She told the story of how she'd contacted me early in 2013, and how swiftly we began colaborating. For me, meeting her and her husband was one of the best parts of the trip.
After Anna read a little more, this time directly from my novel, it was my turn. Anna asked me a few questions, and I answered through the kind voice of Joyce Stewart, a wonderful American living in Verona who acted as my interpreter. Then Anna started fielding questions from the audience. The more I talked about Dante, about Petrarch, and especially about Cangrande, the more the audience glowed. I wasn't hanging my hat on Shakespeare. I knew their city. The comment was made over and over that I know the history of Verona better than most of the people who live there. Which is ridiculous, but a lovely thing to hear.
The actor who played Cangrande in the filmgot up to ask a question. His name is Yuri Castorani, and he's as tall, as strapping, and as genial as one would want Cangrande to be.
He runs a sword fighting society in Verona, and after the event he and his second, Fabio Scolari, presented me with a hoodie bearing the Scaligeri crest and the legend "SCALIGERO SINCE A.D. 1262".
At one point I referenced my wife, sitting in the second row of the audience beside my American friend David and his French wife (and just behind the Minister of Culture). Anna then insisted that we perform a little Shakespeare for the crowd. We went with what we know, the show in which we met - The Taming Of The Shrew. After all, Petruchio is from Verona, going to war with a Paduan heiress and "taming" her the same way Cangrande tamed Padua - he killed it with kindness. We only went part-way through the wooing scene, ending with Jan slapping my face with a resounding crack that made the audience gasp before bursting into applause.
I answered a few more questions, then it was time to sign books. I was happily surprised to have such a long line waiting for signatures - I think Gianni was pretty stoked to have sold all the copies he brought with him. The book had just come off the press literally the day before, and Gianni had driven in from Torino for the event, forgoing an afternoon of the huge book fair that draws almost half a million people each year. I was going out to join him there the next day.
(That's Jan, Gianni La Corte, me, Anna Lerario, and Joyce Stewart standing. In the front row we have Fabio Scolari, Antonio Bulbarelli, and Yuri Castorani)
Then it was time for pictures, thanks, and drinks. While Jan flirted with Yuri, I asked Joyce to help me translate my favorite toast, one taught to me 14 years ago by the actor Dan Kenney:
Here's to lying, stealing, cheating, and drinking.
When you lie, lie to save a friend
When you cheat, cheat death
When you steal, steal the heart of the one you love
And when you drink, drink with me my friends
A perfect end to a perfect day.