Tuesday, April 03, 2012


[Warning: this is a long post. And, like a French coming-of-age movie, there's no action -- nothing really happens. It's just the way it has to be.]

I crack open the door to the room. She had asked what I wanted to eat and I told her – just simple stuff. Bread, maybe a cappuccino?
With jam?
Yes, okay. And maybe fruit. But I want her to keep it straightforward. Time is of essence and she knows it.

I look outside. Good. The weather’s holding nicely.


It’s all thought out, prearranged ahead by me. Even back in Madison, I knew I’d find a way to get to Venice. Bus schedules, train timetables – they’re all online these days. I needed a good weather day and timely connections, that’s all.

The hotel proprietor here, in Gargnano is very sympathetic. If I want to catch the 8 am bus for Desenzano (from where I am hoping to catch the 9:07 train to Venice), he’ll make sure someone brings a tray with at least coffee and breads for me before I leave.

The tray comes, I gulp down what I can, I’m off.

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My, but it’s a lovely morning! Shimmering in the early light!


I’ve been up since 4 and my adrenaline is pumping big time. I’d been writing, wanting so much to post before leaving. You could say that I’m insanely devoted to Ocean, but it’s not that. I just did not want Venice to overshadow my Sunday notes. Each day is important, each day deserves my full attention. So I’m up early. That’s OK. Plenty of time to sleep after you’re dead.

Does that sound morbid? You should have been with me when I was younger. I wrote tearful journals and carried a copy of Death in Venice in my bag. Can one be happy and melancholy all in one breath? I perfected the art of it!

On this morning, the bus driver is moving along nicely. Yet he’s a tad late pulling in to Desenzano. I have my train ticket in hand (purchased already in Milan) and as he pulls into the train station I fly. Just in time to hear the announcement: the train to Venice, coming in on track no. 1.


An hour and a half later, we’re crossing the lagoon. The thrill is there, as always. Venice, crazily beautiful Venice is in sight.

I didn’t always think it was beautiful. When I first came here, freshly 13, I hated it. We’d been slowly making our way back to Poland (after my father’s diplomatic stint at the UN) and my parents thought it would be good to see as much as possible of western Europe. Future travel would be limited. These were tough years in Poland.

We didn’t stay in Venice proper then. No hotel was affordable. We stayed in industrial Mestre in rooms with shared bathrooms and beds that were infested with bedbugs. Step aside New York, Mestre bugs came first!

Venice itself made me shudder. I thought the canals looked dirty. And that summer, back in 1966, they smelled. You call this place beautiful? How can any place with a foul odor be beautiful? (A funny comment coming from a 13 year old who truly was sorry to leave Manhattan – that pristine oasis of good air.)

But I changed my mind about Venice and once I did, I could not put her down. Hooked on potent stuff.

It passed. Violent crush receded, a calmer, more reflective love developed (Paris knocks out Venice. Now I could add Sorede to my love list. I’m getting staid).

But today, I step out of the station and behold! There is Venice!


A crowded Venice. I suppose April is no longer winter and in any case, I do not think Venice has a quiet time anymore.

And yet, it’s better now. I buy a ticket for the vaporetto – the public transportation for this place (at 6.50 Euros, I had to blink...ah well, we need to support this sinking art treasure!). What’s this! The best seat in the front (there are only a handful) is empty! How could I be so lucky?

I have a front row seat to the best show in town. So ride with me down the Grand Canal. And forgive these rather standard shots. We all take them. We can’t help it! With free space on our digital cameras, we go nuts here now! A woman keeps popping up with her camera to get a better angle and the boat captain raps at the window – you can’t stand, it blocks my view! Me, I’m lucky -- I'm not standing. And here’s my view!


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I just can’t stop grinning and, too, I get kind of teary. Venice is so dramatic!  See Venice and die!  I was never one to avoid thinking with exclamation marks.


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They’re not careful shots. This is point and shoot, from the hip material. The event is being in Venice, the camera is a sidekick.


Half an hour later, the Grand Canal show is over. I'm at San Marco.


San Marco. It is what it is. At least I don’t need to stand in lines for the museum or the Campanile. Forget that. Just give me a few minutes here and I’m done. A nonstop, frenzied party.


Indeed, at one of the cafĂ© tables, I see a propped bottle of champagne. The musicians break into a round of Happy Birthday. Someone’s child turned two today. Will you remember this moment decades ahead? Will it be a story for you to tell? The year you turned two at San Marco?

And the band plays on.

Time to leave this chaos. Despite the artistic merits of the square, for me, Venice is better than San Marco. My Venice is the Dorsoduro – the “left bank” as it were. I move away from the square, weaving my way past the small canals, congested here with gondolas.

