Episode Sixteen: Venice
Green Gum, a Boat Race and the Oldest Men in the World
The canals of Venice are like the streets of Florence, each one demands a
photograph be taken. We arrive midday and sit upon the steps of the train
station. Chris says they remind him of the Spanish Steps, with all the
people hanging out, except these steps are more horizontal than vertical. I
take this opportunity to sit in gum.
It is not only gum, it is bright green gum, fluorescent green to be exact.
It is right in the middle of my butt, between my pant pockets, and is as big
around as a soda can. I take this opportunity to make a point to Chris. I
shrug, survey the damage by walking in circles trying to get a good view of
my ass and then untuck my shirt to cover it. The gum would normally make me
angry, but I feel like showing Chris how one can act calm in times of
crisis. Plus, I have bigger fish to fry as my body begins to rapidly
First, I think I may have broken my leg, and it feels like the bone is
trying to push its way through my left shoe. I also have a headache that is
working its way down my spinal cord. I decide to take some time and figure
out what else is wrong with me. My feet are hurting, which is odd after
sitting on a train so long, and I can only assume I have developed some type
of tumor somewhere. I am also wondering why my nipples seem so sensitive
today. I ask Chris if he thinks I am likely to lose one, but he does not
offer much in the way of support. I tell him that if I ever did lose a
nipple, I would replace it with a gold one. His only contribution is to tell
me that I have finally snapped.
After my bout of complaining ends, we tour the town. We both agree that
Venice is the most romantic city we have visited. I am thinking it should be
called city of the couples, which is all we seem to see around us. I bet
some hotels are just one big honeymoon suite. Chris agrees that it is very
romantic, which he says is not good being that he only has me at his side.
We both agree this is a city we need to return to, but not together, nor
alone, if you catch my drift.
We book a room at the hostel and then return to our walk. The shopping
district is crowded and the roads are the size of alleyways, but the amount
of Venetian glass on display is overwhelming. I go into the first couple of
shops, but having to work my wide shoulders around balancing glass makes me
nervous. Then I make a mistake of looking at the prices of some of these
things and decide window-shopping is more my fortÃ©.
After some aimless wandering, I cannot wait any longer, and ask if we can go to
the main square, Piazza di San Marco, the subject of some of Canaletto’s best
paintings. The church of San Marco is beautiful with its ceiling of gold and its
art-filled walls. Outside, smaller flags of Venice surround a huge Italian flag.
They billow in the wind. This, added to the throngs of people and pigeons
running about, makes Chris declare this a perfect town square. We watch the kids
chase the birds and the parents chase the kids. We are supposed to meet the
girls here, and can think of no other place we would rather wait.
The brickwork of the square is intricately designed, with patterns of
lighter bricks working their way through the darker ones, giving it an
appearance of a maze. The buildings on either side are large and imposing,
but arched entryways, supported by stone pillars, result in a more open
atmosphere. Above these pillars are smaller ones, separating the windows and
above those, even smaller pillars that reach up to the roof. When we first
arrived it all looked much bigger, but as evening approaches the cafes that
line the square have put up their outside tables, and it is at one of these
we plant our weary bodies.
Each cafe has its own mini-orchestra, which consists of a man at a piano,
one with a violin, a cellist and possibly an accordion player. The one we
sit at plays ‘Memories‘, and it takes me back to the night on the Prague
bridge, and then even further, to seeing the Broadway show Cats, with my friend
A bit later, a group of kids begin to do a conga line. They are hopping
about and laughing and more and more people join them. Pretty soon it is at
least fifty people long and the entire square makes way as they snake across
the stones. Someone tumbles and the line breaks apart. The participants
applaud and then disband. To our right, the sun is slowly making its way
behind the buildings.
I order an iced tea and Chris has a cappuccino. He says this is the best one
he has had so far. He thinks it is funny that he is sitting in a foreign
country, looking at ancient churches, having a cappuccino in a piazza, and
it all seems perfectly normal. This is what he has been waiting for all his
life. I love the fact that Chris can appreciate things the way he does. On
the glass-is-half-empty side, he is mad that his pen leaked into his journal
and he somehow got a scratch on the face of his watch. I silently sip my
As we watch people, Chris says he has never seen so many over-tanned,
dyed-blonde, bright lipstick-wearing people in his life. He has also never
seen so many older men spending time with their nieces. This is the first
time I have felt so underdressed, not excluding the wad of green gum stuck
to my ass.
