Volume I of Verona at War will be published on 1 July 2022. Here's 5 things you need to know!
Verona at War is a project I've been working on (on and off) for ten years now, in fact ever since I came to Italy in September 2011. I studied history at uni, with a particular focus on the conflicts of the 20th century and when I moved to Italy I was almost immediately struck by how traces of those conflicts seemed to be lurking behind almost every corner. I'd frequently stumble across a monument or a plaque or even just a street name that would spark my curiosity. That's when my research on the subject really began.
2. Life in wartime Verona
My original idea was to tell a dozen or so stories set in wartime Verona - stories of resistance and betrayal, atrocities, survival and heroism, with the focus very much on the Second World War. One question kept coming back to me though, which was how did all this happen. The more I thought about it, the further back I went, and I eventually decided that I couldn't tell the story without going back to the First World War, when the seeds of fascism were first sown. So this volume basically tells the story of the rise of fascism in Verona: the key events and characters; the mob violence, the beatings and castor oil punishments; the torchlit processions and astonishing political rallies. I was particularly struck by the relentless violence that followed everything the movement did - and that's before the Second World War even started!
In Verona's Biblioteca Civica I discovered an incredible book by Carlo Manzini. It was published in 1938 and it's basically a photo journal of every visit Mussolini ever made to the city. Translating it was a herculean task, but well worth it as it gives such fascinating insight into the spirit of the times and the cult adulation that surrounded Mussolini. Newspaper archives and and political journals were also useful, as well as numerous secondary sources that all had to be laboriously translated from Italian.
4. When can I get a copy?
Verona at War will be available on Amazon from 1 July 2022. You can preorder for Kindle now. In the meantime follow me on twitter for all the latest updates or look for updates on my author's page on Amazon. I'd love to get my books into as many local and independent bookshops as possible, so please reach out if you'd like to stock it. I'm also really keen to share the story as widely as possible, through blogs, podcasts and interviews.
5. What's next?
Well the next two volumes are already pretty well advanced. Volume II tells the story of the outbreak of war, the occupation and the resistance movement within the city. In Volume III the action really intensifies, as the frontline reaches the city, but the story also really broadens out, with a much wider cast of characters, including the American airforce pilots who bombarded the city and the infantrymen who were first to liberate it. All going well Volume II will be published this time next year and Volume III the following year! I've also got another couple of writing projects on the go, including the story behind a remarkable collection of letters posted home from the Italian front by a lieutenant in the Royal Signals Corp, who also just happens to be my grandfather!
It’s Wednesday lunchtime and the pace of the giant four day wine and spirits conference in Verona has finally shifted down a gear or two.
The organised chaos of Sunday, and the relentless demands of international buyers and corporate tastings that filled Monday and Tuesday now seem like distant memories. Many international buyers have already called it a day and by mid morning on Wednesday some of the exhibitors, notably those with a ferry to catch, have decided to cut their losses and pack up their stands as well.
There are just a handful of scheduled tastings and masterclasses left to manage and in general the vibe is far less frenetic.
It was, then, the ideal moment to stretch the legs a little and explore some of the farther reaches of the vast conference complex in search of something a little bit out of the ordinary. For me that means something innovative, youthful and fresh – both inside and outside the bottle.
My first destination was Puglia, that long, narrow peninsula that forms the heel of Italy known for its hundreds of kilometres of unspoilt coastline and its distinctive whitewashed stone houses.
The Cantine Barsento labels were exactly what I was looking for. Fun, cheeky and emotive, each one featured a unique quirky phrase with matching comic style sketch. Phrases included: “Che ne sanno gli altri” [What do they know] and “Tu mi pensi ancora” [Do you still think of me]. The labels struck me as a more sophisticated version of the children's party-favourite Love Hearts.
The Barsento brand appeals unapologetically to young drinkers, both in style and substance. Like the labels, the wine itself is youthful, fresh and unpretentious. The rosé is made with 100% primitivo grape and is bursting with flavours of seaside anguria and chilled canary melon, perfect as a refreshing aperitivo. The white was just as fresh and straightforward. A varietal of the less well known Verdeca grape, with notes of elderflower and red berries, a quick whiff found me yearning for a seafood lunch on the Adriatic coast.
Heading north, to one of Italy’s most prestigious wine making regions, I was once again on the lookout for something a little different from the Piedmont region. While many labels from this region comply with the classic layout and design, often featuring a traditional emblem, coat of arms, or villa, the Villadoria 'Senatore Primo' Piemonte Rosso immediately caught my eye. Featuring a hand-drawn sketch of a distinguished looking gent (who reminded me of my father-in-law) wearing a neat fedora hat, the only splash of colour was the red band around his fedora. But there was an even bigger surprise in store as I moved in to take a closer look.
On the neck of the bottle hung a strange cylindrical shaped object. Curious I removed in from the bottle and realised it was a parchment of some kind!
Thinking it might simply be a technical sheet, I unrolled it and was dumbstruck by what I saw.
The life-story of Daniel Lanzavecchia, a husband, adventurer, soldier, farmer, wine grower, and father who went in search of a new way of life before eventually returning to his roots in Piedmonte, wonderfully told in a 12-part hand drawn cartoon strip.
Although the wine conveys more than a whiff of nostalgia, it’s also refreshingly light and easy-drinking, not always a given from a region that is home to some of Italy's most powerful and dramatic wines. The spumanti was even better, featuring the same striking label but with a splash of blue instead of red across the fedora. Fermented using the Classic Method, it was a rich ruby red with full, fruity and fresh foam.
In this case, the wine was pleasant, but it was the storytelling that made drinking it a truly memorable experience.
Rock n' wine
Finally, in a world that is often classical in its orientation, a taste of rock n roll to round things off. RockWines is another brand that unashamedly targets the younger market with its strong yet playful labelling.
Bad Boy, a mixture of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, blended for 18 months in barrels and barrique, conveys a degree of quality behind its brash rockstar image, while 10 Things I Must Do In My Life is a Chardonnay that invites the consumer to do more than simply enjoy the wine (see image below).
What really tickled me, though, was the QR code on each label that allows you to instantly launch a Spotify playlist compiled specifically to complement the wine you’re drinking. Now that's Rock n Wine!
Again, another simple but well executed innovation, designed to appeal to a younger generation of consumers as Vinitaly too seeks to reach new audiences.
After an absence of over two years, writer Richard Hough reflects on a recent trip from Verona to his native Scotland, navigating the perilous path of pre-flight bureaucracy, emotional family reunions and too many fry-ups.
My latest for @TheLocal.it
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Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.