My Adventures Touring Europe in 1982 (13) Venice / San Marino
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Wednesday, July 7
When we were finally able to escape Soviet Union territory, I heaved a sigh of relief. Yugoslavia is a beautiful country, and Hungary’s architecture and dress really impress me, but that oppressive government just ruins everything! When my brother and I were kids, our piano teacher taught us a number of Hungarian rhapsodies, and I’d always loved Gypsy culture. Now I finally got to experience it – but under the world’s most oppressive regime! Hopefully the Iron Curtain will lift someday!
We arrived in Venice late morning. The landscape had turned flat again, and there were a few small forests of thin wispy trees, some pine. However, the weather was sunny and really hot, similar to California. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since I’ve heard Italy and California have a lot of similarities.
Venice smells like a swamp, and the buildings are made of brick and stone. We went straight to our hotel and checked in; it’s an ancient monastery which is no longer being used for that purpose. I happened to be sitting next to Robin on the bus; remembering my terror from the night before, I asked if I could room with her. Absentmindedly, she said yes. But when we reached Johannes for our room assignments, Garnet and Toni chose her and Leah as roommates. I said, “Excuse me – what about me?!” This is against my normal quiet nature, but after last night, I was afraid to stay alone again.
“Go ahead and join them” Johannes said. “There are five beds in the room.”
I moved my luggage in, feeling very uncomfortable. I decided not to room with any of them ever again.
After checking in, we began our walking tour of the city. So here I was, finally in Italy! I remembered that tour group in Holland that had taken their pictures with me. But here, no one gave me a second glance. “They’re used to seeing blacks here,” Mary, Chris’ mother, explained. “We’re really close to Africa; that’s why.”
The following pictures are not crooked. The buildings really are leaning like that!
It turns out Venice is really gorgeous, in spite of the swampy odor. It’s like the opposite of Amsterdam; it is canals supported by a few alley-like streets, whereas Amsterdam is the other way around. The buildings are, as I’ve said before, of ancient brick and stone. There is no crazy driving here, because there are no real streets, and motor vehicles are not allowed. Most travelling throughout the city is done by gondola, or small boat. On pavement, people can drive mopeds, but that’s it. Mostly they walk, and go from one side of the canals to the other by arched bridges.”
In California, the only gondolas are closed-in lifts used at ski resorts. It took awhile for me to realize it is also a type of boat, propelled by a pole instead of oars.
“Venice was built probably as far back as the First Century AD,” our tour guide told us. “It sits on 118 tiny islands, most of which were built up on wooden pilings and landfill. People mainly travel here by boat. You can get from one island to another either by boat or by bridge. During the 13th century, it was a major party town, with something happening every night. It held that status for 400 years, in spite of numerous invasions and the Black Plague. However, it has since declined, and this town now pretty much shuts down at midnight. Because the wooden pilings and landfill are saturated with water, it’s sinking, and we lose a few buildings every year.”
I remembered reading about Paul McCartney donating funds to save Venice. I had wondered what that was all about, and now I knew why. If I were fabulously wealthy, I’d want to save this town too!
“Now, we will go to a Venetian glass factory,” our tour guide told us. I paused to take a few pictures; when I turned around, my tour group had disappeared. I hurried off in the direction I’d seen them go, but couldn’t find them. I turned one corner after another, figuring they couldn’t be too far away, since there weren’t many pathways to walk, as all the main thoroughfares were canals. But I still couldn’t find them. After about half an hour, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to miss the tour of the glass factory. I might as well go back to the hotel and meet my group there. So I looked at my itinerary for the hotel address, then realized I had no idea how to get to it. Since I was with the group, I figured I didn’t need to buy a map. I was lost yet again!
“Excuse me,” I said to a passing couple on the street. They just gave me a blank smile and kept going. Apparently they couldn’t understand English. My Italian is nonexistent, so no hope there.
I walked into a nearby shop. “Excuse me,” I said to the clerk, but he gave me the same blank smile.
I made a few more attempts at other shops, and got the same response. I realized I was in BIG trouble. At least German is close enough to English so that I could somewhat understand and make myself understood, but Italian is in an entirely different language family group. Sure I speak French, and a smattering of Spanish, but that would not help me here!
“Excuse me,” said a male voice behind me. I whirled around in HUGE relief! It was a local who spoke English. He appeared to be drunk, but I didn’t care in the slightest.
