Despite my friend’s harrumphing over the expense (nearly one-hundred euros for less than an hour), I’m dead-set on a gondola ride this trip. Just because I’ve been blessed with a second chance at Venice, doesn’t mean a third visit will come about any time soon.
As seasoned travelers, we always hope to negotiate, so we skip the long lines for gondola companies and set out to find an independent gondolier working the smaller canals. We had bartered him down 20 euros for a slightly shorter tour when some customers who appear to be willing to pay full price came round.
The gondolier signals for us to wait, but the customers have other ideas. A frizzy-haired, middle-aged brunette, asks in her careful but heavily accented English if we would like to share a gondola, with her and the two dark-haired young men that trail behind her.
Jesus looks at me. The deal we’ve wrangled with the gondolier is slightly more expensive, but it would be just us. I shrug. I hate being put on the spot. Jesus stares harder at me. He doesn’t want to be responsible for making this decision. After all, I’m who’s so gung-ho on this boating expedition.
Foolishly perhaps, I take pity on the woman, and passenger-by-passenger we pile into the gondola. Then, I’ve read that gondoliers make a very good living, and this woman, she seems frazzled beyond belief, like so many parents on vacation with young adults.
With a couple of long slow strokes, Carlo, our Gondolier shoves us off into the canal.
From water level, Venice is regal, and fragile at the same time. Mold creeps up the abandoned first floors of many palazzos. Carlo explains that generally speaking, the first floors of Venetian palazzos are unoccupied, because when the city floods (as it often does), they disappear under water.
Gondola Traffic Jam in Canal off of Piazza San Marcos- Chris Ciolli
When Carlo lapses into silence, I turn to our fellow passengers. “Where are you from?”
“We are Russians, from Latvia,” explains the younger-looking of the two teenagers.
I smile at him. “As opposed to Latvians from Russia?”
He laughs. “And you?”
I nod towards Jesus. “We live in Barcelona. Italy is much more expensive than Spain. ”
I wait for him to chime in with a comparison of prices in Latvia and Italy, but have to be content with “ah,” and an uncomfortable silence that returns as quickly as it left.
I look at Carlo, standing and rowing from his perch at the back of the boat and ask him about living in Venice, if it’s expensive for the Venetians. He doesn’t understand my English very well, so I ask him in my best Spanish with an Italian accent.
He answers me in a string of fluent Italian and I catch bits and pieces. Living in Venice is very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that he, Carlo, has moved to a nearby city and commutes to Venice daily via train. “Also,” he says shrugging his shoulders, “it’s so inconvenient.” The canals, the bridges, the stairs, they make grocery shopping, moving, and generally everything more difficult.
He whips out a package of Marlboro lights. Would Jesus and I like one? He gestures apologetically with a cigarette in one hand when I tell him we don’t smoke. He would love to quit, but it’s just never quite the right moment.
Floating through Venice’s glittering canals reminds me of family canoe trips at Jack’s Fork—thankfully without cottonmouth sightings and brothers who threaten to tip you and the cooler packed with lunch into the river.“What are you smiling about, anyway?” Jesus asks me, in Spanish.
“I’m just thinking about canoes.” He narrows his eyes at me, but seems to find my cryptic response answer enough, because he doesn’t ask for further clarification and starts digging in his pockets.
It’s my turn to squint my eyes and ask questions. “Lose something?”
No response. I look out into the canal and think about living in a ramshackle Palazzo. Would it be romantically shabby, or would the smell of saltwater and mildew erase my love for Venice over time?
Jesus taps me on the shoulder and I turn to face him. “What?” He smirks at me, and unfolds an arm from behind his back. He holds out a tiny leather box. I cock my head to one side as he opens the box. Nestled into a dark brown lining, a silver ring embedded with fuchsia stones sparkles and winks at me in the light.
Palazzos en Venice-Chris Ciolli
My mouth hangs open for a moment, before I clamp it shut, and use it to smile at Jesus as he slides the ring home on my finger. “You like purple, don’t you?” he asks nervously.
“Of course,” I reply, “but you know this is more of a dark-pink, fuchsia, color, don’t you?”
Jesus is unfazed by his colorblindness. “But you like fuchsia?”
I laugh and peck him on the cheek. “Yes. Maybe not for a paint color in the house, but for a ring, yes.”
When we finally disembark Jesus explains to me that he’s been carrying the ring around since our first day in Venice, since we didn’t have a set plan for our gondola ride, he wanted to have it on hand just in case.
Since we’re finally without an audience I pull him close and kiss him; because I love him; because he gave me a ring; and most of all, because even seven years in, he can still take me by surprise.
Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer, translator and artist with Midwestern roots. She shares her escapades as a Missourian in the world at Midwesternerabroad.com, and writes about Barcelona from a guiri-gone-native perspective at Barcelonaforidiots.com. A closet foodie and self-proclaimed art addict, Chris typically blogs about the drinks, eats and other cultural attractions she encounters on her travels. In her spare moments, she reads obsessively, slurps excessive quantities of coffee and tea, and plays with art supplies and kitchen tools. Oh, and travels as much as humanly possible.
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