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Venice Canal

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3 April 2000, Evening
Hotel Ala -- Venice, Italy

I slept today, my first full day in cold, wet Venice, from 3-6:30, tired of walking around freezing in the rain with no particular objective. I'd sent a box of travel guides, books, maps, a huge supply of cancer herbs, and everything I needed beyond Vienna, including vouchers for entry to all Italy museums I wanted to see for $145, to a friend living in Vienna, but it never arrived, testing my capacity to go with the flow, to recreate my structure by finding the lost books. Thankfully, Select Italy called tonight and will re-fax the museum ticket vouchers.

So my focus shifts from narrow cobbled streets full of shops (mostly designer or jewelry shops, Italian glass and antiques; some owners closing because there are not enough tourists in the rain to warrant being there, others staying open come hell or high water--which in Venice is more than a metaphor), to life inside my Antonia Suite. What a place to be stuck in bad weather. It's like I'm in some glorified mountain cabin attic, with the day's steady rain pattering on skylights. Antonia is a little 2 room apartment, except for no cooking burners to brew one's own espresso, and that the minibar fridge is too small to accommodate things.

Meantime, while not enjoying the raindrops, I'm enjoying the little stereo I got--played an old tape of Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert while lying on the firm kingsize bed looking out at rain on rooftops of red clay half arc tiles. I think Jarrett's performance in Koln is one of the most extraordinary pieces of music I've ever heard. It evokes pictures of masses of joyful determined humanity surging across a plain to reclaim their homeland. And now, a CD called "Barbers Adagio", which does the same transportingly beautiful piece of music in umpteen different deliveries by different orchestras. The music turns me to my interior.

Feels like my time so far has been walking to and from St. Marcos Square in the rain except for yesterday afternoon when the sun came out for a few hours. This morning, tho, I did follow directions to get a battery replaced on my currency converter, taking me over to a street with functional stores off St. Stephen's place. The man in this electronic hardware store was so needed one of two small round batteries packaged by Duracell together. He put the one in and charged me half the price on the Duracell package. Don't see that back home, you know.

4 April 2000, Tuesday
Hotel Ala -- Venice, Italy

Well, at least it stopped raining. Very overcast all day, but no rain. I yearn for sunshine, and fear having spent wasted money on pictures which won’t look good because of the grey sky. The ones I take on the digital camera part of the camcorder may be able to be “worked on”...We’ll see about that later.

Spent today mostly getting lost in the Dorosduro, the area surrounding the Acadamia Museum, which I started out with in the morning. Many fine renaissance paintings which don’t do much for me, except for Bellini’s portraits, which I find entrancing.

I had my first bit of sweetness tonight. Went to eat at a restaurant recommended by one of the young hotel porters and was placed at a tiny table in a tiny room with a table full of five clearly bright Americans sitting across from me who, from their conversation I could tell were from the Bay Area. I even heard one of the women mention San Rafael at one point. I’d sort of dressed up, which for me simply meant wearing a bra and one of those stretchy shirts with black & tan stripes with my long black skirt, so I was out of my usual frumpy mode and found myself feeling odd that I wasn’t in kindred style with the loosely dressed Californians.

I was occupying myself trying to eavesdrop on them when the waiter ushered in and placed two very handsome Italian men at the small table next to me. Like five inches between the tables. One was older with silver hair rising back to frame a tanned face and winsome deep blue eyes, the other a bearded, lovely man of about my age who looked at me with a warm but tethered smile and chose to sit next to me rather than across from me, where he seated his guest. They launched into a lively Italian conversation, with the fellow next to me full of descriptive hand gesturing, touching the older man on his arm to stress a point occasionally, and the older man taking it all in with his own style of vivacious responsiveness.

