Searching for Catullus in Paradise

I’m not gonna lie, Verona was a little disappointing. The town is lovely and especially the Palazzo Vecchio (I really loved the art collection there), but the hordes tourists and the 90-degree heat just made the place unbearable.

After escaping the chaos at the Casa di Giulietta, I went to the main square to sit for a bit and have an iced coffee. Flipping through my little Verona guidebook, I found a mention that Catullus was born there. But looking further, I could find NO evidence of his commemoration in Verona – not a statue, a street, a piazza, a museum. Nothing. How like the tourist industry, to make millions off of a made-up Shakespearean site, and barely acknowledge the fact that Verona is the hometown of one of the best-known and widely-read Latin poets. Don’t people care about Latin poetry?!?!?! Stupid question, maybe.

But anyway, this connection with Catullus confirmed my disgust with the gimmicky Juliet’s House and made me determined to track down something associated with him. Anything.

I miraculously discovered some free wifi, and wikipedia informed me that Verona apparently does not have a single thing associated with Catullus. Bummer. BUT, Sirmione, where Catullus had a summer villa and which he mentions in several poems, is only an hour or so away. There is an archaeological site at the villa, and a beautiful bust of the poet to take a picture of!

According to Google-maps, this is what Sirmione looks like:

A teeny-tiny spit of land sticking out into the lake. There’s not even a train station. I figured it would be a tiny little village, where I would be the only person, and the only feature of note would be this Catullus site. Instead, I found a massive and crowded vacation spot. It’s like, the Myrtle Beach of norther Italy, apparently:

Actually the place was gorgeous and I would have loved to spend a while there just walking around, lying on the beach, looking at the picturesque castle. But I had to be in Venice that night, and if I didn’t catch the 6:30 bus, I’d be stranded without my backpack (which I’d left in Verona). That gave me… one hour to find Catullus. Shouldn’t be a problem, this place is pretty small, right? Wrong. Looks small on the map, but huge when you’re lost and walking in the heat. I probably asked 20 people where to find the Grotto of Catullus (what the site is called) and they just kept gesturing, like “Keep going that way” “Keep going” “Farther yet…” and I just kept walking and walking to the end of the island. But at some point, I passed the half-hour mark, and I had to turn back or I would miss my bus.

So in summary: I spent an hour powerwalking through a beautiful beautiful town looking for something I never found. Alas, Catullus. My efforts were in vain!

However, I did find lemons as big as my head.

But I found Catullus 31 entirely fitting to this little jewel of a town stuck out in the middle of a turquoise lake surrounded by mountains: