About Nightfall in Verona

Welcome to a Great Story from a Loquacious Renegade...

In 1973 I had the great good fortune to be treated to a trip to Europe by two friends. We bought a VW bus in Frankfurt and wound our way over the Alps to Tuscany. A week and a half later I was in a train headed down the coast of Italy alone, embarking on what remains the adventure of my life. Nightfall in Verona is the memoir of my odyssey, written last year thirty-seven years out.

Friend Caroline Marshall, editor of the NPR Anthology Listening to Ourselves calls my book "fabulous."

The inimitable poet Ruth Mowry writes: "
Oh heartbreak and romance. This is incredible. You are a wonderful writer, and this has captivated me, just this chapter! Wow."

My friend and editor Jack Brooks says I've written a "glittering, lyrical tour d' force."

Thanks to all who spurred me on and served as my "beta" readers and editors: Caroline, Jack, Maureen. I'll be publishing the work through my imprint, Orfea Books with customary fanfare soon.

Use the archived links on the sidebar to access the chapters. Do leave a comment or two-- and thanks for reading me.

I post poetry at La Parola Vivace, and I blog on the issues du jour at Loquaciously Yours. You can contact me at jenneandrews2010@gmail.com .

Jenne' Andrews March 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter Two-- Nightfall in Verona, Jenne' R. Andrews

Scroll down for preceding chapters-- best read in order....x

Chapter II, Wherein the Poet Drinks-In Europe and Finds Relief in the Grass...

Nel mezzo del cammino della nostra "vita"nell'Universo, mi ritrovai sulla Terra, questa"selva oscura" che aveva smarrito la via dell'Amore.  L’Inferno, Canto I, Dante

In the middle of the road of our “lives” in the Universe, I found myself on Earth, that dark forest that has obscured the way to Love. Trans. Jra.

As night fell, Caroline, Julia and I pulled into Nuremberg in our reconditioned VW bus. We drove along the great square where bells tolled from a Renaissance cathedral.

Germans in dark clothing walked quickly along the sidewalks, seeming disconnected from each other and unfriendly, their heads down, eye contact verboten. Pigeons wheeled over the plaza but no intimacy of small cafes invited our interest, even amid the great stillness of antiquity and the dark history of Nazi rallies emanating from tall, spare, neatly arranged stone buildings around the square.

Perhaps the city was still subdued by the shadows cast by the war years, so that the echo of turmoil, of oppression, not to say the infamy of Nuremberg itself, infiltrated daily life. There was neither the ambience nor the clamor of another language I yearned for.

It was thus easy to feel lonely and fearful there; I took comfort in the intimacy of the bus, and that my friends and I were on the road together. We were free to plunder the moment of its intimations and distractions, or not.

After the big push to get ourselves on the road, we seemed to find ourselves a little reticent and tired.  But this was Europe—there was no mistaking it!  We were all there together, still riding high on our own bravado, our day to day uninspiring routines at our backs, very, very far away. 

I poured three brimming cups of white wine from the bottle in our cooler, passing two of them up up to the front seat.

“Salud,” I said, raising my cup. 

Julia looked at me in the rear view mirror.  She laughed.  “Salud.”  She balanced the steering wheel in her left hand and took a gulp.

We wound our way down a side street, buying bread, cheese and wine at a stand, and then Julia turned the bus around, heading back the way we came.

“Now what,” I asked.

“Now, we pull in somewhere and rest, she said, turning onto a dirt road and driving along slowly, looking for a cut-in in the trees. Our headlights could only probe so far into the thick copse. Caroline looked out the window for an opportunity.

I was terrified. I was sure we were headed up someone's driveway.

“This is somebody else's country.  We can't just camp here.  We don't even know where we are.”

She turned to me, tossing her shoulder-length hair impatiently, her dark brows knitted.

“Jen.  We know what we are doing.  Relax.  You've got to relax, so we can all relax.  Drink some more wine.  Write in your journal.”

Subdued, I complied. Julia pulled off the road and switched off the engine.  I lit a candle and opened my journal, and got out a pen.   They unpacked t-shirts and rolled out their sleeping bags, making the front seat into a wide bed and locking the doors.  

We had all gone out and peed in the grass by the watery light of the moon, marking our presence for days to come.  My friends had mastered the art of rolling up their bell bottoms and squatting perfectly; I had not.