The fellow on my left was very passionate about his subject, and every now and then I recognized the word “bambinos”, and came to assume that they were father and son. When the inevitable moment came when we exchanged glances and comments, and they offered to share their white wine with me, which far surpassed the red wine I’d ordered, I indicated in broken Italian something like “father and son”? To which the man on my left said, in English, “No, it’s business. He’s a lawyer”, gesturing to his friend. I said, “Tell your friend he has good eyes--I mean eyes of depth” He did. I asked, “What did he say?” “He said he knows”.

He then explained he was an epidemiologist physician who works in Milan at, get this, the major cancer institute there, who is working on the Italian equivalent of a class action suit on behalf of people who got cancers from one or another sort of radiation testing which I can’t specifically recall. And, the other fellow, of course, was the attorney for the suit, whom he’d driven three hours from Milan to meet with. I indicated that this was very interesting as I was a professional as well, and a cancer patient, too.

I was finished eating and got up to leave, thanked the Italians for sharing their wine. But first I couldn’t help but stop and visit with the Californians, who, it turns out, live in San Francisco and were together here for a work project of some sort--one an architect, one an editor, others with professions I don’t recall. The funny Jewish fellow, Mark, took a dramatic shine to my black raincoat, wanted to know where it was from, every detail, and much humor and laughter ensued. By this time, the two Italian men got up and left.

When I finally said my farewells to the Californians and headed out, who should be waiting to buy me a coffee but the Italian man who’d sat next to me. His lawyer friend had left and he was waiting for me, and we talked. There was a very clear attraction between us, and he had this incredibly warm and sincere way of catching my meaning each time I spoke.

I told him what kind of cancer I had, and how lethal it was and he said “I know” with a grave tone which made me believe him. He asked, “Squamous or adeno?”, When I said, “Adeno”, he was quick to say that it wasn’t as bad as the squamous...I told him my story of not wanting the surgery, and he so obviously understood that I felt dearly known for these moments in a far away land.

Soon he wanted to leave, and so we walked--or, he walked me to my hotel, along which way there were warm moments when he put his arm in mine and spoke of the lovlieness of Venice while I commented on the beauty of his passion about his mission. When we reached my hotel, I could have suggested we keep walking to St. Marks Square, but I did not, knowing full well that continued contact would lead very soon to muchas smooches, as my dear friend Sam would say. And I knew full well he had to have a wife and bambinos of his own back in Milan, so didn’t want to “go there”. But he took my hands in his so sweetly and wished me the best of luck with eye contact to beat the band, and I said, “Wait...what’s your name?” “Paolo”, he said. “Paul”. “I’m Karen”, I replied. And that was it.

I floated up to my Antonia Suite in a feeling I have not had for many years, and felt sad that I’d not had the courage to suggest some type of further contact. But, as I said at the outset, it was a lovely time of sweetness which I will cherish as something I’d lost the longing for and was moved to rediscover.

5 April 2000, Wednesday
Hotel Ala -- Venice, Italy

Today was a barnburner of a tourist pleasure for me. First, the sun shone. That alone would have been enough to send me to joy, but I also chose to take the waterbus to visit Murano and Burano. Murano, of course, is the glassblowers’ island, home, now commercialized marketplace. It’s a mini version of a Venetian type island with canals to be walked over here and there to see this or that color or scene or architectural view.

The wider streets and alleys allow more light, and fewer people means less claustrophobia. Murano has photographic charm in a here and there sort of way. Many, many shops selling Murano glass of every size, shape, form, cost, and degree of tastefulness which one can imagine, and there are mosaic designs embedded in the stone walls next to some stores which interested me more than the stores themselves. I found one store which sold individual beads, and, thinking of Fran and Marcy, I got some to play with later.

And then there’s Burano. I lost my heart there. It’s an island originally occupied with artists, added to by lacemakers at some point along the way. We’re talking LOTs of lace stores. One old woman was gracious to let me video her, and I felt half guilty for doing so. But oh the color. A lineup on the canal of complimentary building colors, going from outrageously fresh avocado green to melon orange, to periwinkle blue, to warmed brick red or rich chartreuse or turquoise blue--most with contrasting dark green shutters. It’s a color nirvana for me, and those who know me know how color makes my heart sing.

