Sunday, August 26, 2007

august 21: Venice, a rogue's port if ever there was one.

We checked out of the Hotel Daunau Opera with five hours until we had to leave for Degaulle Airport. 

Walking by one of the narrow, one-way streets with parking on both sides, never noticed a piece of a huge ferris wheel slowly turning. She cried out with a hand to her mouth, bringing us to attention. Hurrying over to it we found a fully-fledged fair, complete with barbe a papa stalls, churra (a deep fried treat similar to doughnuts,) and rides, rides, rides. We passed the bungie trampolines and headed directly for the ferris wheel. The ride operators helped us cut into the line right in front and board the first gondola available. "Merci, pardonnez moi. So sorry," to the family who would have been next. We board.

Ma Pop has never been on a French ferris wheel. They are huge, tall, wide, monstrous, soaring 70 feet into the air. (This might be an incorrect figure, I am very bad at distances. Note that it might be about twice as tall as you expect, had you never seen one in France.) It has been a childhood dream of hers to ride one. She missed it in childhood and lost her dreams in the everyday of middle-age. Now that she is here, nearing the end of her life, it seems an appropriate time for dreams to come true. We soared well over the standard six floors of the apartment buildings surrounding us. We peered, candide, into the living spaces of the people across the road, I wonder if they ever get used to that. We saw the church on the hill a couple miles away. We cast our wary eyes downwards, giddily reeling at the apex. 

I am afraid of heights. 

The gondola landed smoothly and we made our escape. Trudging down the puddle-ridden fairway, we passed carousels, food and treat stands, a woman with perfect breasts, bumper cars, several swinging and twisting rides, a haunted house, and a fun house. Br0n rode with me on the carousel and we sang "I want someone to buy me a pony (clip clop clip clop clippy-clip clop.)" We took some food from a Grecian stall, another cheese-covered hot-dog, frites, bits of pork and vegetables in a hot-dog bun, and a few drinks. We sat in the garden adjacent to the fair to feed the swarms of pidgeons frites, playing favourites and trying to walk through the carpet of birds. We eventually went back to the hotel where we left our bags and sat in the salon to await a taxi.

One portion of the day over and we were all ready for bed. Now, off to the airport for another round of screaming agony. 

Something I've noticed on flights: Stewardesses and stewards seem to switch languages as soon as they are comfortable doing so. It is strange that, sitting in a room, you can hear the country changing underneath you from as the inflections and words of our hostesses. 

We landed at about midnight and met a porter who was friendly and very helpful. 

He spoke limited English and I'm still getting used to the sound of Italiano. It's much like French and English in parts but the delivery is very strong. I like French better, probably because I know it better and also because I can speak it without much accent, I think. 

The porter told us about a watertaxi that would bring us to the port we needed in not a very long time and a waterbus that would take longer but cost about 135 euros less. Yes, the watertaxi would cost about 170 euros. After picking our jaws off the floor we exclaimed, probably too loudly, that a waterbus would be fine. 

Have you ever taken a bus from the airport? Imagine that trip and then imagine that your bus has no wheels. It was a long, dark trip to take in the middle of the night. I could see structures in the water but couldn't make out exactly what they were, I imagined they were the ghosts of long sunken ships. The eerie city lights added to the fantasy of a ghostly city on the water. After several stops we finally reached San Marco, the place we were to get off.

There was a thunder storm over the sea which cleaved the sky with light.

Now, if only we knew where our hotel was. Albergo Firenze is located in a corner, through an alley, in a side-street, past the San Marco Piazza. We got good directions from an English speaking woman who asked us to follow advertisements which, I suppose, change frequently, so following her directions proved vain. After a walk I met a couple sitting in a chair within San Marco Piazza and watching the storm break over a huge church. It was one of the most romantic things I have ever seen. And as I pushed my mother in her wheelchair, lugging a bunch of luggage, asking in vain for a street that doesn't exist, I knew that my chance at high romance was fading. We wandered these lapping, old, epic, old, and thoroughly old streets until 2 in the morning when, it happened, that someone who we had already asked directions from (we had asked directions from a lot of people at that point) saw us and told us we were going in entirely the wrong direction. Or I think that's what he said, since he said it in Italiano and then proceeded to take us directly to the albergo. 

Following him, we were scared for our belongings. Not knowing if he was trustworthy and treading blindly through badly lit, venetian alleys. Every corner brought the surprise of safety, but he was our best lead to the Firenze. We thanked him profusely, of course, when he did eventually lead us to the albergo safely ("Grazi, grazi!" "Prego. No, prego.") and woke the owner to check in at two in the morning. He came down to meet us with flashlight in hand and checked us in with nearly infinite patience and perfect alertness for having been asleep two minutes before. The halls were absolutely dark but for tiny little emergency lights near the ceiling, because Europe conserves energy. It was difficult but I appreciated the sentiment behind the darkness. Ma Pop was asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. Our room found a busy sleep after much bickering and loud talking.

That morning, when we woke, was much more fun. With errands to be run and a missed continental, we eventually got out for a lunch of spaghetti bolognese, a split margharita pizza, coca light, coca proper, fanta, and espresso. Italian coffee is very close to godliness. There are stores with masks everywhere. Huge feathered and jeweled masks, some of them costing 300 euros, some of them 12. A family of four walked into one of the chic artisan shops and came out with four gaudy masks, American tourists enshrouded in feathery enigmata. 

Ma Pop eventually was ready to go out at 4 or so and we left at 5 for something to eat. Food in San Marco Piazza is so, so terribly, stupidly expensive. Three sandwiches and drinks cost 70 euro, which is about 100 CAD. It was stormy and absolutely beautiful. People flashing pictures and ogling my hair. The pidgeons smearing the heavy sky. Filling the air with feathered flesh and obscuring the catholic church at the far end.

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