Upon waking on our last morning together, Venice took a collective sigh, shrugging off her heavy humidity in favor of something cool and dewy, ticklish breezes that Italians might describe as solletico, like hundreds of fingertips gently tripping up my sides as I rolled over in bed.
As with each morning before it, there was little evidence of the night before — bars spilling out onto Via Garibaldi, a singer with a portable mike and amp crooning old showtunes, plates of aromatic pasta con basilico or tartufo, children crying at the end of a family vacation.
Instead, there are gentle pockets of bustling, like someone starting chores early in a large house, trying not to disturb those still asleep: sinewy men quietly pulling handtrucks loaded with vegetables across the campo; pairs of elderly support hose-clad women walking arm-in-arm with large shoulder bags; baristas stacking hot, clean dishes and opening bottles of prosecco and aperol to prepare for the morning crowd.
It’s so early, there is no one ahead of me at the counter. I open the plastic lid of the warm case to pull out the first cornetto con marmalada, piping hot and chewy with apricot jam, baked only minutes before.
I wrap it in a few of those thin, nearly useless white napkins and order a cappuccino from the barista when she turns to me and says, “Dimmi.” I’m not only a tourista, but a straniera — however, I’m finally a familiar one. After recognizing me over several mornings, today she shakes powdered chocolate on top of my cappuccino. Italians always indicate affection through food.
I sigh a little when she says, “Ciao, arrivaderci” rather than simply, “Prego,” after I say, “Grazie” and hand her three Euros. We won’t be seeing one another again, something that I know now and that she may realize when (and if) she remembers to look for me tomorrow.
That’s the thing about one’s last morning in Venice, or anywhere, really; first, you count the foreign customs and sights that have briefly entered your life; then you make note of those that may never happen again with both relish and a hint of regret for their impending and unavoidable loss.
Most of them are small, to be sure, and perhaps that’s why they’re all the more precious. Despite their size, they have the power to matter, to change one’s perception or enjoyment of the world: standing at a bar counter listening to Italian chit-chat, the smiling gape of red mailboxes waiting to be fed with postcards, the iron/salt smell of lagoon water, the bob of the vaporetto docks that roll like bucking horses, the mighty presence of marble in bridges and stairs, on signs and edifices.
Taking one’s leave happens slowly at first; a last look at the Venice lion staring out proudly from the garden path, the last heavy clunk of the apartment door closing from behind, traversing one bridge and then another laden with heavy bags on the way to the Arsenale vaporetto stop, sinking down into the hard seat of the Alilaguna boat headed for Lido, Murano, and then l’areoporto — the final opportunity to bob up and down in the Venice lagoon until who knows when.
As the picturesque buildings fly by, Giudecca comes and goes in the distance, then the Giardini and the Arsenale as the boat swings back around again. The main island of Venice slips away followed by Murano, which is replaced by muddy, low-lying water and scant uprisings of grassy earth, none of which looks as it did under the Rialto bridge at 3 am when it felt like you were in love.
During the next day spent in transit –Venice to New York to Seattle– a montage of images plays out of order in a dream-like narrative, tumbling experiences together from day and night in a roiling filmstrip that feeds upon itself, fading and blooming like fireworks in a night sky. From time to time, I think about Denis and Klevis, wondering what they’re doing and if we’ll ever meet again. Only when two busy-bodies from Long Island attempt to jostle their way ahead in customs does Venice instantly seem far away.
Then, without warning, a week has passed and it’s Sunday. Cars and busses are the means of transportation now, rather than feet, trains, or water taxis. Early morning gym workouts have resumed; the same with work, grocery shopping, and thin pleasantries with clerks in English, “How’s your day going–It’s going well; and you?–I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
There are no more automatic calculations happening in my head –adding nine hours to Seattle time to determine the hour in Venice– and far less daydreaming about what I might have been doing at the same moment if I were there.
After several weeks of delicious struggle –for the right words in Italian, the nearest farmacia, directions to wherever I’m going, the weight and responsibility of my suitcase– everything is easy; too easy, almost.
Except that, for the first time in a year, coming home again isn’t a reviled routine but a pleasant reacquaintance with a familiar life, my favorite boots, and a really comfortable bed.
And whenever I need a little break from reality, I’ll always have Venice.