The Italians seem to be very conscious about their appearance. However, not
always in a way that makes them look good, but sometimes in a way that makes
them look like they have put a lot of time and money into it. I say that
they love their shoes and they love their glasses and they really like their
hair too. Chris likes this and writes it down. I just love being quoted.
We assume the girls are not coming and ask for our bill. It comes out to
seven dollars apiece. I cannot fathom how an ice tea can be as much as a
cappuccino, all you do is put leaves in water and then wait. Chris thinks
that maybe all the drinks are the same price and I am thinking that they are
probably screwing the underdressed tourist with the green gum on his
backside. Either way, we pay and leave.
Near the church is a mob of people. We instinctively head over, expecting to
see a brawl of sorts. Instead, we find a church choir welcoming in the night.
They belt out a few songs, and we are preparing to leave, when they begin to sing
Little Drummer Boy. This is my mom’s favorite song and I can only imagine
how perfect this all would be for her to experience. The song is not too
long, but long enough to make me miss my youth and my mother.
After they finish singing, we walk to our right, which is the main entrance
to the square. This spot is where the boats would dock when royalty sailed
into town. They would pull up in front of the library and make their way
past a lone pillar, the San Teodore Column, entering the San Marco square.
These days, just off the pier, there are wooden poles sticking out of the
water. These are used to hold the gondolas when they are not being used. To
our right and across the water, we can see the great, white domes of the
capitol building and if I remember correctly, the Grand Canal begins near
We are at the edge of the walk and the lapping of the water causes the
gondolas to knock against their wooden posts, a sound that is both eerie and
beautiful. The lights on the opposite shore are a soft white and the
boatmen’s lanterns are a pale yellow. The music from the square drifts in
and out, while across the water, we can hear a gondola driver singing softly
to his passengers. It is eight-thirty and twilight descends on Venice.
We catch a boat to the hostel, which is not as easy at is sounds. It is much
like waiting at a bus stop, but the boats are few and far between, which
makes for more people wanting to jump on. I do not really mind being crammed
in a boat, but any transportation that carries a slight threat of submersion
with it, always makes me leery. We finally reach the hostel and find that we
are sharing a room with two of the oldest men in the world. I guess that
they must each be close to ninety years young. Chris does not think they are
that old, but I was the one that saw them in their underwear.
The walls that separate the rooms are not real walls, only sort-of walls, as
they stop two feet short of the ceiling. This would normally not be a
problem, but tonight an Italian-youth soccer team is occupying the room next
door. They are the loudest people on the face of the earth. At one point,
the two old guys make their way to the restroom and I yell at the top of my
lungs for everyone to shut up. They are so loud they do not even hear me.
The two old guys return, tell us goodnight, and are somehow able to fall to
sleep. I wonder if it has to do with a slight loss of hearing or if they
have each mastered the art of Zen.
I wake up feeling crabbier than usual, and can hear the young soccer club
has finally fallen asleep. The two old guys are gone and we are minus a good
night’s sleep. Packing our things has never been done as loud as it is this
morning. I not only hope we have awakened some of them, I also hope they
lose their game today. I can hold a grudge like the best of them.
We go to the Bridge of Sighs, which has something to do with being the last
place prisoners crossed before they entered the prison. A gondola is passing
underneath and the driver is wearing a black and white striped shirt and a
big black hat with a red ribbon around it. I take a picture that will make
postcards envious. We have been contemplating a gondola ride, but upon
inquiry, we find that the starting price is around sixty dollars for a
half-hour. Even if it were less, I think we would have thought twice about
snuggling together in a boat careening down canals of Venice. The price
keeps us from having to take that route.
