June 17, 2005
Dear Readers –
It’s true, all of it. This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. Too many tourists, of course, but that’s my usual complaint. Venice, though? Che bellissima!
The train trip here, however, was not. And not because of the scenery… but because of the fucking nasty-ass annoying little piece of shit brat we had to share our train compartment with! Turns out, America doesn’t have the market cornered on over-indulged undisciplined spawns of Satan.
But, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself, time-wise. We got up in Munich relatively early, with time for me to take a long, steamy shower in hopes of unclogging my sinuses and to write a bunch of postcards before we met Pa-in-law for brekkie. The Husband-Type Man’s dad is an architect, and for the last three months, has been going above and beyond the call of fatherly duty in terms of our remodel of La Casita: drawing and re-drawing plans, meeting with city people, checking permits, drawing and re-drawing some more. So, now that the plans are finalized and the remodel is officially underway, we decided to thank Pappy by inviting him to join us for the Chocolate portion of the Chocolate Duran Tour! You know, ‘cos Pa hates chocolate almost as much as I do. (I have a feeling we’re going to be body-checking each other to get into places in Switzerland, or may come to physical blows over the dark chocolate v. milk chocolate debate we have on occasion!) This isn’t Pa-in-law’s first trip to Venice, though: he and Ma-in-law did a European Wander back in the 60s as newlyweds. Before we left, MiL dug up the travel journals THEY kept, and it’s amazing and fun to compare their reactions to ours, or Pa’s reactions then v. now, and just to see what-all has changed.
Our train for Venice was direct, and we were delighted to discover that, on the first half of the trip, we were sharing the compartment with a quiet and pleasant teacher who read most of the time before disembarking somewhere in Austria. We settled in and gaped out our windows as gorgeous scenery passed by: roiling rivers, churches and monasteries on hills, rocky crags and pine woods, the Austrian Alps with little valleys nestled underneath and villages – yes, honest-to-God VILLAGES with one church in the middle and fields and haystacks outside of old barns! And even though a lot of the places we passed were shabby and industrial, there was still the backdrop of the mountains. As we delved into Italy, the mountains smoothed into rolling green hills, and the air pouring in the open window turned much warmer and pungent with the sharper fragrances of juniper and grape vines. It had all the promise of an idyllic journey.
By the time we were plowing through interminable tunnels through the Alps, I’d slipped into a comfy doze.
That abruptly ended when, about three hours outside of Venice, an older German man with a creased face and a bandaged finger poked his head in our compartment and asked in German if there were available seats.
And Pa, the poor innocent and kind man, said those fateful words we’ll ever regret: “Yes, there are three.”
“Michelle! Michelle!” the man called… and in came a tall, frazzled woman lugging a ruddy-faced imp, about three years old.
Who. Would. Not. Shut. Up. The. Entire. Rest. Of. The. Trip.
I’m not talking about talking or singing or even crying… I’m talking about that… PLUS screaming, kicking (me, Pa, as well as his mother and grandfather), jumping from one seat to another, HEAD-DIVING from one seat to another, punching his mother, throwing things, kicking doors, banging on windows, and, in a final aria de triomphe, simply standing in the middle of our compartment and SCREAMING for minutes until his face was beat red.
Grösspapa and Mütter were utterly useless in stopping this behavior. Every so often, Grösspapa would give us a “kids… what can you do?” eye roll, and Mütter would hist “Michael! Michael!” and grab his arm and wrestle him back onto her lap or into his seat.
I was gobsmacked. If I’d behaved for thirty seconds like that brat did, Mom would’ve kicked my ass and never let me forget it. And if – knock on wood – I was a parent who had a child who acted like that for thirty seconds, I would still be feeling the burning humiliation and shame. But not Mütter. It seemed not to concern her one iota that precious little Michael had stepped on our lunch, scared Pa out of a nap, kicked me, scared THTM out of a nap, and was engaged in a non-stop bacchanalia of bad behavior for THREE FUCKING HOURS! Every so often, when Michael would be screaming particularly loud to go out, she’d open the door and let him run up and down the corridor. During one of these ventures, Pa got it out of Grösspapa that he – Grösspapa, that is – was embarrassed by his daughter and grandson but didn’t know what to do. Gee. Thanks. Give me some duct tape and an oversize freezer, and I’ll show you what to do with the fuckers! At any rate, Grösspapa took to leaving the compartment for long stretches of time to get away from Michael and Michael’s Mütter, then coming back to argue with her about Michael’s behavior before huffing off again
Not long after this, when Grösspapa ducked out of the compartment, Michael decided that it would be fun to dive from his seat to Grösspapa’s empty one, face-first.
