|One of the more familiar views of Venice, taken yesterday evening|
I was 17, had just graduated from a small accademically-suspect Catholic high school, and was traveling with a large group of other high school students from my hometown. It was either a 21- or 24-day tour of Europe: Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London, Munich, Paris, Brienz, Florence, Bruges, and Venice--not in that order (and perhaps I've missed a stop). Largely ignorant, as I've mentioned in a previous post, of both history and geography, my primary concerns on the trip were seeing places as different from my hometown as possible, alcohol and girls.
Not quite in that order.
Though a female classmate of mine would many years later tell me that she received her first real kiss on the Rialto Bridge from an ecstatic young Italian stranger passionately celebrating Italy's World Cup victory--she'd been going out with my cousin at the time for at least a year (sorry, cuz)--nothing so dramatic happened to me.
I don't, as one might imagine, have any recollection of seeing the interior of San Marco for the first time. I don't remember something so obvious as Santa Maria della Salute. I don't even remember the Chamber of the Great Council in Palazzo Ducale.
Instead, I remember the Armory there, as I took a photo of the suit of armor that once belonged to Henri IV. (I had no idea who he was, but I liked his gear.) And I remember the view of the Riva looking east, as I also took a photo of that out of a nearby palace window.
I remember being given the dire news while on some forgotten type of boat (not a gondola), that the city's population was steadily declining due to the lack of work for young people in the lagoon. This in 1982.
I remember how overwhelmingly fetid the canals were in the sweltering heat.
(Just the other day some older Venetians Jen was talking with on Lido complained that the canals smelled only about "one-tenth as bad" as they did a couple of decades ago--almost as if less raw sewage in the canals benefitted only those persnickety tourists.)
I remember my disbelief at the narrowness of the calli, and my unexpected pleasure at looking out the little window of my little hotel room and finding a rough sea of red tile roofs stretching out before me, scores of crooked tv antennae like the skeletal masts of ghost ships.
I remember being so impressed by a night-time ride in a gondola that I'd insist for years after that night was the only time to take a gondola ride--though I had no other time to compare it to.
I remember the faint smell of leather that came out of shops. I remember the thick plastic Cinzano and thin metal Martini plaques attached to the back of every outdoor cafe chair on the north side of the Piazza. (I was able to surreptitiously remove one of the Martini plaques--now lost--but not one of the more appealing Cinzano.)
I remember our hotel was in one of the dark calli that branch off the north side of the Piazza, but I don't remember its name, or location, or which calle. I remember that going to or coming from it I saw the red banner of the lace school on a nearby parallel bridge, and how exotic it looked to me.
I wish I could remember more about the shops I saw, what the people who worked in them were like, how many of the people around me seemed to be tourists, how many seemed to be locals.
When I stand in the Piazzetta dei Leoncini today--one of the few places I clearly remember having lingered in 30 years ago--I can't remember anything like the number of people in it back then that there are today. But perhaps I am misremembering.
In short, I remember disappointingly little about Venice from my first visit 30 years ago. I'm sure we were here for two days and I suspect two nights, but I somehow seem to have missed all of the art and pretty much all of the architecture. Unlike other cities on the tour, no adventures return to me from the dark corners of memory: no nocturnal roaming, not even any particular bars or meals or flirtations.
I did not fall in love with the city at first sight. I did not feel at home in it almost immediately, in its very oddness, as I later would during my first trip to late 1980s New York City.
There were no hints, in other words, that I would ever return. That I would ever have any particular desire to ever return.
So that there seems to be nothing for me to learn from thinking about my first experience of the city in relation to my more recent move here except a general lesson that, if we are lucky, we have no idea of how we may change over the years or the surprising turns that our lives may take.
I say "if we are lucky" because I shudder to think of what my life would be like if I had entirely remained the know-it-all/know-nothing numbskull I was at 17.
For it seems that much as we might imagine otherwise, we often have no idea of what exactly it might be good for us to wish for ourselves. Or at least I didn't. And don't.
I wonder what other people's first views of Venice were like. Would anyone like to reveal them in the comments section? Were you well prepared? Were you surprised? Could you not wait to return?