A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Italy Rediscovered Part 2

17 February 2012

Read Part 1

To set the mood for my upcoming visit to Italy, I got around to reading — in addition to Umberto Eco’s Kant and the Platypus, alluded to in Part 1 of this entry — a few other Italian poets/authors/playwrights or books with Italian subject matter that I happened to pick up:  Petrarch’s rich sonnets; Dario Fo’s hilariously thought-provoking We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! ; Ross King’s description of the greatest architectural feat of the Renaissance, Brunelleschi’s Dome ; Luigi Pirandello’s symbolic Six Characters in Search of an Author ; Roger D. Masters’ probe of a crazy, but un-hatched, scheme of Leonardo and Machiavelli, Fortune Is A River ; Luigi Barzini’s insightful sociological essay, The Italians ; and Tim Parks’ amusing, biographical Italian Neighbors ; with Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo thrown in to add a little northern perspective.

I also revisited Dante and lots of other Italian literature from the distant past, though I still tremble slightly at the memory of reading the Inferno in the original fourteenth-century Italian as an undergraduate.  My teacher at the time, Franco Schwartz, a kindly Geppetto-like man from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in Switzerland, was nevertheless exacting.  I can still picture his jowls rattling and spit flying through his moustache as he emphasized, “Gli! Gli!,” with his distinct accent.  Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate — Abandon all hope, ye who enter here — especially if you are learning how to pronounce gli.


A statue of Dante stands in the Piazza di Santa Croce in Florence.


Next, for the proper frame of mind, I dug out scores of everything Italian from chant to Scarrino to play and/or listen to. For some reason, performing Scarlatti always seems to give me the most laughs.

And then I set about to making reservations: five hotels, four museums (the busy or restrictive ones), three concerts, two round-trip plane tickets, and a partridge . . . no, rather, una macchina per le autostrade, Dio guardi.

For those wondering about that last phrase, macchina means ‘car’ (as in, “that Lamborghini is a real machine,” although that’s not exactly what we ended up renting), le autostrade refers to the Italian highway system, and Dio guardi is what one prays when traveling on Italian highways.

Charged up with music and literature and all reservations made, as the Italians also say, Chi bene incomincia è a metà dell’opera — well begun is half done.

Another Italian language caveat here. You may have tripped over the word 'opera' in that last phrase: in this context it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with that particular musical genre, but in Italy . . . let's just say half the time it probably would anyway.

At this point I was starting to get excited about returning to northern Italy. After all, this is the birthplace of (take a deep breath) — in musicGuido d’Arezzo, Landini, Monteverdi, the Gabriellis, Gesualdo, Vivaldi, Corelli, Torelli, Salieri, Boccherini, Rossini, Paganini, Cherubini, Verdi, Donizetti, Puccini, Maderna, Nono, and Berio, as well as Stradivari, Guarneri, the Amatis, Toscanini, and Pavarotti, not to mention — in art — Cimabue, Pisano, Uccello, Giotto, Ghiberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Fra Angelico, Lippi, Pisanello, the Bellinis, Mantegna, Botticelli, Perugino, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, Veronese, Vasari, Caravaggio, Tiepolo, Canaletto, and Modigliani, along with — in literature — Catullus, Virgil, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Testi, Goldoni, Fo, and Eco; — in film — Fellini, Zeffirelli, and Benigni; — in architecture — Palladio, Brunelleschi, Gae Aulenti, and Renzo Piano; — in science — Galileo, and Volta; — in exploration — Marco Polo, Columbus, and Amerigo Vespucci; — in sponsorship of the arts — the Medicis, Gonzagas, Sforzas, and Estes; and we must not forget Pinocchio, Romeo and Juliet, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, and Pierrot Lunaire.

With a roster like that (and that's only the northern half of the country), no wonder everyone is attracted to Italy.  Luigi Barzini’s words in The Italians, while certainly true in the 1960s, are even truer today: 


“Nothing daunts foreigners.  Nothing frightens them.  Nothing stops them.  They arrive in a steady stream, by all forms of transport and even on foot, by day and night, from the sea or via the Alps.  What is but a small trickle in the winter months grows in the spring to the size of a stream, and, in April, May, and June, turns into a monsoon flood, breaking all dikes, covering everything in sight . . . trains, buses, boats, restaurants, churches, museums, Greek and Roman ruins, chapels, concert halls, historic landmarks . . . are packed to capacity with foreigners . . . they are so punctual and numerous that their mass arrival, in the eyes of ordinary Italians, appears as irresistible as a natural event, as ineluctable as the seasonal return of migratory birds, swallows, quails, or partridges, driven by instinct; or as an anthropological phenomenon like the migration of nomadic tribes seeking green pastures for their herds.”


"What is but a small trickle . . ."


". . . grows . . . to the size of a stream . . ."


". . . and . . . turns into a monsoon flood."


With this ever-increasing onslaught of foreign tourists upon il bel paese, I detected some other not-so-subtle indicators of infrastructure strain in the news just before our departure.  Fares for the vaporetto — Venice’s waterbus— had recently become two-tiered:  6,50 for tourists and 1,00 for residents of Venice.

And due to the litter problem, I noticed that the city had banned all eating outside of restaurants and cafés.  This is applicable to those on wing as well as on foot, for the iconic feeding of pigeons with birdseed on Saint Mark’s Square was also completely outlawed.  Apparently, the old program of adding birth control to the seed was not as effective as they had hoped.

On the other hand — in this case, paw — Tuscany’s regional parliament had repealed a ban on pets in museums, theatres, restaurants, and hospitals.  One comment that I heard was that now one could take one’s pooch to hear Puccini.

Possibly signifying a larger trend, the Italian Parliament had passed a law making Italian the official language of Italy.  This may seem surprising — if one doesn’t realize that all over Italy dialects are spoken, in some cases almost mutually unintelligible — and everyone was content to leave it at that until the recent upsurge in immigration from third-world countries.  The vote was 361 to 75.

At least we knew that they would be speaking Italian when we got there.



Our departure date had finally arrived and soon our flight, in the words of the first-century B.C. poet Catullus, “crossed the lofty Alps and traveled where, before, great Caesar left reminders of the world which he describes,” and we landed at Milan’s Malpensa Airport.

We picked up our luggage, trekked the wide expanse of parking lot, and climbed into in a little Fiat Lancia ‘Ypsilon’ to drive the 45-kilometer distance between the airport and Milan through the Lombard countryside.

Named for the Longobards, a barbarian tribe that invaded Italy in the sixth century and who had, yes, “long beards,” Lombardy stretches from the Alps to the Po Valley in which Milan is situated.

It is interesting that the barbarians knew their way around, because we became lost three times.



The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Italy)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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