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 Three - Nightfall in Verona-- Jenne' R. Andrews

Chapter III, Wherein the Sojourners Linger in Austria

...At the same time, always, overhead, there
is the eternal, negative radiance of the snows.
Beneath is life, the hot jet of the blood playing
elaborately. But above is the radiance of
changeless not-being. And life passes away
into this changeless radiance. Summer and
the prolific blue-and-white flowering of the
earth goes by, with the labour and the ecstasy
of man, disappears, and is gone into brilliance
that hovers overhead, the radiant cold which
waits to receive back again all that which has
passed for the moment into being.
D.H. Lawrence, Twilight in Italy.

It is said of the "old" Brenner Pass over the Alps into Italy that the route inspired the great German poet Goethe to write Iphigenie, viewing all from in his carriage on the way to Verona or in detouring to Lake Garda in Tuscany.

“How much I wished to have my friends for a moment near me in order that they might rejoice over the view which lies before me...” he wrote in Italian Journey in 1786.

The route ascended shortly after Zirl, Austria, and one climbed by way of a narrow mountain highway up into the clouds.  By day, at the summit, before later improvements that cut at lower elevation through the Alps, one could look back at Austria and Germany and in the other direction, to beautiful Tuscany spread out below. The descent, I read from the brochure we picked up, involved a series of heart-stopping switchbacks that would require a veteran mountain driver; hence the old route, at the time of our trip, was typically only used by locals.

As we left Salzburg where we had been steeped in Mozart and the crisp, cold white wine of Europe, I had been designated to take us over the pass and we had determined we would see more breathtaking scenery on the old road.  

Caroline had been reading our brochures.

“I think we should go ahead and stop at Zirl,” she said.  “They say the cathedral is not to be missed.”

I had been bracing myself to take over as we agreed; I was eager to follow Goethe's route. But I was relieved when, after about an hour, we cut off to the road into Zirl. We followed directions to the Cathedral of St. James and pulled in to the visitors' parking lot.

We put on sweatshirts; Julia loaded her camera with a new roll of film, and I tucked a notepad and pen into my pocket.  Caroline took our picnic basket out of the compartment at the front of the bus.  We had picked up more white wine heading out of Salzburg; we saw a picnic table under the trees, near the cathedral cemetery.  

We spread our tablecloth under the trees and ate bread, fruit and cheese, washing it down with wine. We were surrounded by mountains cast in ethereal blueness, their  steep, faceted faces ascending to snow-crowned summits.

Against this backdrop, the spires of the cathedral reached far into the sky.  

The cathedral's facade, an admixture of Baroque and Renaissance convention, was resplendent with gilded angels, rococo embellishments. We stood in awe, when, suddenly there was a great peal of sound.  The majestic, unmistakably precise and exuberant sound of Bach reverberated off the peaks; someone was playing a fugue, his hands traveling quickly over the keys of the cathedral organ, his feet dancing on its pedals.

“Let's go in.  I want to see him play,” I said.

“I want to photograph the inside,” Julia said, checking the camera on the cord around her neck.

We entered the cavernous cathedral. I looked up into the loft, where I could see someone sitting, half-obscured by a pillar.

Now the piece came to a crescendo, filling the nave and crashing to a close with a ritardando, a fading away of sound.

"Bravo, bravo," I cried, clapping.

Caroline looked askance at me, grabbing my arm.  "Shhhh."

Out of the gloom, near the altar, a group of nuns came by, each with an implacable face, hands prayerfully folded.  

Julia took photographs of the towering stained glass windows, each telling a story of Annunciation, Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  Exquisite marble statuary stood in alcoves throughout the nave.  Candles flickered at triptychs of the Blessed Virgin.

I imagined a High Mass in this exquisite setting, and had the impulse to walk up and kneel at the altar.  I held myself back, unsure of visitor etiquette.

Finally we went out into the church graveyard, where we walked among the graves in air so pure it took our breath away.  There were exquisite marble carvings and bas reliefs at the head of each, so time-worn that the names and dates on them were indecipherable.  

I passed such a relief of a grieving woman set at the head of one of the graves, and turned back:  the subtlety of the pain etched in stone on her face shocked me.  Unlike the other sculpture, she was turned away, looking out at eternity with a delicate, down-turned mouth, unflinching eyes.  A wave of recognition passed through me; this was sorrow recast in art.