Walking over a bridge, I notice a lot of people leaning outside their
canal-facing windows. Off in the distance we see boats heading in our
direction, we decide to await their arrival. Pretty soon, the entire area
fills with people trying to catch a glimpse. The boats reach us and we see
that it is a parade of contestants. The Venice boat races are only a few
The parade lasts all morning as hundreds of entries paddle by. We see a
miniature Viking boat, manned by muscular, blonde-wig wearing Italians.
There is also an entry of a boatload of chefs, one full of court jesters and
one that looks like a Chinese dragon boat. A canoe full of nuns rows past,
only to be followed shortly by a boat full of monks. Everyone is in costume,
the atmosphere is sophomoric, and after we watch a man swim past with a flag
on his head, a boat overflowing with vegetables makes the crowd erupt with
glee. The oarsmen answer all of our cheers by raising their paddles straight
up into the air and shouting back. Today I discover that I want to be a
After the parade, we go to Harry’s Bar. Chris is excited to see it because
Hemingway talks about it so much, but the bar disappoints him and he decides
to go in next time. Our friend, hunger, finally catches up to us and we
decide that today is a day for a fine Italian meal. We wander away from the
tourist area and the boards outside the restaurants that advertise the
gastronomically delightful Tourist Menu. Looking at some of the offerings
for such meals is not only sad, but also offensive. Feeding people badly
seems so unlike a country so proud of its cuisine, but I suppose the day to
day question of what one should eat would cause me to put up such a sign
too, or eventually stab someone with a fork.
Soon we are lost, then see a restaurant, two things that go well
together. We sit at an outside table and excitedly scan our menus. I have
found that Italy is the easiest country for me. The menus are easy to
pronounce, even if you do not know what you are ordering, and conversations
are easy to have if you just let the other person talk while you shake your
head up and down. I have also found that by using my thumb to signify I want
one of something, saying things like bella (beautiful), bravissimo (bravo)
or Dio Mio (My God!) and mispronouncing words like Coca-Cola, I am being
accepted as one of their own.
A simple nod tells the waiter we are ready to order and pointing to the menu
tells him what we want. As long as he does not ask us anything difficult,
like if we want cheese with that or if we would like to have some water, we
will most likely be mistaken for Italians.
We each order the lasagna as our first course. For the second course, Chris
goes the way of the fish while I go the way of the chicken. After that, he
decides he needs roughage and orders a salad. I decide that the last thing I
want is roughage and settle for some tasty frittes. He ends his meal with a
fruit bowl and I end mine with a cappuccino. Sometimes I think what people
eat can tell you a lot about them. With our meal, we also ordered a bottle
of wine, and even though I thought we have each had half, Chris is acting
I found out somewhere in Rome that most restaurants do not bring you the
check because they feel that is rude. Instead, they wait until you ask for
it or you make like you are about to leave. After figuring this out, I both
enjoy and am annoyed at watching boisterous Americans become disgruntled as
they wait for the check to arrive. It is not their misunderstanding of the
way things work that bothers me, it is that tend to become loud and rude
during the learning process.
Gigi gave me a patch of a Canadian flag and I have it on my backpack, as a
tribute to all the Americans that are allowed to go on vacations. We grab
our things, as if to go, and our check magically appears. We pay the man,
and after he gives me the change, I stand up. Staggering my way through the
tables, I now know exactly where the other half of that bottle of wine went.
It’s on to the main docks and we jump on one of the bigger boats for a ride
around the canals. The views into the house-lined canals is inspiring, I
only wish I had time to sketch the city for weeks on end. After our ride, we
go back to the square and watch the people. There are as many tourists here
as anywhere, but when you enter a place as big as this, it always appears
empty. I count over a hundred people milling around, though it looks like
hardly a few. As evening approaches, we need to start heading toward the
train station. Tomorrow we will be returning to Bavaria, and our last visit
with the Termonds. That is, of course, if we can survive one more night
We are still full from our meal, but Chris is inspired to try and fit in
more food. I decide not to let him tackle this endeavor alone. We stop and
try a cannoli and then wash it town with a gelato. If I lived in Italy, I
would be two hundred pounds heavier, but I would also be two hundred pounds
happier, so I guess it all would even out.