The vaperetto rides to and from these places were another trip altogether. Boatloads of pushy, noisy, self-absorbed youngsters from every country, city. Even without understanding their language, I could make out the distinct outlines of triangulated friendships and hurt feelings here and there. Subtle, but there. Many Italian kids from Rome, a batch of which I ended up near on the ride back to Venice proper, in the form of pubescent boys, some with pimples, hiding in “Game Boy” and others showing one another crystals and glass dolphins and such which they'd bought for their “girlfriends”.

These guys were curious about me, and when I eventually broke the ice, they all became instantly competitive about being the one to be able to talk to me...with minimal language connection it was hard, but they were blown away that I was from California, and they thought the flowing black skirt with Burano colored flowers all over it I was wearing was “bad taste”. Actually, the old Italian man behind me said it and they all laughed together about it. Italians stick with solid dark colors and elegant lines. I don’t particularly care if I fit in, although I take umbrage with the suggestion of having bad taste.

Long walk to weave my way back to the hotel. Along the way re-bought a Florence-Tuscany Guide which I’d bought one of yesterday and lost somewhere. Got a salami sandwich I just ate, will have an orange, and some Italian chocolate cookies. With Keith Jarret’s new CD which my sister gave me playing in the background. When Jarret plays “Someone to Watch Over Me”, I think of Paolo.

Friday, April 7
Hotel Ala -- Venice, Italy

Yesterday I took a ride on the vaperetto water bus up the canal to the end, got off and meandered my way down to Rialto Bridge, which is the central marketplace--many tourist booths, open food booths. The place was jammed, the water full of gondolas with the rich; tons, and I mean TONS of kids lining the canal. It was a beautiful sunny day and all the girls were half naked trying to get an early tan.

Today I took a boat ride over to Lido Island to see what that was like, and was pleased to find out that it was, well, like empty!! Since beach weather isn’t here yet, I had this lovely long island almost to myself. The workers were dozing the sand in preparation for putting out hundreds of these little tiny house-like huts which line the beach in season, presumably to change clothes in. This struck me as very odd, coming from California, where people just wear their suits under their clothes to the beach.

My friend Thomas reminded me that I’m in Italy, where people are still pretty conservative. I wondered if each hut also had a porta-potty, which would make them more worth the work involved in getting them there, in my mind. Walked on the hard, flat sand of the waters’ edge resisting my temptation to pick up a slew of shells and felt a glorious sense of spaciousness which one loses when in Venice proper for awhile.

I walked down to the island’s one spectacular old building to discover it had become a Westin hotel. Sat out on their vast expanse of a patio on the beach in the sun, had a Nicoise salad for lunch and then took a leisurely stroll back to the vaperetto down a street with real trees, shrubs, bushes, and the like. Most all the buildings on Lido are brand spanking new apartment or condo buildings, with a few historic ones tucked into this lot or that. Most are painted shades of common local the terra cotta, but unmistakably square, hard edges, telltale of new construction.

Then home to sweet Antonia to pack, for tomorrow I leave. Packing in my case, of course, is a major endeavor. No comments from the peanut gallery, please.

Saturday, April 8, 2000

Well, it’s time to say goodbye to this glorious maze of humanity and and head for the countryside. I called my B&B yesterday and spoke to Silvia, the Italian woman who runs it, and she was pleased to hear from me....”OH, we are waiting to see you tomorrow!!” And, I will admit that I am ready for it. Much as I adore Venice, I tend to get citied out fairly soon, and you can only walk past so many designer dress and Murano glass shops. I have loved the architecture and beauty and watching the eyes of visitors and locals. Burano turned my insides into a color symphony.

For now it’s up and at’em as they say. Let’s see what trying to get out of Venice brings my way.

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