In addition to my necessary items in my faded army duffel bag, I had brought with me a host of endings, good-byes and impossibilities. I had written them down to get them out of me, and spread them out like cards on a table in therapy. In reality my fading affair was the tip of the iceberg.

As I looked at the statue old losses rose like phantoms out of my knapsack to stand with me in the tangled foliage  and wild rose bushes of the graveyard. What would it take to banish them-- I was abruptly afflicted with pain that leached out into the present.

My friends called to me that it was time to leave.

“I'll be there in a minute,” I said, as they walked back toward the bus.

I picked a small pink wild rose and laid it at the foot of the statue.

I spoke a short prayer in Latin from a requiem I had sung. No lingering at the feet of grief incarnate. I left the marble woman there, asking her to mourn on in my place.

On our way back to the bus, Caroline turned to us mischievously.

“I bet there's a disco in town,” she said.  At that time there were discos all over Europe.  

“I thought you wanted to keep on and get over the Brenner tonight,” I said.

“I did.  But let's live it up,  go out to dinner and then go dancing.” 

I was in immediate agreement.  We found a campground on the map and pulled in, each of us going off with a towel and a small bar of soap to one of the inevitably cold showers.  I unbound my hair and soaped up, sluicing down, rushing to get clean, dry and back to the bus.

At dusk we set out on foot to downtown Zirl; Caroline had seen a small inn on the way in and we walked in that direction.

“Look at that place.”

“Must have been built in the Middle Ages,” I muttered, not especially excited about our plans. I was worried about having the stamina to get us over the mountains.

“You are such a wet blanket. Always a wet blanket.”

I knew that wasn't true; I was tired. I had been tired before I got on the plane. I was tired on the way over the Atlantic, tired in Germany, tired in Austria, and tired now. But there was nothing to be done; as in other moments when my lingering depression tugged at me and I caught myself brooding, I cheered myself back up: we were in Europe! The drama of my former life was far away. I forced myself out of my gloom, stopping briefly at a bistro, tossing down a shot of espresso, while my friends window-shopped.

Then we stepped into a lamplit tavern where there were dark simple tables scattered on a grey stone floor.

We were seated in a corner; across the way sat a group of burly Austrians, drinking beer.

These revelers took one look at us and promptly moved their chairs over to our table, turning them around and straddling them. They were ruddy and bearded, with twinkling eyes.

Thankfully, Julia knew a smattering of German and one of them knew a bit of English.

“American girls!” one of them boomed, delighted, lifting his stein.

Another one leaned toward Julia.

“How about eine kleine nachtmusik,” he said.

She blushed.

“Nein, danke.”

They tried to foist beer on us, but we weren't beer drinkers; we didn't want to look like them.

“Vin. Wine. Vino,” I said.

“Ah. Vino.” One of them got up and began a foot dance, shuffling in a circle while the others laughed and clapped.

“Vino prego, ancor vino.”

We laughed. We drank with the Germans, picking at the bratwurst and sauerkraut brought to us on steaming platters.

“Where you go,” one said, during a lull.

“Dancing. We want to go dancing.”

They looked at each other.


“Yes, Caroline brightened. “Is there a disco in Zirl?”

“Yavol,” one said.

“Bye-bye American girls. We hate discotech. We dance the old way.”

They got up again from the table. One walked over to the jukebox and dropped in money; a tinkly polka ensued. The men began to waltz together across the floor.

“Run for it,” Caroline whispered to me.

We bolted out the door in hysterics. We looked down the street, where we could see people walking in promenade at dusk.

I stopped.

“Do you hear that?”


From the depths of the dusk, seeming to come from a small doorway into a building without windows, came a familiar song:

“I want to hold your HAND.... I want to hold your H-A-A-A-A-N-D...”

“Wow,” Julia said. “The Beatles.”

“Yes,” Caroline said, grabbing my hand. “Hurry. This has got to be it.”

We walked swiftly through the redolent Tyrolean nightfall to the door of what appeared to be an old inn, now a nightclub. We each gave the man at the door a few marks, and went in.

To our delight, there were couples already out on the floor, gyrating, swiveling their hips.

I had thought we had heard a jukebox. But lo and behold, there was a band of wild-haired young men on a stage in the corner. Somehow they had mastered a medley of rock and roll classics in English. They were wrapping up the Beatles song when we stepped in.

Then there was a dramatic pause and everybody looked expectantly at the lead singer whose carrot-red curly and frizzed hair all but obscured his face.

He began tapping his feet; the drummer picked up a riff.

