Beautiful women are everywhere, in every country in every city. Men are lucky – they can get their fix any day. Through Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, I was on a diet, but now in Italy, I can feast my eyes on the tutti bella donna and bello ragazzo. Walking a few steps behind Ben, something I learnt from him, I happily get my fix of eye candy as it comes into my field of vision. Sometimes I get caught out, but then we get onto mutual territory and even collaborate. ‘Red head at three o’clock Ben! Bellissimo!’
Bridge crossing is such a pleasure after noon, despite the tourists, and this is where the gorgeous gondoliers sit, atop the marble columns, touting for business. Broad-chested, in striped t-shirts, black pants with cumberbuns and broad-brimmed straw boaters. These boys run the waterways of Venice. They own them and even vaporettos seem to let them pass. They monopolise the canals in their beautiful painted, silver-tipped gondolas resplendent in their damask cushionery. Wherever I walk, gondoliers with their naughty eyes peek out at you from under their boaters awaiting your patronage.
When I was pregnant with Paloma I came across the autobiography of Peggy Guggenheim at Rozelle markets. She was the niece of Mr. NYC Guggenheim and lived a notorious life with crazy tales of adventure and the crossing of countries during war, somehow keeping her modern art collection hidden and intact and finally installed in Venice in the 1950’s. A true bohemian, she pioneered late modern art here, bringing Jackson Pollock to the fore and showing the kaleidoscopic wonders of Kandinsky. Her gallery is now installed in the Palazzo Lione, which she lived in surrounded by all this art, right on the Grande Canale of Venice in the art district of Dorsoduro. This is one of my favourite areas as it is filled with galleries, bookshops, antiques shops and slim canals and tiny green campos in which to contemplate life. So it was a highlight to see the collection, her famous bed-head forged by my favourite artist Alexander Calder, along with the Picassos and Pollocks. The garden is a paradise full of flowers and enormous trees, a rare sight in Venice. We loved it so much, Paloma and I even took daddy back there for second helpings.
Counting down our days in Venice now, my heart is breaking at the thought of leaving. Having traipsed the calles for the last month I feel I am a part of her living and breathing life. I am even getting a hello from the local barista, the weasel-faced gondolier on the bridge and a ‘complimentare’ for Paloma from a lady in the street I keep passing! Its great to feel, even for a moment, like a local.
The night is warm, the dusk light is bathing Venice in velvet pinks and purples, and we are being rowed along the Grand Canal by our very own gondolier. ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’ he pushes a vaporetto one hundred times his size out of the way. ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’ we pass six gondolers in a row, their rapt audience being serenaded by their gondoliers who sing ‘Volare’ in a chorus. Magnifico! ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’ we pass a couple kissing and canoodling, the girl holds out her wedding finger newly bedazzled with a diamond ring ‘Congratulations!’ ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’ I yell, take us to the backstreets Mister Gondolier!
Amazed, we watch from below as our gondola glides silently through the waters of La Serenissima, under the bridges we have crossed countless times on foot, the campos in which we have sat and sipped our spritz in the sunshine, and around corners where we too have kissed. We feel so grateful for this experience having been able to fully immerse ourselves in Venetian life and culture. How we love recognizing our favourite places from the waters edge! ‘Heya!!’ our reverie is broken by a thick American drawl from a bridge above, ‘She’s like, the most adorable baby in the whole world!’ Grazie Americano! Arrivederci!
It’s a beach day! Paloma and I are cooled down by the splashing water as we sit at the prow of the vaporetto, headed for Lido, what Venitians call a beach. Families chip in annually to own one of the cute wooden huts with striped roof and a deck chair or two on the black sand by the waters edge. It’s not Bronte but I can dig this summer vibe even so. The water is as warm as a bath, but the feeling of floating, releases all my tensions as I am enveloped by the loving arms of Neptune.
Ben is stationed at the Lido ambulance helicopter base this week and we are here to visit him. The man’s a genius and has organized us a trip over Venice! I am so excited as I have never been in a helicopter. The little yellow mosquito takes us high up over the paddock and whooshes into the sky, like a roller coaster ride, thrilling! I am loving it and ask Ben if we can have one of our own!
Down below the terracotta roofs reveal the snaking turquoise backwards ‘S’ of the Canal Grande, the calles are a child’s drawing of a maze. Because the city is so fragile we aren’t allowed to fly over it but our pilot takes us close enough to see the Doges Palace, the spires of St. Marco and the bell tower. The Rialto Bridge looks like a toy and Venice is a sandy dot on the water. What a sight! Bravissimo!
Salute to Venezia! We sit at the pizzeria on the Fondamente and watch the tall ships and cruise liners pass remembering our own journey here just over a month ago. The last supper is delicious and one we shall never forget. On our final day Venice we decided to turn up the heat. I am racing round the apartment in undies and singlet with Paloma who is going through a bit of separation anxiety and is stuck to me in the ergo, cleaning from top to bottom and packing the bags with the other hand. Ben is out in the sunshine rushing to film his last shots of our beloved city for his documentary.
‘Kass! We have to go!’ Per usual we are running late for the train. Somehow we can never time out departures well and dream about those who saunter up to their cabins rather than race like we do, red faced with seconds to spare, as we do again today. The vaporetto seems to be taking forever, our luggage is taking up half the deck and we are squished in the corner by a group of American Catholics on a tour of Italy’s number one Pope stops. Thank goodness we have our tickets already as we bolt for the train, pile our bags into our cabin just as we hear the conductor blow his whistle. I’m dripping with sweat and I can’t believe I showered half an hour ago. Glued to the window we watch our beloved city of Venice shrink into the distance, our memories filled with happiness as our train heads to Paris.