After they fell asleep, I quietly poured a little water into a dish and rinsed out the cuff of my jeans.  I took off my panties and rinsed those too, wringing them out and hanging them over the curtains at the rear of the bus.  I reached into my duffel bag and took out my flannel nightgown and put it on.  Slipping out of my tennis shoes, I pulled on my long woolen socks.  I was buttoned up to the gills, and I felt less vulnerable.

I set aside my clothing for the morning so that I could find it in a hurry if anything happened.  I took long gulps of wine; the warmth of the alcohol permeated and sedated me.  I settled back against the seat, pillow-less, lost, again amazed; I was in Germany, in a forest, in the middle of the night.

I woke abruptly at dawn, my bladder bursting.  Without opening the curtains, I slid the door open, and promptly slipped out of the listing bus in my socks, sitting down hard with my nightgown around my thighs, coming to a stop at the very edge of a paved bike path.  

At that moment, around the bend came a horde of bicycling Germans in tweed suit coats and caps, briefcases strapped to the back of their bikes.  

Off in the distance, the bells of Nuremberg tolled seven times.   The German men glanced at me, and at the bus in disgust, turning their faces away, disappearing around the copse of trees.

“Get up,” I said, hiking myself back up into the bus. “We're in the way.  This is a commuter path.” 

My beautiful tousled friends laughed at me.  I stood there in my flannel nightgown, my socks extending a good six inches from my toes, like rabbit's feet.

“You think this is funny?” I was fuming.

They laughed again.

I pulled up my socks and stumbled into the trees, squatting in the loam. I came back to the bus and climbed in and furtively dressed beneath my nightgown like an old maid. My friends seemed unconcerned about staying daisy-fresh; I furtively sprinkled a little talc into my underwear, and under my arms, reclaiming my dignity.

“When do we get to take a shower,” I asked, while we sat in the sun sipping coffee made on our camp stove.

“Probably in Salzburg. Be forewarned,”  Caroline said. “Showers in Europe are cold. They're out in the open just like the toilets.”

“No surprise there,” I muttered.

I had already discovered in a brief walk through Frankfurt the day before that the toilets were literal gratings in the street with perfunctory barriers to scrutiny. When we pulled in for gas, we found the inevitable partition with its latticed cover set into pavement. No toilet paper within miles; I quickly learned to stuff anything that passed for Kleenex into the pocket of my jeans.

Clearly I would need, sooner rather than later, to abandon my need for running hot water and master the art of a quick, discreet pause that required balance, flexibility and no self-consciousness whatsoever.

We repacked, and swerved back up onto the Autobahn. Caroline opened up the map.

“I think we should go ahead and get to Salzburg,” she said, looking at Julia for affirmation.

“Great idea.  Salzburg it is.”

“How far is Salzburg,” I asked.

“Just a few hours, “Caroline yawned, as if we were merely sitting in her living room back in the U.S. “ We'll stop and get a salad.”

I was ravenous. Wine, yogurt, hearts of palm: these things were all well and good, but what about real food?  I broke into the bread and cheese.

I feared a battle ahead;  Caroline and Julia would stay slim on the trip: I already wanted to eat my way through Europe, to try everything.  I also feared what would become of me if I couldn't eat a little meat now and then.  Meat was expensive, but I couldn't envision living on fruit and vegetables, as healthy and delicious as these were.  

In capitulation, Caroline had bought a few little pots of goose liver pate with rust-stains on them in Frankfurt I was sure had been tinned sometime in the previous century.

“Make these last,” she had said.  “We'll have one feast every few days.  We want to save our money for the discos, and clothes.”

I spread some of this dubious treat on a chunk of bread, choking it down. Across the morning we drove and drove.  We pulled over for a brief lunch of hearts of palm, apples and Gouda, pouring our chilled white wine into our tin camping cups, toasting each other.

After a few glasses of wine, my cheeks burning,   I told stories, in particular about the time my family went to Albuquerque to get a piano and left behind our rabbit, Ozma, in the garage in her hutch.  We had paid one of the neighbor boys to come and feed her.    

He had come twice a day to refill her dish with pellets and give her water, and when we came back she had tripled in size, her front and back legs extending out of the cage: mounded under her cage an enormous pile of droppings.

In fact, my forte' when in my cups, was story-telling; I had been much the entertainer in Minnesota, sitting at my friends’ kitchen table well into early morning.  Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, I believed before the trip, now happily embellishing my escapades as a dilettante writer to my captive audience.  We chatted about our receding lives, our parties of poets and other ne’er do-wells I held on the tin roof of my apartment.

Then, heading for Salzburg, looking out at the sea of green meadows boundaried by ever taller mountains on either side of us, heading for Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart, I found myself pining for home.

