There is a pattern that has been forming for some time in my life. I seem to find kindred spirits where ever I go, even as far off as Italy. You know what I mean don't you, the kind of person you connect with instantly, and feel as though you've been friends for decades ? I was so very fortunate, through a former colleague of mine, to be introduced to just such a person in Venice. It is a stunning story really. Young American woman on vacation in Venice, meets and falls in love with a gondolier, leaves her home country behind to marry her love and live in a foreign land, just like a movie.
Of course none of this was known to me before we met, although, we had the chance to exchange small conversations on social media and attempt to plan a meeting face to face, I knew nothing about this delightful woman. I felt so fortunate to know someone who lived in this city I had never been to and to have the opportunity to see this magical place through the eyes of a true Venetian.
We had decided a lunch and walk in the city would be the perfect first meeting and made arrangements for the day. Then my dear friend became ill, quite ill actually, and found herself in the hospital when I arrived in Venice. Now you must understand the personality I was about to meet, determined is not a strong enough word for this tiny dynamo. I was very concerned that she should rest and she was just as determined to keep our date.
This is how I found myself navigating the vaparetto system for the first time, alone, in Venice, and lost as all get out. Eventually I did find my way onto the right boat and was headed for the stop near the hospital in Venice. You have to understand we had never met face to face, we had been texting and sending private messages on social media. So my first vision of this lovely lady is her waving to me from the third floor window of the hospital as my boat pulled up to the stop. I was greeted in the garden by a wisp of lady wrapped in a trench coat, and proceeded to be kissed on both cheeks and crushed within an inch of my life. We both had quite a laugh about the unorthodox method of meeting one another and found that we had an immediate connection. There was no awkwardness, the conversation flowed without hesitation, Susan was a kindred spirit.
One of my greatest goals when I travel is to experience the everyday life in the cities and towns that I visit. I am not one to flock to the heavily touristed areas, crowds are not fun for me. I like the back streets, the cafes that locals frequent, and neighborhoods where everyday life takes place. Little did I know that meeting this Venetian would afford me the opportunity to experience everyday life in one of the cities most iconic buildings.
As a member of a local parish in her neighborhood Susan was attending a ceremony to install and bless the local Eucharistic Ministers that bring the sacrament to home bound parishioners. The gathering would include family members and a few friends, a group of about 50 people. Now for the good part. The ceremony was taking place at St Mark's Basilica, yes that big church in St Mark's square. While visiting Venice I had actually opted out of visiting the Basilica in an attempt to avoid the crowds of tourists that flock to the square. I now found myself entering through a private side entrance, and preparing for a private service conducted by the Patriarch of St Mark's, the Bishop of Venice, Francesco Moraglia. I was so welcomed by all of the parishioners a few spoke English and were genuinely happy to have me there. The whole experience was surreal, as I looked around the room I couldn't believe I was actually there, looking up at the dome of this byzantine marvel at some of the worlds most famous golden mosaics, and seeing the Bishop himself conducting the service.
I can't thank Susan enough for allowing me the opportunity to feel such a deep part of Venetian life. To conclude the evening, a small group of us proceeded with the traditional "passaggiata" (leisurely evening stroll) through the neighborhood. We stopped at a local Bacari for some assorted ciccheti, ( assorted plates of appetizers, from meats to seafood). Standing in the street, drinking a Spritz and nibbling delicious food surrounded by Italians, I truly felt a part of this mysterious, wonderful city.