The hike up to the castle was familiar. I used to call it a déjà-vu because I had done it innumerable times since one of my university classmates brought me here almost 20 years ago. The entrance to the theatre area was rather unassuming – a narrow little alleyway squeezed in between yellow and brown stone buildings, facing one of the busiest roads in Verona. Like a little door to another planet I thought. Or better, like a little door to the past. My past and Verona’s past. Or the other way around. I smiled as I entered the alley, remembering the many visitors I brought all the way up to the castle.
How many times we had to stop with the Asians, taking pictures of the bright pink orchids growing from the old, cracked stone walls. Apparently, the occasional foreigner found its way here also without me, I thought, as I passed sweaty-looking and rather heavily breathing visitors of Northern European appearance on the first set of stone steps, winding narrowly along the buildings.
Here we go, I mumbled to myself – the climb begins, old man! There is something fascinating about walking up a long set of stairs, I thought, as I passed the first stone blocks and column fragments which once belonged to the majestic Roman theatre built in the first century on the hillside leading up to the castle. People don’t like to show their weaknesses. I smiled, as I saw the first group of exhausted tourists resting about one fourth up the way. Of course, not resting – they were pretending to take pictures of what once was probably a lion sculpture. Or an eagle, maybe? It did have a pointy nose or snout, I thought. I looked forward to reaching the little gallery halfway up. Another good excuse to slow down the journey. I always liked to read the graffiti on its damp, musty walls. My favorite was “I hate people and people hate me: but I hate them more. I smiled as I passed by. I had always wondered who wrote this. Maybe someone with a good sense of humour. Or a serial killer. Either way, the first drops of sweat had paid off as slowly I reached a good elevation on the winding stairs. To my right, the stone ranks of the theatre emerged through a sea of sun beaten blocks and pillars, while the afternoon sky turned into the first shades of bright orange. “Under the skies of an Italian summer”, I thought to myself smiling. Those were the lyrics to the title track for the 1990 Football World Cup in Italy, which I fondly remembered watching with my father. This and my heavy breathing about three quarters up the stairs were a testimony that time was passing faster than I thought. The roar of the traffic seemed further away now and the chit-chat of the crowd on the massive plateau a lot closer. Hope at last.
About 5 minutes later, I sat on the terrace of Castel San Pietro, a renaissance hillfort on top of a 2000-year-old Roman theatre complex in Verona, Italy. The sunset was painting the city in shades of orange and red. I was assuming it has done so for millennia – it certainly has for decades, as this has been my retreat of choice for at least 15 years. The evening breeze was pleasant, and one could hear the city traffic faintly, like a whisper in the distance. I thought that even traffic can be beautiful if it fits the scenery. It felt like time was standing still, looking at the roman stones which had stood the test of time. In my rollercoaster-life, this place remained strangely unchanged. As I sat here, I remembered the countless times I had watched the sunset in the city before, with people who have come and gone sitting with me. Maybe I missed some of them, maybe I just missed the person I used to be when sitting with them. But then again, the certainty that these stones will be here long after I am gone and that I was just a piece in the millennial puzzle of this city gave me a strange comfort. As I smiled, I realized that thousands must have found it before me in the very same spot.