I decided to fly into Milan from Budapest since the overnight train would have cost me 14 hours, no sleep, and two days on my Eurorail pass. I hopped on a train from Milan to Venice and arrived in the small town of Mestre, just outside the city. It’s a 10 minute train ride to Venice from here and a much cheaper alternative to the pricey Venice hotels. A referral from my friend, Elizabeth, who would be staying with me.
I arrived Friday night to a beautiful thunderstorm. Something I have missed for the last 15 years in LA. Elizabeth was scheduled to arrive Sat morning so I had the night to explore and get my first taste of real food since Paris. Don’t get me wrong, the Eastern bloc of Europe has had its moments of good food, but there is nothing like the food in Italy. A good pizza, a plate of pasta, beautiful wine and fish to make a mermaid jump out of the water and directly onto the plate of an Italian chef.
I made my way to the banks of the canals near the train station in Venice. I saw the sign “Pizzeria”. This was me. I ordered a Margherita pizza, a glass of vino and began to savor the difference in food only to be experienced in Italy. The olive oil drenched the pizza and made it like a soggy, floppy friend I had missed so much. I sank my teeth into the pizza as the olive oil soothed my tongue that has for so long missed its glistening caress down my throat. The sweetness of the fresh tomatoes and the savory of the basil melted in my mouth. I gulped a swig of Pinot and smiled. I am back in Italy.
I sat alone on the canals savoring each bite and tasting grape after grape in each gulp. I was in heaven. I could have cried. I had a moment like this in Prague, walking the city streets alone, scanning the beauty around me, breathing every breath as if it I hadn’t had breath in a week. I was sooo happy. Being alone, surrounded by beauty, eating what my heart desired, not having a care in the world. Completely free. This was bliss. I can say I was truly happy in these moments. I had no one, needed no one. Had no cares and no commitments. I thought to myself, ‘How do I continue with this? I only have one life. I want it to continue exactly this way. I am truly happy.’
Everything is wet around me. It is raining in Venice. I was told not to come to Venice while it rains. I was also told not to come while alone. Tonight, I did both and I am still smiling. I walked along the canals and down the streets watching people cower under their umbrellas. I can hear the street vendors complain and haggle prices down to their bones. I can smell their desperation. I am getting wet underneath the piece of crap umbrella I just purchased for 4 euro and within 20 minutes of use has completely caved in. I am now holding an umbrella of wires above my head as the nylon screen tears away with the wind. Yet, I am still happy. The same kind of happy I felt in Prague. I am walking alone in Venice with a smile on my face and a wince of a cry in my lungs. It is beautiful. Thunder and all. Not even rain can rain on my parade right now. How long will this last? How many more cities do I have to experience for the first time like this before I run out?
I made my way back to the hotel in Mestre with the sounds of the thunderstorm to keep me company. I made a friend on the train. A local. He spoke a bit of broken English and described to me how much he hated Venice. “Ahhhhh….it is shit”, he said with his hands. The tops of his fingers touching and moving up and down. “Venezia!!!”, he said. He hated it here. But he didn’t have the English words to explain. He didn’t need them. I understood.
I told him, “How you feel about Venice is how I feel about Los Angeles”.
He looked at me and said, “Los Angeles??” Ohhhhhh. Caleeforneea!!”. His eyes lit up like he was envisioning his own fairy tale of sunshine and crashing waves. His dream. He couldn’t understand how I could feel that way about California.
It’s ironic how one mans hate for a city is another’s refuge. Like the Moroccan that described to me his hate for Paris and his love for London and how the Scottish man adored Paris but hated London. Like my Dad who adored Cincinnati and I can only tolerate it. I hate LA, yet love Prague. Another loves LA and hates Europe. We’re all different. We all have a story to tell. We are all a result of experiences. We all have our reasons to love or hate a city. My Dad had his, my friend in Paris had his, my friend in Morocco had his, the local in Venice had his and I have mine.
I awoke Sat morning to my friends’ arrival. We have known each other for close to 14 years. Not close through that time until recently, but we share common experiences that will tie us for life. She left California 5 years ago with a similar angst for Los Angeles. She met and married an Italian soccer player and now lives her bliss in northern Italy with a sweet bambino to solidify her grasp here. She speaks the language and fits in to Italy like a starlet being recognized in a foreign country. The locals are impressed with her that she speaks the language, more impressed that she is as pretty as she is and that she is officially one of their own.
We walked the canals, reminisced, ate, drank wine and lots of it. We didn’t have a lull in the stories to tell of the friends we share and the books we could write. After spending time with her I am again reminded, everyone has a story to tell. Ever since I have known her she is always met with laughter and happiness. I have always admired her ability to see everything positively and understand everyone to their core. She comes across as grounded, content, balanced and mature. But she too has a story that led her to where she is now.
Our hangover the next day drug our feet a little slower than we had planned. We were feeling that we were not so young anymore. Bed time at 11 was invited and simply more than appreciated.
A quick visit for a weekend was quickly over. We said our goodbyes at the train station as she went her way towards the West and I went mine to the South. Another city, another stop. Another experience to tell. Next stop, Roma.