In Verona, children don’t leave letters by the fireplace for Father Christmas, but for Santa Lucia – the patron saint of the blind. She visits on the 12th December with gifts for the good, coal for the bad, and for the nosy, a fistful of ash thrown in the eyes. The girl I look after confessed that she is always a little scared that night.
Yet, this saint has captured the hearts of the Veronese. I’ve watched a full-grown man well up while trying to explain her importance to the city, his stories marred by the bleary inaccuracies of nostalgia. Verona’s love of Santa Lucia is unmatched (apart from in Syracuse where she is their patron saint), and she will be welcomed this year as she always is – with a sprawling Christmas market in Piazza Bra and a flurry of fried, sugary treats.
But as the children count down the days until her arrival, I’m left counting down the days until I leave: six to be exact. I’m going to miss dear old Verona. It’s a city that has warmed, inspired and amused me, even during those moments where I’ve thought “what the hell am I doing here?” (and there have been a few).
On Sunday, while sitting by the Arena, a hot, sugary fritelle calde in one hand and a mulled wine in the other, I noticed the most glorious collage of activity. A woman cycled past me, half a dozen purple heads of radicchio poking out of her front basket, Two young monks followed, swaddled in the obligatory Italian puffer jackets (the ones that make everybody look like a slightly more attractive version of the Michelin man), their brown robes poking out the bottom. Meanwhile, one of Verona’s many tiny dogs took offence to a Roman gladiator posing with tourists outside the Arena. A chorus of yapping thus accompanied the music of a nearby orchestra, and suddenly Verona seemed irresistibly alive.
As I watched, lemony sugar dusting my lips, I smiled. This is the Verona I’ll miss.