• Behind the Curtain

    by  • May 23, 2013 • Dying, For Parents, Prof Travel Journal, Travel • 2 Comments

    This morning, upon returning from our mandatory cappucino at the Bar Spritz a few streets down from our palazzo, a student reports that her sore throat has turned into an earache, and should she go to the hospital?

    Now, I’ve been to the ospedale in Venice, myself, and I received prompt, courteous, and cost-effective service there. Nevertheless, dealing with Italian bureaucracy is always a last-ditch choice. So I give her a Day-Quil for her congestion and we walk to the local farmacia. It is closed until the precise hour I am scheduled to lead the group to Fondamente Nuove. I return and quickly consult with Terry and we arrange a “what-if” plan.

    Then, I’m off to the bancomat to pull out cash. Despite having dutifully registered a travel advisory with my bank, it stopped my card yesterday. A phone call has, I hope, resolved the issue. Today will be the test — whew! I pocket the meager daily allowance of €250 that Italy permits to be withdrawn from its ATMs and head back.

    A quick consult in Italian with the pharmacist nets my student some eardrops for the pain; she is feeling a little better with the Day-Quil, as well, so we meet the rest of the class in the campo instead of heading to the hospital and I take everyone to the vaporetto stop.

    Our destination is the cemetery island of San Michele to paint; it is an encounter with “Venice the Dying,” one of the themes of our class. For the very first time in the seven times I’ve visited it, actual funerals are in progress. Seeing a flower-laden coffin and black-clad mourners go by as we are ready to enter provides a sobering underscore to my admonition to be quiet and respectful while we paint.

    Upon our return, as the students go to lunch, Terry and I speed-walk across the city to the railway station, hoping that the black cat that crosses our path on Strada Nuova isn’t a sign. After finding that the train ticket machines only sell 6 tickets at a time, I pull us into the very, very long line to the bigletteria windows to deal with someone face-to-face. Better to stand in line than run the risk of not getting enough tickets for all of us!

    The black cat’s misfortune doesn’t quite manage to take us down. Our agent is a patient and kindly gentleman who, in a conversation half in Italian and half in English, helps us book our train tickets to Verona and to Florence, not even cringing when we realize we’ve given him the wrong number of passengers. Used to buying tickets and making dinner reservations for 17, we have momentarily forgotten that Terry’s husband will be joining us for the last half of the trip — thank heavens she remembered at the last minute — our bad luck, narrowly averted! So, will my credit card work? After yesterday’s bank fiasco, I hold my breath as he slides it for a whopping €891. Success! We take our leave of each other with many compliments mutually delivered in Italian. We must have worn him out, though; he puts up the “chiuso” sign as we go.

    Back to the palazzo. Do we have time for lunch before meeting the students at 3? If we hurry. Knock back a quick sandwich at Bar Spritz, return to the palazzo. The weather report says 90% chance of thundershowers tomorrow! Ummm… aren’t we scheduled to visit the islands, Murano, Burano, and Torcello, tomorrow?

    imageWe get to the meeting point at the base of the Accademia Bridge a little late due to a quick conference about the next day’s plans and run through a hastily proposed schedule change with the students. Any objections? No? Great. On to the Accademia Museum.

    Student discount? Not unless you’re a member of the EU, sorry. Well, it had been worth a try. We carry out our Save Venice picture-finding scavenger hunt. We can’t find three images; they are not on display due to renovations to the museum. Same problem we ran into last time … two years ago. Do you suppose the renovations will be finished by the time we run this class again in 2015?

    Our schedule change has moved tonight’s potluck dinner to tomorrow in favor of painting at La Salute this evening before the storms hit. I spend an hour or so resting my feet and working on a revised itinerary based on the current weather forecast. Terry approves, so I email it to the students and we race off to La Salute, where we are all scheduled to meet.

    The weather has abruptly become cool and dark. We sit and paint. A siren wails, ululating eerily across the canal.

