Checkmate, Shakespeare, and Grape Stomping…Just Another Day in Italy
Since about the age of 7, Ben has been a big fan of Chess. He learned to play in SACC (Student Aged Child Care) back in Alexandria,Virginia from Mr. Max and has loved it ever since. So when we learned of an opportunity to see a chess match that would be acted out with live horses, knights, kings and queens, we jumped at the chance.
After the First World War, members of the local chess club began playing chess in the main square and decided to play a game of chess using people as the gamepieces. After the Second World War, the comedy writer Vucetich Mirko authored a play in which “Two noblemen, Renaldo D’Anganaro and Vieri da Vallanora, fell in love with the beautiful Lionora, daughter of the local lord, Taddeo Parisio. As was the custom at that time, they challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of Lionora. The Lord of Marostica, not wanting to make an enemy of either suitor or lose them in a duel, forbade the encounter. Instead he decreed that the two rivals would play a chess game, and the winner would have the hand of Lionora. The loser of the chess game would have the hand of her younger sister, Oldrada. During the play, the game takes place on the square in front of the Lower Castle with supporters carrying the noble ensigns of Whites and Blacks, in the presence of the Lord, his noble daughter, the Lords of Angarano and Vallonara, the court and the entire town population. The Lord also decides the challenge would be honored by an exhibition of armed men, foot-soldiers and knights, with fireworks and dances and music”. Needless to say, this literary account has nothing to do with factual history and the chess square in the city was built after the Second World War and after the writing of Vucetich’s play. This fictional story is now re-enacted in the main square of Marostica in September of even-numbered years. Realizing that we would only be in Italy for one of those even numbered years, we knew we had to go.
It was such a spectacle! The pomp and circumstance was exciting and the house was completely sold out. It was a very popular event. When the queen took out a piece, the bugles sounded before she moved, then she tapped them on their shoulder before moving into their place. They spun their sword around until it faced down, and walked along the chess squares military-esque off the board. There’s all kinds of musical cues when someone puts the king in check (did I say that right-I’m still learning). But man, what fanfare for checkmate! It was amazing and I am so glad we got to see it!
Since the chess match was a couple hours away from home, we decided to make a weekend of it. We stayed in Villa San Biago, a beautifully restored Benedictine monastery situated between the hills of Breganze and Marostica.
Next stop was the city of Verona, home of the fictional story of Romeo and Juliet. Now this whole visit, confused the heck out of me and fascinated me all at the same time. It was a great teaching moment as we told Ben the story of Romeo and Juliet. I mean how many parents have the opportunity to say, “And this is the balcony where Romeo came to Juliet and hid in the bushes when he heard her say, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ ” On that same note, how can we be taking pictures from Juliet’s balcony when Juliet never existed?! She’s a fictional character people! And yet, there I was, saying, “Here honey take a picture of us kissing on the balcony!” But I digress, the balcony belongs to the aptly named, La Casa di Giulietta, or House of Juliet, the former home of the Cappello family and the inspiration for the Capulets.
We visited the coliseum and Juliet’s balcony and grave. It is a beautiful and charming little city, I will say that!
The next adventure was Cinque Terre, which directly translated means “Five Lands”. It is the coastline of the Italian Riviera. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside.
We weren’t able to visit last year because torrential rains caused flooding and mudslides in October 2011. One year later, and you’d never even know there was an issue! We were so excited when Rob found out that he had training for work in Cinque Terre, it would give us a great opportunity to explore the area finally! The weather was just perfect, imagine playing at the beach at the end of September! So we packed our bags and made it a long weekend for Ben and I. We went to the beach and wandered the boardwalk while Rob went to his conference, it was quite a brilliant arrangement!
To finish off the month of September, we realized you can’t live in Italy and not experience the art of grape stomping. When we first learned of the opportunity, I had lofty vision of dancing to Italian music and holding hands with Keanu Reeves under the Tuscan sun like “A Walk in the Clouds.” Somehow, I should have known that I would be a little more like Lucille Ball in “Lucy’s Italian Movie.”
So upon our arrival to the vineyard, we were handed baskets and sheers and instructed which grapes were ready to be harvested. The white Falanghina grapes were ripe and ready for picking! The red grapes would be ready in a week or two, we’ll try those next year! The owners of the vineyard provided a small breakfast and then we were off.
There was plenty of sun, I’ll tell you that. So the owners of the vineyard were quick to have water ready for all of us. One man said that it was brilliant on the part of Italian Vineyard owner too charge us dumb Americans to do the work he would otherwise have to do himself. Wow! I never thought of it that way and we all laughed. Throughout the morning, Rob kept singing spirituals…”Swing low, sweet chariot…” Then Ben jumped in and we all laughed. Later, as the boys were singing, “Girl look at these grapes, girl look at these grapes” to the tune of “Sexy and I Know It”, it was then that I realized that the heat had finally made them snap and it was time to turn in for lunch. And what a spread it was! The owners put together tables and chairs and prepared a huge meal under the canopy of vines that shaded us from the sun. There was bruschetta, fagioli (that’s beans in Italian), zeppolini (which is what the Leese family translates to deep fried yumminess), of course homemade pasta and sauce, assortment of cheeses, and some sort of a dolce (dessert) and of course a sampling of last year’s wine. Our fantastic lunch was accompanied by authentic Italian music and followed by the STOMPING!
Ben was first, they instructed us to soak our feet in one bucket and then step into the enormous grape-filled bucket. There was only one little problem. What you may or may not know, is Ben is petrified and I mean petrified of spiders (the irony of one of Spiderman’s biggest fans). Well, when he approached the big bucket after soaking his feet, he saw the smallest of spiders. The owner explained that the particular spider he saw was good for the grapes because it eats all the other bugs and things that try to eat the grapes. He was unswayed and the last thing he wanted to do was to put his feet in a bucket where he saw a spider. So when the owner lifted him up to jump into the bucket, he hiked his legs up to his knees and braced his arms so as not to touch the inside of the bucket. When we finally convinced him that if he stomped real hard he’d kill any spider in the bucket, what looks like eager stomping on our video is simply a demonstration of self preservation in the eyes of a 9 year old boy. Then it was my turn. I was told I needed to stomp harder, I was being to nice to the grapes and that’s when I became Lucille Ball and got carried away. What an experience!
As activity-filled as our morning was, we finished the day off with a hike with the cub scouts at the Cuma Archaeological Ruins. The city of Cuma is the most Ancient Western Greek colony. It is believed to have been founded in the 8th century B.C. by colonists who had already settled on the neighboring island of “Pithekoussai” (Ischia). On the opposite side of the town, there is the Amphitheatre, built in stonework, dated late 2nd century B.C., which is one of the oldest in Campania and the Roman world. So in one day, the Leese Family definitely got a full dose of Italian history, culture, and food!
September was a good month!