The Night I Fell in Love

In summer 2001 we decided to go on a weekend jaunt, and settled on Cork, vaguely.

‘I’ll leave the details to you,’ he said.
‘Grand,’ I replied, scheming. 

A couple of days before our trip, I asked innocently;
‘Did I show you the guesthouse in Cork I booked?’
‘No, show me,’ said he. So I handed him a print-out (this was 2001, after all); “Hotel Panorama, Lido, Venice.

‘This isn’t Cork.’
‘Correct,’ I replied, ‘we’re not going Cork, we’re going to Venice.’
‘Oh, you beaut!’ he exclaimed, and how could I disagree?

The flights I booked were Dublin to Treviso, and then a coach from Treviso to Venice. It was an evening flight, so by the time we were on the vaporetto heading across to the Lido, it was quite dark.

This was my first time in Venice, my first time in Italy. In the gathering darkness, the vaporetto bobbed from stop to stop on the Canale Grande and I murmured the place-names to myself; ‘Rialto’, ‘Piazza San Marco’, ‘San Zaccaria’, ‘Giardini Biennale’. And with these magical incantations, and with her strange, silent townhouses just standing there in the water, nonchalant and serene, and her arabesque windows, alien and beautiful, and with puppet-show bridges and secret gardens just glimpsed as the fairy-tale scenery slid past, Venice bewitched me, utterly and forever.

And the next day, our first morning, standing in the vaporetto shoulder-to-shoulder with commuters and tourists all bustling back into Venice, I caught my first view of those green, shining islands which dot the lagoon, scintillating on the horizon, light-drenched and begging to be explored. Even now, decades and many return trips later, I’m still thrilled at the memory of my first views of Venice. 

Doge’s Palace / St. Mark’s Square
Looking across the lagoon to San Giorgio
The Man From Lido

An Idea Strikes

I love languages, and after this first trip to Venice I determined to learn a little Italian. Back at home in Ireland, I got the introductory Italian course from Michel Thomas. I’d never heard of this famous language instructor, I just saw the CDs one day while shopping, and decided to give it a try. I did Irish and French in school, and I can usually pick up on languages quite quickly. I loved that the Michel Thomas approach was simply about listening and then repeating aloud; I could practise in the car during my daily commute.

And so I had my idea; don’t just envy those lucky Italians, commuting across the lagoon each day; go and join them! Go to Italy, go to Venice! Stay for three months, learn Italian and live like a local! And that idea has stayed with me all these years.

Which Italian?

Now, my good friend Tom, who knows a thing or two about the history of Italian language and culture, was aghast at the idea of my learning Italian in Venice.

‘But why Venice?’, he demanded. ‘If you’re going to do a deep-dive into the Italian language, then you should go to Florence. That’s where the real Italian is spoken.’

And it is true that prior to the Unification of Italy, most Italians spoke their own regional dialect, and it was only in the nineteenth century that ‘Standard Italian’ was born out of the Tuscan dialect used mainly by upper-class Florentines.

And yet, although I know I would appreciate a chance to live for a short while in Florence as much as Venice, that notion of living in Venice (actually, the Lido, so as to enjoy the experience of traveling into Venice across the lagoon every day) strikes a muted but persistent reminder every now and then, a day-dream campanile that chimes across the piazza of my desk, great clouds of pigeons bursting upwards into the sky of my imagination.

Of course, whilst working and living and subsequently house-buying and moving, there was no way I was ever going to do something like that in the normal course of events. ‘But when I retire…’ I would tell myself, ‘maybe then?’

In Bocca al Lupo

So now it’s then, or at least, ‘then’ is fast approaching. Out of all the things I’ve ever wanted for myself, this desire to land in La Serenissima, rent a room, learn Italian in the morning and tip around the city in the afternoon, learning stuff or just poking around… this desire stays with me, and I want to do it while I have a chance.

And all those other islands that called to me, on the last day of our first trip in 2001, when we were heading back to the airport, those islands that filled me with a sudden moment of rashness; ‘Don’t go home! Stay for a few more days and see a bit more!’ – I can plan to spend as many days as I want, tramping around and seeing what all the fuss was about. Bliss!

So; crash-course Italian in Venice. That is definitely on my list of things to do ASAP, once I retire.

Did I mention I want to learn Spanish too?

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