Laundry and Longing in the City of Water
- Danielle Tuck
- Danielle Tuck
Having slept off the many miles of travel from the previous day, we awoke early, refreshed and ready to see this amazing city. We had a full day ahead of us, so it was good Josh found plenty of Nutella at breakfast to give him strength. Every street was a new adventure and around every corner was a picturesque canal, a high-arched bridge or an intimate courtyard. A scenic walk led us to the Galleria dell’Accademia and, from the similarly named bridge, we got our first truly majestic view of the Grand Canal. Once in the Accademia, we absorbed as much of the Bellini, Carpaccio, and Titian paintings as we could. When the substantially cracked walls of this old convent-turned-museum began to hold our attention more than the art, we headed out for fresh air.
First Things First
On this, our eighth day in Italy, the urge to further explore Venice was held at bay by our urge to have clean clothes. We had packed light for this trip and, after a week of hard travel, it meant we had to do laundry. We found a Laundromat not far from our hotel and once our clothes were spinning sudsily, I went to find food while Josh kept an eye on on things and caught up on his journal entries.
Luckily, there was a bar/pizza shop just a couple of minutes walk from the Laundromat. While I had studied a bit of Italian for our trip, it was easier for me to order lunch from the Chinese girl behind the counter (who spoke no English) in Chinese rather than in Italian. We both found this fairly humorous, but as I waited for our pizzas, the situation was about to become legendary.
I was leaning against the empty bar, watching Italian rap videos on TV, when I sensed someone very close behind me. I heard a soft, “Ciao bella,” and turned toward a handsome Italian man of my general age. While I didn’t understand the words he spoke next, it was clear that this dark, curly-haired stranger wanted to buy me a drink. The counter girl told him that I was American and didn’t speak Italian, and as he turned back to me I smiled and said, “No, grazie.” He ordered himself a glass of Champagne and when he received it, he looked at me with his soft brown eyes and gestured for me to take it. I smiled and shook my head. He offered me a cigarette. When I again said, “No, grazie” and for emphasis pointed to my wedding ring, he smiled sadly, gave a wistful, “Ciao bella,” and took a seat just outside the door of the shop.
Once I had my pizzas and said my “zài jiàn” (Goodbye) to the shopkeeper, I headed out the door and received a final “Ciao bella,” full of longing. To my would-be suitor, I smiled a smile of goodbye and deep apology, for clearly I was breaking this gorgeous man’s heart. Adrenaline coursed through me from the intensity of those five minutes, and once around the corner, I did my best not to run back to the Laundromat. On the short walk, I received another enthusiastic “Ciao bella,” and a thorough scanning from an idle shopkeeper. I’m usually pretty unflappable in these kinds of situations, but this pizza run had me craving the security of Josh at my side. Don’t get me wrong, I was flattered, but like never before, I felt like a defenseless bunny amid hungry wolves.
Grand Canals, Relics, and Carne Equina
Reunited with Josh, and the laundry done, we got back to sightseeing. There are wonderful tourist sites in Venice. The Rialto Bridge was crowded with shoppers, but it provided wonderful people watching and an iconic background for photos. Seeing an opera in the fading grandeur of a palace on the Grand Canal was a uniquely Venetian experience. St. Mark’s Basilica and the square in front of it are architectural masterpieces, and the intricate golden mosaics inside are stunning. The bejeweled Pala d’Oro altarpiece with its 2,000 gemstones was also impressive, but it was the relics that really held our attention. A small room was lined with red velvet cases holding multitudes of glass jars, golden trophies and other receptacles containing body parts of saints. Staring at the ancient, withered fingers, jawbones and femurs felt quite macabre, but it was fascinating.
In Venice, the desire to be outside quickly becomes overpowering. I’ve heard “the lifeblood of a city” used to describe the art, businesses, or qualities of a city’s people, but in Venice the lifeblood is the water that flows through it. The Grand Canal is the aorta from which branch countless smaller canals, like veins, that bend and turn into the farthest reaches of the city. Even while we were in exquisite old buildings, we were aware that the water was all around. The architecture of Venice is influenced by it and all the large, old windows reach out to it. Many buildings have stunning interiors and contain awesome treasures, but the real ambience and action is always outside.
The open-air Rialto Market was a wonderful place to experience daily Venetian life and mingle with the locals doing their grocery shopping. The neatly displayed goods in the overflowing stalls and shops ranged from delicious looking cheeses, to a diverse offering of colorful produce, to a startling selection of meats that included rabbit, horse and everything in between. In the end, we said “neigh” to the horse meat and instead chose some plump grapes to snack on as we sat at the edge of the Grand Canal and watched the ebb and flow of life in this city.
Losing Ourselves in the Real Venice
We best experienced the magic of this city while wandering its lanes, dipping down curvy little back alleys and following a canal until we reached the edge of the island or found a place to refuel with a delicious treat. The beauty of exploring this island was that while it was hard to follow a map, it was also hard to get too lost. The back streets, piazzas, and canals are where we saw the most poignant similarities and the most striking differences to our own daily life. It felt comfortingly familiar to see parents and grandparents talking with each other as they watched their children run wildly around the neighborhood playground. But then, we ran across one of those scenes I just wouldn’t have thought to imagine before coming to Venice. While crossing a canal during a golden sunset, we found ourselves looking into the shimmering water just as a boat of fully attired fireman navigated around a quick moving rowing team of senior citizens.
The sites of Venice are great, but the experience of just being there is incomparable. I’m not sure if it was because everyone is either a tourist or caters to them; or because we had less of a schedule; or because I was wearing a short skirt, but we made many unforgettable connections during our visit. One of the best was the sendoff from an enthusiastic shopkeeper named Franco. We stopped into his store for an orange juice and within seconds of meeting him, the joyous encounter bonded us instantly. The language barrier limited our words with each other, but as Josh and I shared our travel route and he told us about his upcoming visit to see his son in Hollywood, the smiles and laughter we shared formed a meaningful connection. Before we said goodbye, we were hugging our new friend and taking photos with him behind the counter.
In many ways, this brief encounter with Franco summed up our overall experience of Venice. We were there for just a moment, but it was beautiful. This city, and its joy, charisma and allure, made an impact on me in a way few other places have.