What was your best day? Of course, there never is just one best day. There are a myriad of them because there are so many categories that these days can fit into. When I look back, I think about the birth of my daughter, my wedding day with Nick, the convocations when I got both my B.Ed. and my M.Ed. But this isn’t what I am talking about. All of these days were wonderful and come galloping across my thoughts with regularity. These days were planned for, anticipated, expected and enjoyed. I, however, am thinking more about the unexpected day. The one that just crept up on you, the one that just…happened. My “just happened” day was on July 27, 2010.
On our travels through Italy, Nick, Miyuki and I stayed in a house full of students when we were in Padua. Our main host was a brilliant young math student named Luca Lago. Luca was a wonderful host. He cooked for us, toured us around Padua and on our second day he took us to Venice. Venice is an amazing, magical place. I have described her before as the dowager Empress of the Adriatic and it is an apt description. It is a city that should be on everyone’s bucket list and I feel blessed that I have been able to visit her twice.
The best way to visit anywhere is to go with a local, but in Venice this is profoundly true. Luca took us up and down side canals and alley ways. When we crossed the Rialto Bridge, when we stood in Piazza di San Marco, we were surrounded by tourists and Venetians alike. Luca guided us off the main traffic routes and into alleys and across bridges that were quiet and isolated. In spite of the bright sun, some of the canals were shadowed and reminded me of watching Donald Sutherland chasing down the alleys in the 1973 film Don’t Look Now.
Around corners we found things to surprise us. Musicians, people in costumes, masks in storefronts, unexpected bridges, hidden cafes.
But every time we crossed by a canal with a gondola, Miyuki and I sighed wistfully. We both wanted more than anything to ride in a gondola but we both knew that, at €100 for half an hour, a gondola ride was not going to happen on this trip. Luca knew that we wanted the experience and that we figured we couldn’t afford it. As we wandered into the late afternoon, Luca brought us back out onto the Grand Canal with a huge grin. In front of us was a gondola tied to the side of the canal. Luca pointed at the gondola and said, “Get in!” When I began to protest, he waved my objections away. “This gondola takes you from one side of the Grand Canal to the other and it costs just €0.50.” €0.50? That was less than 75¢! We climbed into the wobbly gondola. The gondoliers laughed at me and said in Italian, “No, sit here.” When I moved they responded with, “No, sit here!” gesturing at another seat. I moved twice before I realized they were having me on, but it didn’t matter, I was sitting in a gondola on the Grand Canal.
Look at the smile on my face. For me, the trip from one side of the canal to the other is up there in the top five experiences of my life. The canal water was only inches away from where we sat. Motor boats sputtered past us, other gondolas crossed our paths, the sun beat down on our heads. It lasted only ten minutes but it felt like a glorious, joyful lifetime.
I will never forget that moment. And I will never forget that I shared that moment with my husband and my daughter and that our new friend, Luca, had given it to us.