And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.–Rainer Maria Rilke
I preferred one waltz with a beauty to a lifetime with someone less rare.–Marlena de Blasi, author of A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance
I wondered if I’d feel the same after seven years, Venice. Were the times proof that you are my first love or just flings? And there have been so many others. Like Casanova, you have had throngs of lovers; for me, your rival was only St. Petersburg last year.
Each time you pulled me close with seductive strength but stayed guarded. Dignified, decadent, detached. Silently allured me to taste your beauty, to wander your world, to seek and find exactly what my soul craved. You led me down streets that ended, forcing me to retreat and start over. Or were you teaching me to find other paths? Promises, then departures; neither ever felt permanent. You’re the romance of unrequited love, the sighs of all that’s unfulfilled and ever longed for. The ecstasy in the moment and the promise that maybe one day…
And then I saw you, poignantly the night before New Year’s Eve–a time to look back and peer forward–as I stood on the deck of the water taxi. You appeared through the mist and cold. Luminous and lavish. Still standing. And I? Still feeling. Alive.
You are no Don Juan. Like Elizabeth who married England, you carry a great burden for all who love you. With grace buoyed by hope and faith, you beckon us to enjoy the time left on this earth before all goes under.
And yes, Venice. Though I fell in love with Saint Petersburg last March, you seem to be still The One.
An Italian friend once told me I’m simpatica—that I understand what it means to live The Life and that I’m a woman meant for a Grande Amore. I was definitely fashioned from birth a romantic, and the entire country of Italy has always felt like a soul mate. With many questions in 2016 looming, returning to a place that is meant to be wandered was, like the “fit” that is Morocco, a choice made for me, not by me.
Some call it serendipity, others destiny. I call it God. Marrakesh was exactly what I needed when I stepped off the plane sixteen months ago. Starting 2015 with the loves of my life, Taylor and Cole, in London was the best NYE ever– a blessed beginning of one of the most amazing years I’ve ever experienced. And likewise, watching fireworks from the Bridge of Sighs— choosing to exhale in trust and love rather than weariness and worry—I watched 2016 light up the sky. A sight I’ll remember the rest of my life.
I knew I’d love hearing church bells and Buon Anno spoken in the most beautiful language on earth. How do I love thee, Italy? Let me count the ways.
Paradoxically, Venice is unified by bridges and divided by dead ends. As with life, without warning a seemingly good road can suddenly plunge one into dark depths. Or maybe each halt teaches the art of retracing, rethinking, then rerouting a new course.
The Ponte dei Sospiri, or Bridge of Sighs named by Lord Byron in the 19th century, is a place of blissful beginnings and tragic ends. Prisoners who crossed the Rio di Palazzo to the Doge’s Palace prison were said by the poet to sigh as they looked upon Venice’s beauty a final time. Yet couples who kiss on a gondola under the same bridge at sunset as St. Mark’s bells toll are said to be blessed with eternal love.
Italy and life abroad continue to teach me. Here’s seven secrets Venice shared for 2016…
1) Wandering can do wonders for the soul.
“Not all those who wander are lost.”–J. R. R. Tolkien
‘It was one of those architectural wholes towards which, in any other town, the streets converge, lead you and point the way. Here it seemed to be deliberately concealed in a labyrinth of alleys, like those palaces in oriental tales to which mysterious agents convey by night a person who, taken home again before daybreak, can never again find his way back to the magic dwelling which he ends by supposing that he visited only in a dream.’–Marcel Proust
Like the Marrakech medina, Venice is constructed as a medieval maze of mystery and adventure. Jasna and I enjoy wandering both. I’ve learned since moving to Morocco that when I let go and relax, God always brings peace and sometimes the world brims with bliss. So when Jasna pointed at the Giudecca Canal restaurant and said, “Let’s eat there, it’s pretty”– neither of us having any idea we had chosen for lunch a historical literary hub– I accept it not as a coincidence, but as a gift. Both English majors, we were thrilled to learn that Hotel La Calcina, (aka Ruskin’s House) was where creatives such as John Ruskin (who I studied in a Victorian prose graduate course) lived and Ranier Maria Rilke (one of my favorite writers), Marcel Proust, Bortolo Giannelli, Giuseppe Berto and Francesco Maria Piave gathered. A muse to many, Venice fed free spirited expats Lord Byron, Robert Browning, Truman Capote, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, and Thomas Mann and continues to inspire art today. A magical place to christen a new year of writing.
2) Trust the journey. Relax, wait, move, live passionately patient in faith and hope.
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”–Ranier Maria Rilke
5) Con Dio tutto è possibile. (With God all things are possible.)
Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. –John Ruskin
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.–Ephesians 3:20
In Venice everything seems possible. I’m grateful for Anu’s invitation. She’d made plans to be there a week in an affordable hostel she found 4 minutes from St. Mark’s Square. Jasna flew from England and I from Marrakesh to join her a couple of days. My round trip ticket was $125–and our triple room cost me 57 Euros per night. And though December hit me hard with new challenges and I questioned my decision to go, I knew I may never spend New Year’s Eve in Venice again– particularly at such a price. Thus, I moved forward with plans prayed over and made in good faith. I refused to let regret rob me of joy. I let go and received the gifts of the trip from the moment a kind Italian man grabbed my suitcase as I was running to find a train to the last night when Anu invited me to dinner with her Italian family–sweetest people ever.
I highly recommend Casa per Ferie La Pietà, more a hotel than a hostel, with a panoramic view from the terrace, a beautiful breakfast room, clean accommodations, and nice people. I’d never stayed on the island before–usually too expensive–but here there is no commute by water taxis. The three of us stayed in a huge room with restrooms/showers across and down the hall. It is quiet, family friendly, and a great place to escape alone or meet other travelers.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.–Truman Capote
“I don’t pretend to understand these feelings, but I’m willing to let the inexplicable sit sacred.” –Marlena de Blasi