“I’m a fan of Bob Marley,” he told me. “It broke my heart when he died earlier this year. I vowed I would help any black person I met, when that happened. So, do you need any help?”
“I most certainly do!” I responded. “I’m trying to find this address. Do you know where it is?”
He looked at my itinerary. “It’s several blocks from here,” he told me. “I’ll walk you there, if you want.”
“Thank you ever so much!”
“What’s your name?” he asked me.
“What is that again?”
“What is that again?”
“What is that again?”
Having an unusual name, I’m used to repeating it. His being drunk didn’t help matters any, besides. I was so grateful, I tried not to get irritated.
“I love Bob Marley,” he went on. “He did a lot to revolutionize the world. Are you Jamaican?”
“Actually, my parents are from Haiti, which is close to Jamaica,” I told him. “I was born in the US.”
“Have you ever met Bob Marley?” he asked me.
“Have you ever been to his concerts?”
“Uh – he’s never been in my town as far as I know.” Actually, in spite of my Caribbean ancestry, I’m unfamiliar with reggae music. I listen to a wide variety; rock, pop, folk, soul, disco, heavy metal, even country. But I’ve had very little exposure to reggae, and it never occurred to me to pursue it. I felt embarrassed, since he knew far more about “my” type of music than I did.
“Here is the address,” he told me. “What’s your name again?
“What is that again?”
“What is that again?”
He blew me a kiss. “I LOVE BOB MARLEY!” he called as he walked away.
I entered the hotel. It wasn’t until I was sitting on my bunk, totally relieved, that I realized I’d never asked for his name.
For dinner, we had pasta with meat and vegetables. Italians have a well-earned reputation for being great cooks; though I’d often had this in the US, there was something special about it here. We had to order bottled water, because the local water does not agree with the American digestive system.
I was sitting near Gayla. “How was the glass factory?” I asked her.
“Why are you asking me? Weren’t you there?” she responded.
“No, I got lost.”
“I decided not to go. I went shopping instead.”
Toni was sitting nearby. “It was no big deal,” she said. I was a little surprised she would speak to me, after being so mean earlier.
After dinner, when it got dark, we went on another city tour; this time by gondola. We went on several boats, but we traveled close enough together so that we could hear one guy playing the accordion. I wound up on that boat. The accordion player was a good-looking Austrian named Gary. We flirted while he played, and at the end of the evening, when everyone had gone back to the hotel, he led me to an arched bridge where we continued talking. He gave me a good-night kiss, then led me back to the hotel. I went to bed feeling totally woozy. The others were already asleep.
Thursday, July 8
The next morning, I wanted to discuss my romantic previous night, but no one was in the mood. “This place is awful,” complained Robin. “There are no hot showers, and the bathrooms are down the hall. I’m so sick of coffee and rolls for breakfast. This whole tour is a drag. I want my money back!” The others chimed in, agreeing with her.
Today, we left for San Marino, which is the oldest and smallest state in Europe. The drive took most of the morning; we wound up in a tiny town on top of a high hill, which was the whole of San Marino.
This place is in Southern Italy, which resembles Southern California. The grass is totally brown, and it is in crop patches, mostly vineyards. It’s even smoggy, though not nearly as bad as Riverside. Once there, we were left to ourselves, and we all went shopping. I walked into one shop, but the woman there was really rude; I couldn’t figure out why. I picked up a piece of jewelry, and she snatched it from me and stormed to the register. I left the shop; her attitude had just cost her a sale.
I entered another shop, and the guy there was the exact opposite. We wound up flirting with each other. I bought four rings from him; one gold-coated silver, one silver, one green coral, and one ivory. We exchanged addresses.
We got back on the bus, and headed to San Benedetto where we were to spend the night. On the way there, I sat with Margo, who was one of the few people who had come out with me from Los Angeles. She’s a bit of a punk rocker; she has short curly blonde hair, dresses in an ultra-modern fashion, has one piercing in her right ear, and six in her left! She also wears a toe ring on the 2nd toe of each foot; she’s the first person I’ve met who wears toe rings. She’s actually the reason I had bought so many rings from that guy. I asked if I could room with her tonight, and she said yes.
When we arrived at the hotel, Johannes took our room assignments. Leah named five other people, including Margo! So I was left out in the cold – blatantly!
