Ahhh … Venice?
While waiting to board my flight at Paris Orly Airport, I received
a distress text message on my cellular phone. The message had been
sent by my girlfriend in Prague. An hour beforehand, she boarded
a flight en route to our rendezvous in Venice.
“Snowstorm … 3 hour delay … will miss connection
in Rome … won’t
reach Venice until tomorrow.”
Eyes wide, mouth agape, I reread the text message and panicked. Not
because I would be alone on the first night of our week-long stay
in Venice. Not because Miki would be spending the night at an airport
hotel in Rome. I panicked because without her I was lost. Literally.
Miki lived for a time in Venice. She knows the city well and speaks
fluent Italian. Consequently, she had insisted on handling our travel
arrangements. Having such a competent companion to do all the planning,
I embraced the idea of being her slacker sidekick. I knew nothing
about the apartment she had organized for us. Knew even less about
Giudecca, the mainly residential island where the apartment was located.
I didn’t even know how to navigate my way from Marco Polo Airport
to the city. Because our flights were scheduled to arrive simultaneously,
Miki and I planned to meet outside the customs area. Arm-in-arm,
and with her guidance, we would approach the fabled city by sea.
This had sounded like a romantic idea. Upon landing at Marco Polo
Airport, I felt otherwise.
Sent from her snowbound aircraft 350 miles away, Miki’s text-message
directions were vague. “Take boat from airport to Piazzale
Roma ... take another boat from there to Palanca station on Giudecca … get
off boat … turn right, walk along edge of lagoon … turn
left at church, walk to second bridge. Look for Georgia.”
Georgia Tedeschi, one of the first women to study pharmacology at
Italy’s Padova University, arrived here from Greece in 1951.
In 2000, Miki tutored Greek law students at the same university.
The young Czech tutor and the elderly Greek alumnus met and became
Seven years later, at Marco Polo Airport, a desperate American traveler
was trying to purchase a ticket for the boat to Piazzale Roma. Due
to the late hour (10:30 p.m.), public boats were no longer running.
The only affordable option was the bus.
I arrived in mid-winter, mind you. Visions of moonlit gondolas rides
disappeared the second I stepped from the airport and into a frigid
breeze. I stood at the bus stop, shivering in my sweater and thinking
of Georgia Tedeschi. Would she still be awake if and when I showed
up? The woman was 76 years old, after all. If we failed to connect,
I’d have to find a hotel on the island. (At the time, I was
unaware that the only accommodation was at the five-star Hotel Cipriani,
which was closed for winter.)
After the 30-minute bus ride to Piazzale Roma, I dragged my bag to
a floating platform and boarded a vaporetto (waterbus) to Giudecca.
Each time the vaporetto splashed to a halt, I’d stare through
the foggy windows, looking at station names that glowed like lanterns
in the darkness. Santa Marta. San Basilio. Zattere.
At Palanca station, I disembarked as instructed and used my cell
phone to call Georgia. A wispy voice picked up at the other end of
the line. “Pronto?”
“Hello,” I said. “I am the friend of—”
“Ahhh …,” she replied, cutting me off in mid-sentence. “You
arrive finally.” In an accent that was equal parts Greek and
Italian, Georgia repeated the same vague directions that Miki had
It was almost midnight. Not another soul to be seen. I walked along
the damp fondamenta (street that runs along the bank of a canal),
looking for the old church. Streetlamps cast a faint glow against
a phalanx of ancient buildings. Waves swept across the Giudecca Canal
and slapped against the mossy embankment.
After a minute or two, I came upon the crumbling brick façade
of St. Eufemia Church. I turned left and saw two tiny stone bridges
traversing a black canal. I heard the creak of a rusty door hinge.
Saw a hunched shape trundling onto the second bridge.
I called out in the darkness. “Georgia?”
The bubbly 76-year-old waited for me on the bridge. When I reached
out to shake her hand, she kissed me instead on both cheeks. In one
hand she raised the coveted apartment keys. In the other, a bottle
of taking a chance like the author did, try reading a
Venice guidebook in advance of your trip. For more information,
visit the Venice Tourist Board Web site at turismovenezia.it/eng.