We didn’t make it to the Carnival in Venice this year. It was too wet, and we would have needed fishermen’s long rubber boots to negotiate St Mark’s Square. So, we decided to visit Arquà Petrarca instead. Only an hour and a half’s drive from where we live, the village is in the heart of the Colli Eugani, the Euganean Hills, 81 long-dead volcanoes clustered together, thrusting above the agricultural plains below, about 20 kilometres south of Padova.
Famous for being where Francesco Petrarca, the inventor of the sonnet, lived out the final years of his life, the village has retained much of its medieval atmosphere. Once we’d parked the car, we walked up the cobbled street to visit his house.
Pushing open the heavy wrought-iron gate, we inhaled the scent of damp earth in the garden. Actors, representing Petrarca and his daughter, Francesca, read verses from the Canzoniere
Laura, Petrarch’s muse (whom he met in Avignon), or rather an actress, spoke to us from the loggia. She could easily have been a character in my novel, Lady of Asolo.
Up the steps, and we strode through rooms named Metamorphosis, Venus, Cleopatra, and Visions, lavishly decorated with scenes from Petrarch’s work.
In one corner we found the poet’s small study, now enclosed by glass, where he died, aged 70, in front of an open manuscript.
Downstairs, in the small museum, we viewed autographs of famous past visitors, including Byron, and the grizzly, embalmed remains of Petrarch’s cat.
Afterwards, we sauntered down to the main square, to gaze at Petrarch’s elaborate tomb, standing in front of the church. (A recent peek into the sarcophagus by the Italian authorities revealed his body was still inside, save for his right arm, stolen centuries ago by a drunken friar in pursuit of relics.)
Having paid our respects to the bard, we wandered through the streets, passing shops selling local olive oil, honey and wine, until, in need of food and drink, we stopped at the Enoteca d’Arqua.
There, we enjoyed a glass of Calaone, rosso dei colli euganei, and bruschette
A gorgeous sunset pinked the sky as we made our way home. A small adventure, and how’s this for some romance, translated from the original Italian, of course?
It was the day the sun’s ray had turned pale
with pity for the suffering of his Maker
when I was caught, and I put up no fight,
my lady, for your lovely eyes had bound me.