He whispered into the microphone, in a thick Austrian accent,
“Ah Can't Get No....” and put his hand to his ear to invite a response.

“Vee Can't Get Nein,” shouted the crowd.

Out of the tavern shadows came a young man in lederhosen and a white long-sleeved shirt. He grabbed Caroline by the hand and took her out on the dance floor.

Another such man came and grabbed Julia.

I shrank back in the shadows. I wanted to observe for awhile.

“Ah can't git no.... satisfaction.... Ah can't git no girlie action…”

The Rolling Stones classic reverberated from the rafters. The band wasn't half-bad-- or perhaps it was that we were so juiced up. We had been living on white wine and little else for a week, seeing all things through a dream-like scrim of intoxication.

A tall young man came up to me.

“Dance you mit me, ya?”

“Sure,” I said.

He led me out onto the floor. I had worn my striped mini-dress and slip-off shoes. I shook my booty; he shook his, tossing his mane of long hair, grinning at me.

He took a step toward me and gave me a biting kiss on the neck, sliding one hand into my dress, under my bra.

“Whoa.” I stepped back and pushed his hand away.

I shook my head. “Dancing. Dancing,” I said, my voice utterly drowned out by the music.

“Yavol. Dancing. Dancing.”

He backed up a step and waved his arms, gyrating his hips. I looked over at Caroline; she and her epiphanous Tyrolean were in a clinch.

The song wound down and I went back to the table, waving off my partner. Julia was already seated.

“Look at her,” she said.

“I see.”

“Well, she's been pining for something like this since her divorce.”

We watched them. Things got steamier. Suddenly, they disappeared.

I was stunned.

“Where did they go.”

Julia smiled.  

“They might be doing it standing up out in back,” she said. Or, maybe he's taken her off to his cabin up in the forest, like the big bad wolf.”

“He didn't look like a wolf. He looked like an extra from The Sound of Music.”

I pondered this turn of events.

“Oh God. What are we going do.”

“We don't have a choice. We have to wait.”

Julia and I left the tavern and walked back to the bus. The street lamps of Zirl were lit; people strolled arm in arm past bistros still open.

I was restless, fuming.

“Listen, Jen. We'll find things to do. We'll go back to the cathedral. You can write; I'll draw. She'll be back.”

“What if she doesn't come back? We'll have to call your parents, or contact Interpol or something.”

“She'll be back,” Julia said. “I know my sister.”


Chapter Four will go up tomorrow. Please scroll down or click on the archive drop-down menu at the end of this post for preceding chapters.  Comments via the comment link are always welcome.  

Copyright Jenne' R. Andrews 2011 


  1. Hey Jenne'!
    You would end this chapter at the juiciest part!...I would have too LOL
    Very visual writing. I can picture what it looks like, and your voice keeps things moving along at a good pace :)

  2. Thanks Zetta-- what a project-- begun last July, revised in fall, sent out and then self-published here, and then outwitting Blogger to get it to read like a book. Whew! why don't you publish it! xxxj only half-joking...

  3. I wish I had known you in those days.

  4. I can't wait to read chapter four I enjoyed reading your post it's like I am reading a pocket book. You're a great writer Jen, keep it up :) I just want to ask if you know Hotel Verona?

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  6. Thanks for the link, Jen. I've read these first three chapters with zest. The first paragraphs took me back to Jonathan's Franzen's descriptions of St. Paul in "Freedom", which I enjoyed reading last year. Not that your style is inspired to Franzen's; in fact I may have been reminded of his humorous lists in the initial chapters. I find the subtle self-irony of your narrator endearing.
    At the beginning of the second chapter I have noticed that the Dante quotation is incorrect. These are the words Dante wrote: "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita - mi ritrovai per una selva oscura - che la diritta via era smarrita". Next, I was carried to Nürnberg, a place I first visited seventeen years ago, seen with different eyes, yet an intriguing comparison, and very vividly described.
    Salzburg stands out like from an exciting pop-up book, with its colourful crowds, the ubiquitous Mozart mementos, Mozart music all over the place... Great impressions.
    Tyrol appears from your words quaint, remote, quirky, at the same time attractive and repulsive, its men almost clownesque in their lederhosen and rustic courtship styles. I recognize the Austria I know as well, minus perhaps the decadent Sachertorte and the gemutliche Cafés...
    A very interesting theme is the narrator's slowly morphing from a fearful cocoon into... I look forward to the next instar.
    Talk to you soon :)