Does that sound like a good idea?
So after several dives, Michael dove right into Pa. Mütter grabbed Michael and extolled him to apologize, apologize to the man. “Nein! Nein!” Michael kept screaming. Mütter insisted. And Michael… spit on Pa.
And Mütter? Did nothing.
Michael resumed his face-first diving across the compartment, and promptly landed short, whacking his head and arm and breaking into another round of ear-splitting screams.
Finally, after hours of barely-restrained silence on our parts, I said to THTM and Pa, “In what world is this kind of behavior considered acceptable? They’re BOTH fucking rude!”
Not too long after that, Grösspapa came back and said something else to Mütter, who… responded in English.
So I hope to God she understood “fucking rude”! And I also suspect Grösspapa’s finger was bandaged because little Michael prolly bit it.
It was a small favor that they got off the stop BEFORE Venice, so we had about 20 minutes of calm and quiet again. Stupid assholes.
With that, y’all, it’s dinner time in Venezia, and I got myself a hot date with not one, but TWO cute men with crooked noses!
* * * *
I know I bitch about touristy crap and all that, but after tonight, I’ll never, ever make fun of people who want to ride gondolas in Venice ever again.
We’d all just gotten back from dinner when Pappy surprised us with reservations for a sunset gondola ride, just me and The Husband-Type Man. And unlike most things, this actually lived up to the hype; it was “romantic,” in every sense of the word. There is nothing, NOTHING, as beautiful as seeing Venice from a gondola, as millions used to on a regular basis, centuries ago.
Venice is beautiful, anyway, with the patina of age, shabby yet evocative, on the old buildings… so peaceful and quiet, especially once the day-tourists have left and the motored vaporettos have stopped running. The primary sounds are water lapping and birds – hundreds of little sparrows and pigeons. Combine that with the utter comfort of reclining in a boat that’s seemingly designed for you to nestle into, and the sunset in all its rosy-golden splendor…. The heat of the afternoon was fading, and lights were coming on in the houses, and our gondolier took us off the Grand Canal, where occasional tour boats crammed with people kicked up waves, to the tiny little side canals, used primarily by residents. It was all beautiful beyond description, the shapes and shadows of the buildings, the sounds of family chatter and plates and silverware growing and fading as we rowed past, the shimmer of the water under the setting sun and rising moon, the feel of the hot afternoon air finally cooling, the low ploshes of the gondolier’s oar, the damp undersides of the bridges at high tide, the smells of the flowers and vines and restaurants and cafes and even the garbage….
The only problem with being in a gondola is that other tourists want to take pictures of you. Finally, as we sailed under another bridge, a group of American women stopped, and one aimed her camera… and THTM took out his camera, and returned the favor. All of them were laughing as THTM called out “Fair’s fair!” and, in a chorus of delighted “Ciao”s and “Buono serra”s, we sailed on.
If I could’ve remembered more than one line of “Giannina Mia,” I would have sung. As it was, all I could remember was not “Funicula, Funicula” or even “O Sole Mio,” but, utterly stupidly, “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp, and that was too lame for even me. So I skipped the singing. But lucky for us, a group of teen girls having a slumber party didn’t skip the singing; as we rowed closer, we could hear Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi” blasting, and eventually caught sight of three girls in a top-floor room, dancing and signing to their hearts’ content. They were initially embarrassed when they saw they were being observed, but we waved and laughed, and they stuck their heads out the windows and waved back, singing louder. It wasn’t “Funicula, Funicula” – or even “Bella Notte” – but it sure was something!
Most of the ride, though, was quiet and incredibly dreamy. I don’t think either of us could have tired of looking at the bricks and peeling plaster in twilight, feeling the breezes and listening to the ages-old sound of water plashing on the stones. It’d take a writer of actual genius to convey it all.
Tomorrow, we’re planning to get up at six to go see the Piazza and St. Mark’s before all the tourists show up, then siesta again during the hot part of the afternoon, as the locals do. And, of course, you’ll hear all about it!
And so, as Betsy Ray wrote home to her family:
To say that I’m happy as the day is long doesn’t express it. I wake up happy. I go to bed happy. Oh, my beautiful, beautiful Venezia!