    “That’s the acqua alta siren,” I tell them, feeling a combination of excitement and chagrin. We’ve discussed the high tides that wash through the streets of Venice in class; now we are going to experience them first-hand. This should be fun … albeit wet. Not every student brought an umbrella, much less galoshes to keep their feet wet in ankle- to knee-deep water! But it is thematically appropriate for “Venice the Dying,” at least.

    imageWe wrap up quickly, feeling the chill as the clouds roll in, and hop the vaporetto over to Saint Mark’s Square to see the effects of the acqua alta first-hand. The rising water is getting choppy and our students are horrified to see an older tourist fall into the canal while trying to step from a rocking gondola to the dock. He is pulled out safely, but they all express hopes to Terry and me that he’ll be okay. That much “Venice the Dying” none of us care to witness.

    In San Marco, water covers half the square and is still bubbling up from the drains. We hurry down a narrow strip of dry plaza before we’re trapped. Even with the new itinerary, tomorrow looks like it could be challenging.

    Back to the palazzo to dump our heavy pack of art gear. Terry, a student, and I head off to a restaurant Terry found that offers something other than pasta and pizza at a reasonable price. Eating low-carb in Italian restaurants takes some effort. We order and enjoy a simple, low-cost meal.

    “I have some bad news,” our server says apologetically halfway through the meal. “The water is rising outside our door.” Do we want to stay or go?

    We aren’t finished yet, so we opt to stay. But as people begin to walk in wearing hip-high waders, and we hear the splashing as they walk, we begin to wonder if this were a good choice. My shoes are the sturdiest among the three of us, ankle-high Merrells, but the water is getting higher than that.

    “You can stay here if you want,” she says later as the water from the canal slowly trickles through the front door and toward our table. We are the last ones in the tiny restaurant, which is located on a small back street. Most tourists probably don’t find it, and most locals are smart enough to eat at home after hearing the acqua alta siren.

    The water will recede in about three hours, we’re told. She and a few young friends are setting up a table in back; they plan to eat and drink until the water’s down. We’re welcome to stay and drink coffee or grappa, too. But no … we decide it’ll be better to get back to the palazzo. But how? It will take a long time to dry our shoes if we soak them. Go barefoot? Venetian canal water is hardly clean.

    “it is all right as long as you do not drink it,” she assures us. “When people fall into a canal, the doctors ask if they have gotten any into their mouth. If not, they just wash off and go. But if they have swallowed any, they must take many medicines.” I hope the man who fell in kept his mouth closed.

    imageWell, I don’t have any cuts on my feet, and they’re reasonably tough from going barefoot in martial arts. I unlace my shoes, pull off my socks, and roll up my pants. Terry and the student choose discretion and keep their shoes on. We pay our bill and wade through the water-washed street — keeping in mind the warning to pay attention to the point where the street’s edge meets the canal, which is no longer obvious — and head for higher ground. And, curiously, gelato. Wet feet, cold day … a scoop of pistachio, per favore. The Venetians must think we’re crazy. They are probably right.

    At the second flooded street, however, everyone’s shoes and socks come off. Our student’s disgusted comment regarding germs: “Now I might as well just let the pigeons eat from my open mouth.”

    We are happy to find our “home” campo unflooded, at least so far, and meet many of our students hurrying over to see, although not wade through, the flooded streets from whence we’ve come.

    Oddly enough, the predicted thunderstorms have yet to appear. Are we going to be able to visit the islands tomorrow, after all? Terry and I have no choice but to wait until morning to see what the weather brings. If it’s clear, our students will hear their doorbells ringing considerably earlier than they’d like, I suspect, considering how late they’re staying up.

    People hear about this trip and ask me, “Aren’t you excited? Won’t it be fun?” Well, yes, but what they don’t realize is that a travel-study professor’s life also consists of a lot of running around, contigency planning, and uncertainty! …And, sometimes, wet feet.

    2 Responses to Behind the Curtain

    1. May 24, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Fantastic reading! I learned about Acqua Alta today, very interesting. Also: Low-carb eating in Italian restaurants is impossible – I refuse to believe that ;D

      Are you going to post the students’ artwork from the trip when you get back?

    2. nancy symons
      May 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Just want all the students with Dru and Terry to know we are reading their thoughts and that we have been to Venice and will be returning again. We are really enjoying their insights as they travel! Great job! Keep it coming. Nancy and Ed (the Italian).

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