Everyday SB and I walked along the sidewalk to the large area of gondolas moored in front of the Hard Rock Cafe. There was always a snaking line of excited tourists waiting for the black shiny boats, cameras ready, clicking away, while the gondolier decided who would ride in what boat. I studied the approach to the gondola like an eagle. Walk down the wide, but short, steps to the gondola. Safe. Take the hand of the sidewalk gondolier. Safe. Place one foot in the gondola and take a little leap. Scary. Release hand of sidewalk gondolier. Scary. Walk carefully to the spot you want to sit in. Most scary. Sit. Next person!
I am not good in rowboats or kayaks. I tip them over. I fall out. I can’t get back in when I do fall out. I have been known to get my feet stuck in the mud and not be able to move after falling out of a kayak in shallow water. An eighty something woman came to assist me for God’s sake! But, I want to ride in one of those gondolas! I have studied them daily for over a week. I can do this! But, let’s do it at night after 6pm when the crowds are gone and no one can see my anxiety or if I actually fall into the canal!
My evening arrives.
I walk down the steps. Good so far! I take the hand of the gondolier as SB tells him how long a ride we want. Good so far! I clutch the camera and leap. Oh, I didn’t fall!!!!!! Terrific! I walk gingerly to my seat and take a deep breath. I am over joyed! I settle in to enjoy and experience the view from the gondola! Won’t you join me at gondola level?
Oh, how I loved riding in that gondola! At the corners of buildings there was shouting from other gondoliers so we wouldn’t all get to the same spot at once. I could look up at the windows of the casa and imagine mama in her black crepe dress and rolled down stockings, sitting down in the candlelit dining room to a dinner of pasta de mer, wine, and bread. Of course, she was waiting on and fussing over her son, because he still lived with her at 40.
We rounded the bend and made the pass through the Grande Canal and I marveled at the muted, soft colors that kissed the buildings goodnight and tucked them in as the sun began to sink. I was relaxed and thought this possibly one of the most romantic trysts.
And then it was time to get out of the boat. The gondolier pulled up to a different set of stairs. Why weren’t we at the place we started from; the nice easy low steps? I looked at the sidewalk gondolier and he looked at me. Oh dear, he didn’t look very sturdy! I stood up and walked to the end of the gondola. Good. I placed one foot on the steep step and one hand in the gondolier’s outstretched one. Good. The gondola slipped away from the docking area and I was doing the splits, one leg on land, the other in the boat! Oh, Oh, Oooooooh!!!!!! The boat gondolier was frantically trying to get the boat back to the dock. Oh, Ooooooh, Oh! SB was trying to shove my fanny up to the landing. Ooooooh, Oh, Oh! The sidewalk gondolier was holding on to me for dear life! Oooooooooh! Suddenly, another body grabbed my free arm and whipped me to the pavement! Oh, I could have cried! I tried not to get hysterical! I laughed trying not to cause more of a scene than I already had. Another gondolier saw my predicament and had rushed to rescue me. I had no idea where he came from. He wasn’t there when we docked. “You can swim right? No problem!” he laughed. “Yes, no problem,” I repeated.
So ended my adventure on the canals of Venice, I thought.
On the last evening of our stay the concierge, at Locanda Orseolo, asked if we would mind sharing a boat taxi with another couple, who were leaving the next morning as we were. We didn’t have any problem with that and the next morning there was the couple we had seen several times in the breakfast room. I had watched them in disbelief, when they checked in with eight suitcases, the bigs ones overstuffed and held together with packing tape, and wondered just where they were traveling to and for how long. Now I watched as their luggage was hoisted down into a speed boat docked at the tiny half door, at the back of the hotel. Did we have to get in the boat that way too? Oh my God! Can I duck down, bend, AND step into the boat? All at the same time? Without falling in the drink? Could the other couple do this? They looked eighty five and frail! Oh my God! Rose looked at me and I knew she was thinking the same thing. “We can do this Rose, I’ll go first,” I tried to look confident. I bent down with one hand holding the top of the door frame and took the hand of the captain and just at that time a wave came along and the boat practically leveled out with the base of that door! Oh my God, I did it! I’m in the boat! “You can do it, Rose, come on!” She too made it. The men jumped on like sailors. The women were relieved to be sitting down.
As we approached the airport dock, my stomach began to do little flips. I just kept talking. Ok, this is going to be Ok, I kept telling myself. And it was. When I stepped to put my foot on the dock, again the wave leveled off the boat with the dock and voila I was on terra firma! No Problem! Thank you and Hail Mary! We’re off to Istanbul!
PS, For a look into the world of Venice in the past, In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant, is a great read. You’ll glimpse the life of a prostitute and her midget pimp. Now that will make you look at these canals in a new light!