Celebrating Vicenza and pal Palladio

The Teatro Olimpico was designed by Andrea Palladio as his last work and inaugurated in 1585

The Teatro Olimpico was designed by Andrea Palladio as his last work and inaugurated in 1585

I was so happy to see this meaty travel story on Vicenza, Italy, by Canadian writer Paul French in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of its favorite son, architect Andrea Palladio (born Nov. 30, 1508), who designed many gorgeous municipal structures and country villas. Said article was even in the paper I usually write for, The Boston Globe. Not only was it interesting and helped spread the word on this relatively little-known architect and unknown area between Verona and Venice, in northern Italy, but its publication meant I could finally stop feeling guilty that I didn’t write anything myself!

Piazza in Vicenza (Click to ENLARGE)

Piazza in Vicenza on a dreary fall day (Click to ENLARGE)

Wessel and I went to Vicenza last Thanksgiving, and I swore it would be a vacation for me. As a writer, it’s difficult for me to go anywhere and not write about it. Part of that is that the opportunity is there and I’m spending the money anyway, and also I like making money from stories (though often my hourly rate ends up being ridiculously meager). But above all else, I truly feel a duty to spread the word about things I think are interesting, meaningful, helpful, or just plain fun. In a way I feel I do “social work” through my journalism, trying to help those in need. While Vicenza, a fairly wealthy city, will be fine without my assistance, I do want to point people there because it’s, as the cliché goes, a hidden jewel. (I’d never use that phrase in a story!)

Diane (left) visits Federico Lauro in the mid 1980s (Click to ENLARGE)

Here’s the story of my history with Vicenza. It was 1983 and I was on the last leg of a two-month backpack trip in Europe. I started out with a group of college friends, and then went solo. On the second day of my solo stretch, I was on an overnight train from Milan to Paris. Federico, who was in my cabin, was listening to a cassette of “Speaking in Tongues” by the Talking Heads. He was from Vicenza. We bonded over music, and ended up pitching our tents side by side in Paris and bopped around the city the next day. Then we became pen pals, writing each other a couple times a year.

Enrico, Mariella, mother Valenza, Eloisa and Federico (Click to ENLARGE)

Left to right: Enrico, Mariella, Mariella and Eloisa's mother, Eloisa and Federico, in 1986 (Click to ENLARGE)

In 1986, after staying in Greece for six months with my American friend Susan Pappas (who had also been on the backpack trip), I headed to Italy in hopes of finding work in one of the large cities. Of course a stop in Vicenza was on the agenda. When I arrived, I was quite under the weather, so not only did I stay with Federico and his family, they nursed me back to health. In the end, Federico and his father helped me find a place to live and a little work teaching English. I got to know his good friend Enrico, his girlfriend, Eloisa, and her sister Mariella.

I made a Vicenza stop during travels in 1988, but Federico and Eloisa were on holiday. Then, in 1990, Federico and Eloisa, now married, stayed with me near Boston for six months while they studied English and toured New England. After that, we wrote, and then emailed, infrequently.

Villa Rotunda designed by Andrea Palladio and built in 1566

The villa "La Rotonda," just outside Vicenza, was designed by Palladio and built in 1566

So when Wessel and I visited Vicenza, it had been 18 years since I’d seen Federico and Eloisa! They have two sweet, lovely children and live next door to Enrico and Mariella, now married and with children of their own. While Vicenza had grown (I couldn’t remember the outskirts all that well) the “centro” looked pretty much the same. It was very moving to revisit my past and also share my Italian city and friends with Wessel. Vicenza will always be near and dear to me, and now I don’t even have to feel guilty not writing a story about it!

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