The weather was clear and the sunset was going to be marvelous when we shelled out thirty five dollars a head and got ready for our gondola ride. We were given instructions on when the tour group would be returning to the hotel, but Umberto knew that we’d catch our own ride since we planned a late supper at Antica Sacrestia.
“Oh, you won’t be disappointed. The food is to die for!” He assured us.
I was intrigued at his use of an American expression. My goodness, I thought, the world is all the same. They all speak English; they all admire the same beautiful people; they all read the same books.I wondered how the town’s officials managed to un-sanctify a holy place. I had seen converted school houses and fire houses in America; but, I had never seen a church become anything else.
As I stepped on that gondola, I panicked and jumped right off without explanation.
“Honey!” Steve ran after me.
“I can’t!” I yelled, never turning to face him, never slowing down.
I wanted some space, some distance. I heard his steps behind him and still kept running off.
Years before, my grandparents taught me to swim by throwing me in the middle of a lake, without any instruction or assistance. I kept seeing and hearing water all around me, despite the fact that I now was on dry land, in the middle of the Piazza, people and activities all around me.
“Wait, slow down ! How can you pass this up?” Steve's tone was strained, his steps awkward.
I should have stopped.
Instead, I aimed for the coffee shop where Steve had sat in the morning. The sun cast long shadows and city lights were beginning to reflect all around me, on the wet cobblestones, in the canals. Men with tools and equipment were erecting scaffolds on the Piazza and the noise was deafening.
The sound of lively jazz music at the end of the piazza began to pull me in that direction.
I finally sat down, and even before Steve had joined me, a German couple from our tour group recognized me. They asked if we took the gondola ride. I could barely hear them. Steve arrived and the three of them spoke loudly, drowning the music. I sat with my coffee and pondered the gondola event for a while.
Steve mentioned our plans for dinner, inviting them to join us. He told them about the gondola ride we didn’t take, adding, “we would have enjoyed it, too, after we paid all that money. Imagine!” He kept talking to them, never taking his eyes off the German woman, chatting away, as loud as they were.
I got up to go to the restroom, to get myself together. I didn’t like how I had become the outsider. What was he thinking, inviting them to go to our romantic dinner with us.
“Wait!” He yelled, grabbing my arm.
“This is too loud!” I said, moving away, yanking myself from his grip, and quickly disappearing in the thick fog that suddenly enveloped me. Only the sound of shoes wet-slapping the cobblestones told me there were people walking in the Piazza.
The pounding and banging noise of workmen setting up scaffolds and seating for Good Friday’s procession erased all other sounds.
Steve had gone out for cigarettes a few times, and he had stood outside the hotel smoking with other people, among which, the German couple. The couple had sat here and there, sometimes next to us, for no reason. I noticed how Steve’s face looked when he was talking to her.
This was their last night with the tour, they had said. They were staying in
a few more days, and had moved to a hotel right off the Piazza. Good riddance, I thought. Venice
I made my way across the noisy Piazza looking for signs of restrooms, something more modern than the one I had used in the morning, expecting that Steve would have excused himself and had followed me. I kept turning around, expecting to see him right behind me.
Like pigeons swooping down for crumbs, people appeared at every corner, eating gelatos, ignoring the chill and the fog. I bumped into some, accidentally, not sure they were real, one minute I could see clearly ahead of me, the next, the fog had formed a thick curtain around me. I kept turning, hoping to see Steve.
When I came out of the restroom, I strained to pick up the sounds to guide me back to the café. I couldn’t hear the hammer pounding either. Everything seemed different. I walked a bit before I saw an old lady in high heels carrying an enormous shopping bag, navigating the cobblestones right next to me.
I greeted her.
“Sei perduta? Are you lost?”, she said in Italian and in English.
“Yes, I’m looking for Piazza San Marco”, I said, almost in tears, thankful.
I felt incompetent, unloved and neglected. This was Steve’s fault. He should not have let me go out in a strange city by myself.
The old lady took my arm, and maneuvered me around, still walking briskly, explaining that I was going the wrong way. She was much older than she had appeared from a distance.
“ Questa `e la Settimana Santa, ti puoi perdere , lo sai. Vieni.” This is Holy Week, you could get lost, come, she said, and I had understood every word.
I looked at her tailored clothes and elaborate earrings, and felt undeserving.
She pointed at my Easter ring, the one from the chocolate egg I had purchased a few days earlier.
“Sei fortunata!”, she said, you are lucky, holding my hand and admiring the tiny ring.
“Sono per i bambini quest’ anelli!” These rings are for children, I said, surprising myself with all the Italian that came out of my mouth.
“ Sono per quelli che anno speranza. Non la perdete!” The rings are for those who have faith. Do not lose it, she said. Probably the ring, or faith. Maybe she meant do not get lost. When we arrived at the end of the block, she pointed to the Piazza in front of us.
“Grazie mille!” I said.
! ”good luck, American, she said in return. Americana
Boats glistened brightly in the canals, gondoliers’ songs wafting under bridges, puncturing the fog. The scene felt unreal, a scene in a movie, I thought. What ever happened to me? How could I spoil such a scene? How could I be so ungrateful? My husband had managed to finance this marvelous trip, romance all around us, and here I was balking at the slightest thing that went wrong.
Jazz notes pulled me back to the café. Buoyed, I scanned the seating area, searching for Steve and the German couple. Not seeing him, I sat down to wait. Thank God he got rid of the Germans, I thought. My first thought was that he had gone off to find me, and would return to wait at the same spot.
After a few seconds, as a waiter came up to inform me that I needed to order, I realized I must have left my purse behind with Steve, before I went to the restroom. I explained to the waiter that I was waiting for my husband. He seemed upset, making strange gestures. He returned after five minutes, and seemed even more annoyed. The place suddenly felt hostile.
I decided to walk around the piazza.
Fifteen, twenty minutes later, tired of circling, my eyes focused at the edges of the seating area, searching for a man with a slight limp to return, I noticed people from our tour group beginning to gather at the water’s edge for their ride back to the hotel. Steve had to find his own way back. It would do him good to worry for a while, I thought. I rushed to join them.
Everywhere, city lights shone twice, stretching silhouettes in the canals. Something like this was what we were trying to achieve when my mother and I built Christmas villages on our small table, back in
with people who knew nothing about Presepio and making houses and people out of cardboards, a small village that took Mom back to her roots and kept our faith. Montana
When I reached our hotel, I remained in the lobby for a while, figuring Steve would be arriving in an hour or so, with or without his German friends.