Life in Venice

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)

13 comments… add one
  • Steve Link

    You usually make me laugh.  This one made me misty (of course, I could cry at a WalMart opening).  Thanks for the vicarious vacation.

    No one’s ever compared my writing to a WalMart opening before.

  • Oh, Ruth, this lovely post has decided me.  I have never been to Venice, but I’m going.

    Expensive — but what a wonderful place. It’s worth it.

  • p2 Link

    wow…beautifully-written sentiments about a city I adore!  Especially love this:  “what a wonderful place to lose yourself” (been there, done that:)  I’m traveling vicariously through yall..thanks for sharing!

    Glad to share. It keeps our memories fresher.

  • Ruth–
    Have recently wanted to go to Venice, probably since my daughter came back for her 2-week Italian honeymoon. So glad you enjoyed your time there.

    Beautifully written. thanks for the picture postcard!


    Thanks, Judy.

  • Craig Link

    It’s way too early in the travelogue to be messing with the protagonists.You two have many more years of wobbling around the world’s scenery with your white shoes and blackberries

    Don’t you read the obituaries, Craig? They’re filled with people our age. Or younger.

  • Ruth,
    especially enjoyed your vignette of your West Texas friend living in Italy. lovely. and you and your husband have left your own echoes in Venice, too, whether (or however) either of you may return.

    Kerry — Thanks so much for all your wonderful comments.

  • A lovely post that brings back reminders of my one and only visit to Venice. After reading your beautiful words, I believe it’s time to go back.

    Don’t wait! The euro’s down — at least a little.

  • Chris Link

    During the first 10 years of trips to Italy, I swore I’d never go to Venice, thought it highly overrated, preferring Florence – then spent 36 hours there and was totally hooked on the place.  Took a trip with my spouse (his first) 4 years ago, and it was where we started our vacation – and we’re hooked now.  Our last trip in January, we ended the vacation in Venice.

    But he loves feeding those frickin’ pigeons.  I tried to tell him he could get a ticket this last time, as he’d take leftover breads from breakfast so he could be swarmed by the flying vermin, but to no avail.

    I still love Florence but Venice is a close second.

    I saw people with pigeons crawling all over them to be fed. I don’t care if they are Venetian pigeons; they’re still nasty and vile.

  • Of course you loved Venice. Venice is wonderful!!!!!!

    Agreed. Sorry I didn’t go there sooner.

  • Joyce Link

    Sitting on the Piazza San Marco, eating ice cream in front of Florian’s, gazing at the world walking by…what’s not to love? Well, the pigeons, yes. But we had a great couple of days in Venice, and I wouldn’t mind going back someday.

  • I remember my trip to Venice. Sadl, I was just a girl and single but I had a trip in a gondola and listened to the sweet sounds of the gondolier as he serenaded me and my friends. It’s been 25 years and I remember it just like it was yesterday.

  • Alas, I visited Venice solo! But it did not lessen its charm. I, too, loved this slowly sinking, overcrowded, slightly dilapidated, but unequivocably delightful city.

  • Winston Link

    Another grand post!
    I, too, like the vignette about the girl from Texas with the popular restaurant— or should I say ristorante?  Just proves what a world-microcosm Venice is for everyone.
    Thus far, my only trip to Venice was with Katharine  Hepburn, via Summertime (UA, 1955).
    Seems even if you visit solo, you become coupled while there.
    It is said the number of tourists traveling to Venice doubled after the film’s release.

Leave a Comment