Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day three


Or in English, Padua. Why the different English versions of perfectly simple Italian names? Is "Padova" unpronounceable? Or for that matter, "Livorno," transliterated into the ridiculous "Leghorn"?

Anyhow, yesterday was spent mainly in transit from Milano (why "Milan"?) to Padova, with a side trip to the southwest portion of Lake Garda, a subject I will take up later, probably after returning to home base.

The north is nothing like the conventional version of Italy. Until Julius Caesar placed it under his tender care, it was not even part of Italy; they called it Cisalpine Gaul ("Gaul this side of the Alps"). What I've seen so far reminds me sometimes of France, sometimes of California, sometimes of Anyplace and No Place.

Padova is the pits. Not a half-measure of romanticism, no warmth in the people, ugly modern architecture and half-upgraded 19th century buildings. Of course there is what is called the Centro Storico, the historic center, but it consists of a few medieval monuments almost lost in a sea of commercialism and student quick-this-quick-that (it's Europe's second-oldest university town, but college students are the same everywhere).

We are staying here for two reasons. The first was bad planning on my part: to save money by not kipping down at one of Venice's dreadfully overpriced caravansaries. The NH Mantegna in Padova is up-to-date, mercilessly chilly in ambience.

But there is Giotto. The second reason we came here.

Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel are a wonder. Even the sour taste of driving around for a half hour in the congested downtown trying to find it and parking half a mile away -- this city hasn't the first idea about how to accommodate art lovers -- dissipated once we were admitted to the chapel. (At least, in the off season, we didn't have to reserve three days in advance, as visitors are advised to do in summer.)

The paintings cover the entire chapel, a bold and yet intimate evocation of the artist's pictorial and psych0logical genius. No description I have read gives a very good idea of the chapel, and I won't try; part of its marvelous quality is how it all works together.

Tomorrow, our first foray into Venice.


zazie said...

I had told you, hadn't I, about the frescoes, and the effect they have on visitors ; did they allow you more than fifteen minutes inside the chapel?
I guess you did not even try to have a look around San Antonio church ; you were right! After the chapel, I found it obscene.

Rick Darby said...


No, still 15 minutes max. But at least in this season of relatively low demand, they let in only a small group at a time, who are quiet and well behaved. To admit more people for longer would reduce the experience.

Perhaps this is new, but there is a comfortable waiting room with a good video about Giotto and the chapel.