Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Venice, Alone

Oh, oh. I just spent an hour, reading my old words, written back when not everyone had blogs, but everyone DID have email. I used to travel by myself and write long missives every night at the local internet bar/cafe, and I'm regretting that I don't always chronicle my travels like this. I'm remembering things I would never have recalled had I not written these. I hope you won't mind a walk down a Venetian memory lane. Full emails can be found here.

This is from a trip to Venice, the city of my heart, about eight years ago or so. Instead of getting a hotel room, I rented a private apartment and pretended for ten days that I lived there.

I can't imagine not being exactly where I am. I was napping on my bed earlier, the six o'clock bells ringing, the children below kicking a soccer ball, the radiator kicking on and off, and I couldn't grasp the fact that I DON'T live here, that I actually live in Oakland with two cats, good friends and dear sisters near.

Today I took a lovely long ramble with a man called Mr. Links. Well, actually, since he's dead, it was with the book he wrote, Venice for Pleasure, written in 1966. But if he WAS alive, I would have to track him down and make him walk with me. He's so perfectly suited to the way I travel. This is what he says about the Tintorettos that hang in Scuola S. Rocco. "We may well be asked on our return what we thought of those Tintorettos and it would be unthinkable to visit Venice without seeing them. Never let it be said I suggested such a thing. I only point out that the stairs are steep, the pictures, though wonderful, profuse and that they will still be there tomorrow, and, indeed, on our next visit to Venice." He then directs me to sit at a cafe just around the corner. In fact, the whole book is varying walks arranged around food and cafe stops. Occasionally a little art, but only the kind that doesn't upset your very full and happy tummy.

He led me from S. Marco across the Accademia bridge, where, instead of entering the museum, he turned me left to the cafe that's right next to the Grand Canal. It was so warm I took my jacket off and sat in the sun, watching the water spark into thousands of bright fragments while I drank prosecco and chatted with the British couple next to me. I told them they had missed all the excitement of the weekend, when the leftists threw paint on the British Embassy just next to us (and unfortunately hit all the proximate dwellings, too, thus the still-heavy polizia presence). They were glad to have missed it. I said, "I apologize for that, by the way." "What?" they asked. "That war. And for The Idiot." They grimaced and he said, "Well, he's backed by OUR idiot, so I suppose we're even." Then we drank some more wine and watched the gondolas slip by.

Mr. Links then accompanied me to the Zattere, Venice's long sunny sheltered promenade. I always find the same two things on the Zattere, construction and old women in fur coats, no matter the heat of the sun. I walked, happily, until he led me inland, and from an almost forty-year old book, he told me to stop for lunch at Locanda Montin, which I did. I wasn't surprised to find it was still there, but I was astonished at how PERFECT it was. I ate in the back garden, as he been suggested. Long columns of tables ran under the grape arbor, a large stone planter next to a red wall at the end, sun dappling everything. My waiter served me what was easily my best lunch ever, gnochetti (teeny little gnocchis, whee!) with, get this: shrimp and asparagus. Can life get any better? Yes, it can, with the help of a salad that saved me from scurvy (a LOT of bread and cheese lately) and a half-litre of wine. Again.

[Picture to the right taken of my photo that's hanging in the living room of my lunch spot. A corner of Links's book can be seen in the lower right hand corner.]

I vowed that drinking would take the place of smoking on this trip, and by god, I'm doing it up right. A half-litre of wine in the afternoon is WAY more fun that one at night, I found, as Mr. Links extracted me from the doe-eyes of the waiter whose only English was "so beautiful, you" (over and over) and plenty of Italian which, unfortunately, I understood. I walked on, and finished MOST of the walk, with a few more stops for raspberry gelato.

Last night, I was a little.... What? I'm not sure. I wrote about it in my journal, trying to find the words for what I was feeling. I'm still not sure what it was, but I think it was something related to accountability. It wasn't loneliness, it didn't feel as empty as that. It wasn't melancholy: not that bitter. It had more to do with the fact no one knew me. I engage in lots of small, brief encounters, good exchanges with people I'll never see again. If I don't speak, no one knows where I'm from. I wear all black, and hide my guidebook and camera in my deep pockets. I'm approached by all for directions, from Italians to (today) Japanese, in their own languages. And if I don't speak, no one knows I've even been there. So I went back out, last night, and deliberately found a small enoteca near my apartment. I bought dinner from the owner, and smiled at the waitress, and said good night to the regulars. I'll be back again tonight, and then again tomorrow. Eventually, before I leave in a week, they'll know me, and they'll smile to see me coming. I think that's all I needed last night. A smile, not from politeness, but from recognition, however shallow that need is.

And by the way, I'm not smoking. By the smallest margin, I'm not smoking. It's ever harder than I ever thought it would be. A dear friend of mine gave me his nine-year AA chip on a chain, and I brought it with me. It's always near me. I haven't had to wear it, though, for over seven months. I had to put it on today, and when the feeling is strongest, I tap it. It's saved me.

Off to the enoteca now, for a little pannini before sleep. The Italians aren't afraid of mayo and white bread, slathered with ham and eggs. A perfect sandwich. I'm serious, it's fabulous.

all love and willpower, and sun on the water,


Gigi Pandian said...

I love this. Reading this kinda makes me want to suggest we take our next European vacation to Venice instead of the south of France...

I always mean to write journals when I travel. I've succeeded a few times, but not as many as I'd have liked.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Oh I can't WAIT to go to Venice with you! You can even feel free to dump me in a canal, especially if you buy me champagne afterward.
I wanna go to Europe!!!

Mystii said...

Congrats on the smoking achievement!!!! It's harder than heroine to shake, you should really be proud!!!

Love the image of you rounding a corner and lighting up a whole town square.

Heidi Noroozy said...

What a lovely trip to Venice, Rachael! Reading this, I feel as though I went along with with you.

Domesticpedia said...

Great journal. Having the opportunity to travel and see so many places is amazing and I'm happy for you. Quitting smoking is something I doubt I could ever do. So you have my admiration. Regards, Venice hotels

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