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(Though there is an ever ready gondolier to whisk you away,  nearly at every turn...)

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... And over the Accademia bridge (it gives the classically perfect view onto the Canal)...


...And now I am in the land of sweet memories. Here’s the Nico ice cream shop. I dragged my family to it a long time ago. On a huge splurge we sat down at the tables and ordered off menu! Let it not be said that an Venetian ice cream in a dish is a fleeting thing. It’s vivid for me still, twenty years later.

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This is the waterfront that the crowds neglect and old timers come to.


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And here, deeply buried in the neighborhood is this simple glass store. There are thousands of them in Venice, but for some reason, we liked this one and put all our souvenir money into a glass plate made by the guy who still does glass blowing here.

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You look as young as you did then! I tell him.
Thank you. Time passes quickly though. A trace of sadness. I’ve stopped making those plates, he continues. Too expensive.

My seven year old ate a peach here and it dribbled all over her... The veggie boat, still here...

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It's a place where you can find tranquility. Still waters, reflecting the vivid colors of a sunny day. An empty alley.

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Oh, and this is the place Ed and I ate dinner on our first night in Venice. No, sorry – I ate the dinner. It was only our second trip together. We’d been hanging out barely six months. I did not yet understand that Ed sometimes skips protocol. My book told me we should have a memorable meal on our first night here. His book said – not hungry for it. It was threatening to be one of those wickedly unresolved nights, but we saved it. I don’t remember how, but we did. Venice magic.

Okay, enough. I need new memories from this six hour fling here. Food – I need food.

But where? The sweet pizza place by the bell tower? No, that’s a rerun. Here’s something: Do Farai. With faded old reviews in the window and a lively crowd inside. And here’s a new observation: Italians like to make babies in early July. Must be that first blush of summer. I’ve witnessed more birthday celebrations since I’ve come here than in the whole past decade! Three today alone (one still ahead of me)!

The crowd of some fifteen is a young one – all twenties and thirties except for the mom and dad. The birthday person appears deliriously happy! A few small gifts, lots of easy banter.

The restaurant owner moves between the tables with grace. He talks for a while with these guys --  the gondoliers (they really eat a lot! -- he later tells me)...


... talks to the French couple off in a corner (you’re from Paris? Hmm. But I’m really from the coast! I’m a boat captain of a yacht... they exchange cards), and shows a photo of his old family to the birthday girl.


Meanwhile I order just an appetizer – an assortment of all the seafood offerings – octopus shrimp over polenta, scallop, ohhhh I can’t even list it all! Here, look!

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And I get talked into a salad. The owner tells me there’ll be baby artichokes in it from today’s market.

At the end, he brings me some house specialty concoction. Raisins soaking in potent stuff. I need a coffee after all this.

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Time’s flying from me now. I have a 16:50 train to catch. Six hours of pleasure, nearly done.


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Leaving Venice is never really a wrenching and sad affair, because if you walk to the station you’ll gradually let go of her as you leave behind the beauty and reenter the schlock of fast retail closer to the trains. Some have said of course that Venice is one big shopping mall. But it’s a glorious one! The window gazing in this city can get quite sumptuous.




Or at least it’s varied. There’ll be the immigrant sellers with their knockoffs, packing up and running when the police walk by. And there’ll be the “I love Italia” shirts, the gondolier hats – all that. And there’ll be glass. Murano glass, jeweled and beautiful. And the foods. Macaroons and cakes (including special breads for Easter), take out foods, parma hams, Veneto wines.

Toward the station it’s cheaper, more prosaic, functional too.

I have five minutes before my rapid train departs (these Intercity beauties haven’t the punctuality issues of local trains).


I find a newsstand and ask for some writing paper – a notebook maybe? A tablet? Fine, a tablet. This post is mostly a product of my writing in it. The freshest spill of words on the Milan bound train. Except I remember to get off at Brescia.

I have just three minutes now to catch the Gargnano bus, but once you’ve been to a city, a town, you learn the shortcuts. I run, literally run to the bus station, gasping just as the bus pulls in.

And now I'm home.


Truth is, I’m not really hungry for a big meal. Grand days have to end simply, quietly. With a pizza maybe. Here, with Marilyn Monroe posters. A pie with eggplant and garlic and olives...


At the table next to mine, a family of four is finishing their meal. The waitress brings out a cake with lit candles. It’s the youngest daughter’s birthday. You put one too many candle, she laughs. I’m only nine!


Everyone should be this happy, this light at heart, this forgiving of mistakes...

Everyone should, too, have a chance to walk home, sometime soon, by the light of a half moon and consider how beautiful the stuff is under its muted light.