November 21, 2018

I want to talk to you for a few minutes about Venice.

Venice has always been a fascinating place to me, and I think some of that is, at least as I remember it, its outsized place in early education. It’s an anomaly, to be sure, a place where the streets are canals, and what ten-year-old kid isn’t going to be somewhat enthralled by that? Years later, it’s easy to come across other places throughout the world that are similar, but my guess is that Venice is the one we all learn about because of its size and place in history. I don’t remember learning any of that history, mind you, but it’s been documented many times I wasn’t always the most attentive student.

Lately, Venice has been in the news for a few different reasons. It has become such a popular tourist spot that the city has passed restrictions not only on the size of the cruise ships that can come calling, but also on the number of tourists that can visit the main part of the city, and even when they are allowed to do it. The crowds have become so big that it was becoming impossible for people living there to do their job.

Another job impediment has been the rising water. There’s a viral video of waiters serving customers in a restaurant, and having to walk through ankle deep water to do so. This is more than just rising sea levels, though; for decades, Venice has been slowly sinking. The city is built on landfill, like most major waterfront cities, and as the city grows in both physical size and population, all that weight presses down on that fill. Finally, that fill isn’t clean dirt from far away places but, more often than not, literal trash and garbage. They call your dump a landfill now, because nobody wants to build a city on a dump, but that’s what they did for centuries in Venice.

These aren’t the things, however, that have pushed Venice off (or at least much further down) my bucket list. The greater reality than that, to me, is the recognition that Venice isn’t some mythical, Disney-fied location of singing gondoliers poling me through quaint, charming side “streets,” but instead is a fully functioning city. Some of that comes from me simply getting older, some of that comes from having lived several years behind the scenes if you will in another mythical-type place that people think isn’t a real place, and some of it comes back, once again, to authenticity and experience.

I can go there and get on one of those gondolas, just like I can go to New York and get in a horse drawn wagon, but neither of them are what they were. The gondolas existed because once upon a time they had, that was how people got around, just like 100+ years ago, people got around New York under literal horsepower. My fifteen-minute jaunt through Central Park is no different, and no more real, than going to an amusement park and driving an “antique” car around a guided path. The gondola experience I have in my mind? I should probably go to Vegas instead of Venice.

What it boils down to, for a person, is the location and not the experience itself. It is the history and the aura that comes from being somewhere that measures its life in centuries and not decades, the gravitas a person feels when they walk into a castle that goes back a thousand years versus what a person feels walking into Cinderella’s castle at the end of Disney World’s Main Street. There is certainly emotion to be felt when that happens, one that varies in direct proportion to how one feels about Walt, Mickey and the gang, but it is not the same, by far, and it begs the question:

What is the experience you are looking for?

When I was half my age, I envisioned traveling the world and believing I could do so. Now, although I know that it is still possible, my eyes aren’t quite as rose-colored, I see the challenges to doing it all, and in recognize the constricting limitations of time. I hope to go to Europe still, possibly as early as next summer, but I also know to winnow down my list of where. The more I try to squeeze in, the less of any of it I’ll experience and retain. Instead, I see myself focusing on England, Scotland and Ireland. Half my family is from Scotland, I speak the language (mostly) and I have friends that live there I could visit that I haven’t seen in years. It is the sensible plan.

Except, right across the channel, there lies a place, Mont Saint Michel, that I have always wanted to visit. It is a fascinating, historic, beautiful, and, yes, mythical place that has loomed large in my imagination. And if I go there, Normandy beach is right there, a chance to walk some of the most hallowed ground.

And the Loire valley, home of some of the greatest vineyards in the world, is only a short train ride away…

And what is France without Paris…

And Germany, my mother’s side homeland, is right next door….

And from there, Venice is so tantalizingly close…

At some point, I’ll decide. I’ll make a plan that is formalized by the purchasing of airline tickets and the reserving of hotels, I’ll draw my line in the sand, and remind myself that, instead of regretting the things I do not do, to cherish and celebrate the things I do, and to live fully in that experience. Somebody will tell me that I should have done something else or that I should have skipped someplace I didn’t (they always do,) but in the end, I am not forged by other people’s experiences, but my own.

Finally, I can’t talk about Venice without adding this: How do you make a Venetian blind?

You poke him in the eye.

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