I opened my journal to write a few self-admonitions:
“You are in Europe. Open your heart and mind to what this is.” I then described Nuremberg at nightfall, tand made notes about sliding out of the bus onto the commuter path. I listed what I could discern from the window.

This activity quelled my anxiety. We nosed into the mountains, up a winding highway, crossing the border into Austria, presenting our passports, paying at the toll booth.  

As we pressed on, I began to see the tips of mountains infinitely more stunning than the peaks of Colorado that made up the “Front Range” where my parents and brother lived.

We climbed higher, rounding a curve, and suddenly, there was a valley ahead and we were surrounded by the Alps. Now, breathing in ether, stunned by the shimmering, towering, sapphire beauty around us, we came down into Salzburg, parking the bus and making our way to the terrazzo terrace of a small cafe.

Julia and Caroline ordered “gemischte salats”, operating in German phrases extracted from one of our Berlitz foreign language guides. A little salad.
Caroline looked at me.

“I think we should eat in town tonight,” she said. “And go to a concert.”

I was overjoyed-- this was more like it.

After sight-seeing in the afternoon along narrow streets with the throng of other tourists, we went back to the bus, changed into dresses, and found our way to the Mozart cafe, where I ordered a golden mushroom omelet that melted in my mouth.  Mozart poured through the air.  There was Mozart on the jukebox in the cafe'. The unparalleled composer lived on here with a vengeance, despite having been dead for over a century and a half.

We emerged into the dusk, and walked to a concert hall, sitting in the back, where a pianist's hands flew over the keys, the great arched ceilings of the hall filling with a waterfall of sound.  

Rapt, I didn't care what piece it was, only that we were there in Mozart’s birthplace, enfolded in music.  I doubted that there could be too much of his music, or anywhere more beautiful than Salzburg and I thought it would be nice to stay put.

I began to relax.  That night I wrote again by candlelight, not as worried about keeping clean underwear cycling through my duffel bag to my little tub of water to hang in the rear window.

I had only known how to live by trying to keep all things under control.  The indifference of my friends to any kind of itinerary or destination was still troubling to me, but it had occurred to me that they were operating on the instincts of true adventurers and that perhaps I should trust them.  This trip was meant to liberate us, take our minds off all things painful and serious.

At my back, the ever-oozing wound of my unresolved relationship, the demands of my career, trying to cover rent and groceries with gigs as a poet in the schools, and always, the “shoulds” and overwhelming responsibilities of being the eldest child of parents who were struggling that sent me from Minnesota to Colorado again and again to clean the house and prop them up like Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. My arrangements never stayed put, and I had yet to understand that I could not save them from themselves.

In the morning, having found a campground on the outskirts of Salzburg, we had coffee at a cafe near the highway that would take us through the Alps, up and over the Brenner Pass, to Italy.

Now there was a bit of planning, Caroline getting out her map, and a pad and pen.

“We should drive straight through,” she said.  “It snows on the pass, and we want to make it over between storms.”

Mythologies of travelers lost in this manner had reached the U.S. and somewhere I had read about them.

I froze with terror. We, three young women in a VW bus outfitted for the flat, i.e., a safari, that chugged along like a freight train, were going to drive up above timberline into a cleft in the Alps where people skidded off the highway into oblivion, not to be found until the following spring.

“When were you last on the Brenner pass?”

They could see that the plan wasn't sitting well with me, my persona as the resident nervous wreck re-emerging.

“I went over by train,” Caroline admitted. “It was beautiful. About five years ago.”

“Who's driving?”

I thought about Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona-- the years of trips with my father, driving up San Francisco Peak outside Flagstaff, where, as we crept in first gear along a narrow road that dropped off on both sides, he would stick his head out the window and crane his neck to scrutinize the trees.  He was searching for clusters of dwarf mistletoe, one of his specialties. But he was an inveterate mountain driver.

"You're going to drive," Caroline said. "You're the experienced one in this kind of country; you'll get us there."

I was not at all sure I was equal to the task. I tossed back more wine.

Fortified, we set out again, up the alpine highway, climbing until our ears rang.  We wouldn't make the switch until we stopped briefly in the town of Zirl, far up into the cleft where the highway had been traveled for many years, and a fabled destiny must surely await us.

Chapter III will go up tomorrow-- enjoy-- feel free to comment.  There is a drop down archive box to locate preceding chapters in the text box below the posts.  xJenne'

copyright Jenne' R. Andrews 2011 - All rights reserved.  jenneandrews2010@gmail.com .

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