I wound up with Gayla. I seethed inside, but of politeness, I said nothing to her. It turns out it’s just as well; when I saw our room, I forgot all about my anger. It was by far the most luxurious room of the trip. There were two double beds in it, and the wallpaper was of ornate green velvet. We had our own private bathroom. The hotel sat right on the beach, and our windows looked out over it. It even had a private balcony.
Tonight, dinner included a wine party. I knew Italians love celebrations, so I was expecting a huge fiesta, but it turned out to be totally dead. Lots of locals were there, but the men were crude, and the women were unsmiling and kept to themselves. Most of them didn’t speak English, and I had a hard time communicating. Apparently, they don’t have the same body language skills as Hungarians.
The experience was very disappointing. I left as soon as the wine was gone. As I was heading from the restaurant to the hotel, a couple of local guys approached me. “Voulez - vous couchez avec moi?” asked one, and the other one, who apparently couldn’t speak French, pointed to me, then put his hands together and leaned the side of his face against them. I shook my head and hurried into the hotel.
Gayla was already in the room. She had decided to skip the wine party. I told her she hadn’t missed much, then told her about the two guys. She laughed, then seeing the humor in the situation, I joined her.
Friday, July 9
This morning, we all did our laundry. Dryers cost the same here as the rest of Europe; $2.00 US. Gayla and I saved money by spreading our wet clothes out on the balcony to dry, which they did in about an hour. What a difference, compared to Denmark!
After doing laundry, we all relaxed on the beach until noon, when it was time to go. The beach was very organized, with lawn chairs and umbrellas set up precisely so many feet apart. I found an empty one; it was near Mary and Anna, Chris’ mother and aunt, who apologized for Leah’s behavior yesterday. “You don’t have to apologize,” I told them. “You’re not responsible for her actions.”
“Did you do laundry?” Mary asked me.
“Yes. Gayla and I dried our clothes on the patio.”
“You had room for that?” Anna asked, surprised.
“Yes. It’s just the two of us in our room.”
“Good for you! You deserve it!” said Mary.
“The others are four or more to a room,” explained Anna. “They had to use the dryers, because of that.”
At noon, we boarded the bus. It took until sunset for us to reach the dock where we were to set sail for Greece. Once on the boat, no one asked us about room assignments; they were just handed to us. I went straight to my room, and began unpacking my things.
Garnet opened the door, gave me a disgusted look, and said, “Will you please move?”
I got angry. “No!” I snapped.
“But I’ve already decided who I want to room with,” she said.
“That’s not my problem!” I answered.
She began arguing, but I remained silent and continued to unpack my things.
Donna came by. “Everybody upstairs. Johannes is calling a meeting,” she announced. So we went to the ship deck to join the others.
My blood was up. “I’m not leaving that room!” I announced. “Not after going through the trouble of unpacking my things. If the others don’t want to room with me, they can move!”
“Good for you!” answered Gayla. “I’ve already been moved three times!”
“Calm down, everybody!” yelled Johannes. “Who’s in your current room, Gayla?”
“No one that I know of,” she answered.
“Yoleen, Agnes and Cindy can join you.”
So I would have to move, after all. I sputtered with rage.
“No problem,” Agnes and Cindy answered.
As we moved in, I growled to Cindy, “How can you be so calm about this?”
“Because I don’t want to room with a guy. They put me with a guy earlier,” she answered. I had to admit, I had no argument to that.
“I don’t mind either,” said Agnes. “They only want to room with their friends. If they’re going to be so mean, I don’t want to be around them, anyway.”
“It’s racism, pure and simple!” snapped Gayla. I was puzzled, until I realized Cindy and Agnes are Chinese. But that didn’t explain Gayla, who is white. When I pointed that out to her, she said, “Yeah, but I’m old!”
“Uh – how old are you?” I asked her.
“That’s not old.”
“It is here! Everyone else is at least 10 years younger than me! They’re all a bunch of immature brats who just want to stay in their cliques and get drunk all the time! They don’t care about the local cultures like I do!”
“Uh – Mary and Anna are way older than everyone else. They’re here because they’re schoolteachers…”
“What do those old fogies know?!”
Agnes smirked, and Cindy rolled her eyes. The boat had just set sail, and I was beginning to feel motion sickness. I said nothing more. I got into bed, and fell asleep as fast as I could. It was an eight hour trip; tomorrow morning, we would be in Greece.
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© 2013 Yoleen Lucas