I never expected to like Venice. Too many tourists, I’d heard. Crowded. Cliched. Who needs to cavort with a flock of pigeons?
So much for expectations. I loved it, even though I could have done without the pigeons.
My husband and I walked through the tiny, crooked streets. We lingered in the broad plazas, where people of every nationality and origin shot photos of one another in front of the fountains and cathedrals. We watched gigantic cruise ships navigate the canals, every level of space taken up by hundreds of passengers looking at Venice, taking in the sights of the fabled city. We saw gondolas and motor boats and what they call water buses competing for space and somehow slipping past one another in the crowded waters.
Most of all, it seemed to me, Venice is a city for couples. Young lovers exchanging lingering kisses. Middle-aged couples in sneakers talking cheerfully in a variety of languages, moving in concert, as if they had intertwined over the years. Elderly people, often with one supporting the other, moving past us. It was a vast panorama from every part of the world, every stage of life. One of the only commonalities was a sheer pleasure in the city they were visiting.
The sun set and we visited a restaurant owned by the Texas-born sister of a good friend and her husband, who’s Italian. Al Covo, it’s called, with low ceilings and charming atmosphere and superb food. We talked to her about how a West Texas girl from Lubbock ended up running one of the top restaurants in Venice, whether, after 20 years here, she feels more Italian than American. American, she insisted, turning to speak to one of the waiters in fluent Italian.
After we left, we walked along the lit waterfront, with its cobbled pavements. As usual, we got lost — but what a wonderful place to lose yourself. After dark, most of the other tourists had already returned to their hotels and buses and the fat, nasty pigeons had gone to wherever pigeons go.
I thought of how, of all the cities my husband and I have visited, that this one had touched me so greatly and unexpectedly. Maybe because, again, it was a city for couples.
I don’t know if we will ever come back here again. After all, we have work to do and other places to visit and time is passing with alarming speed. But I think that once you’ve visited a city like this with someone you care about, the two of you have laid some kind of claim to it.
Maybe we’ll never come back. Maybe one of us will visit here again without the other — which calls up a variety of circumstances or reasons it could happen that way. If I’m the one to come back on my own, I’ll remember how he and I strolled the streets and plazas and how this was a happy and healthy time in our lives together. I’ll remember the two of us owned a little piece of this dazzling world, just like every other couple we saw.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)