Tales of a wandering lesbian


My recommendation is that, when visiting a new place, read what you can about it.  If you have a guidebook, especially read the highlighted sections.  The ones the author has gone to the trouble of putting in a box.  They might have helpful information.  For example:  Rick Steves’ chapter on Venice has a section on “Floods.”  Most likely every guidebook has a section on Venetian floods.  There’s a reason for that.

Walking through Venice the night before I left, in the rain and wind, I saw a couple of warning signs that the water was coming.  I did not, however, realize what the platforms that were set up running through the middle of the streets and piazzas were.  I thought they were vendor tables for a street fair or something.  If I’d read the section on floods, I would have known that they were elevated walkways, placed out by the city the night before an imminent flood.  As it was, I went to bed blissfully unaware of what I would find the next morning.

Flooded Canal

When I opened the shutters the morning of my departure, I smiled at the quiet day.  The night had been rough.  It was really windy.  So much so that I had to close and secure the shutters that had been banging on the stone walls.  I pulled out my camera to take a last pic of the view from my window.  And then I realized that something was different.  The sidewalks were part of the canal.

Flooded sidewalk

Where was that damn guidebook…

Evidently, this is rather common for Venice.  Not surprising, now that I considered it.  However, there was nothing in the guidebook about how to get yourself from your hotel to the train station.  So, I consulted my wardrobe, chose thermal underwear and quick-dry travel pants for the journey and rolled them up to my knees.  Wondering if the Montin had a flood-blocking door plate, I headed downstairs for some breakfast and to check out the scene.

Flooded montin

Yes, that’s water at the bottom of the stairs.  The dining room was totally flooded.  In fact, the front door stood open, and several people were sitting at partially submerged tables.  They were all wearing high rubber boots.  (The guidebook said nothing about boots.)  I stepped into the water and watched the eyes of the locals widen.  “Coragea.”  No, I wasn’t brave, just hungry, and wondering what else I was supposed to do.  The frigid sea water rushed into my waterproof shoes and up over my ankles.  I walked to the front door and looked out.

“Just wait.  This will be gone in about 5 minutes.”  “Really?”  This guy was a local, but I couldn’t see how this was going to clear that quickly.  “Maybe 10.”

There was no breakfast this morning, and I was beginning to think it might take a little while to get to the station.  I turned to the man behind the desk and asked if the trains would be running alright.  He assured me they would, but warned that the boats might not, because the height of the water made it such that they could run aground – and into houses.  Okay, well that ruled out a vaporetto ride.  I’d be walking it.  I sloshed back upstairs (waterproof shoes work both ways.  Water can’t get out so much, and I’m pretty sure the “ventilation system” wasn’t designed for Venetian floods) to pack and get underway.

When I hit the streets, it was clear it would take longer to walk across town this time.  The water was deeper on the street than in the hotel.  The locals were walking slowly, making sure the water didn’t splash up over the tops of their knee-high boots.  I had no such concerns.

Ankle water

I trudged along, smiling at the folks in the streets as I went.  As if Venice needed anything else to make it seem any more strange.  The streets had become canals.  I was no longer able to tell which was which.


The water seemed to be getting deeper.  People were walking seriously slowly now as the water was about an inch below the top of their boots.  Men in hip waders were starting to appear.

Calf water

After about 20 or 30 minutes of walking in really cold water, I came across a little bridge to a point where I could actually see the ground.  I think I thanked the saints a little.  It didn’t last long though.  A couple of blocks later I was back to mid-calf water.  It seems that Dorsoduro is one of the lowest parts of the city.

When I crossed a big bridge from the neighborhood, I hit dry ground.  And found lots of people wearing ridiculous fluorescent plastic boots.

Flood boots

For some reason, these were being sold in the one area of town that was dry.  And that’s where people were wearing them.  Insanity.  I really could have used some of those boots about an hour earlier.  It was alright, though.  The water in my shoes had finally warmed to the temperature of my feet, and I was having a grand adventure.  I found one of the very few shops that was open (I’d had to abandon my hopes of shopping on the way to the station), bought some breakfast, took a last look at the city as I walked the span of the newest bridge over the Grand Canal (that I had read about in the guidebook) and found a place to empty my shoes.

New Venice bridge Wet spot Last view of Venice

I’d made it out.  No boots.  Just me and my awesome shoes.  Which now smelled like the Mediterranean Sea.  Only 6 more hours on the train.  I smiled as I took my seat and pulled out dry socks.

Bookmark and Share

December 6, 2009   Comments Off on Scappo

Into the snow

There is snow in the mountains. You can see it from the balcony in the morning. My friends in Oregon are starting to talk about the ski season, and my mom is writing with snow updates.

Ryo, Luigi’s father, asked if I’d like to go with him and André, Luigi’s little brother, into the mountains to check out the snow conditions. I’m always up for new terrain, so I put on 4 layers and packed up everything warm that I brought with me to Italy (I came fairly well equipped – we’re talking the Alps here).

We started in Barga and wound our way up from 400 meters to 1500 (I think). Through quiet stands of poplar and along mountain ridges we wound, chatting about Italian driving and life in the mountain towns. The landscape was striking and, at times, startling. It reminded me very much of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho where I grew up, except that in Idaho, you would have had to hike for an hour or so to reach a mountain ridge like the one we were casually driving along.

Driving in Alps

André, who is something like 20 months old fell asleep on the ride up the mountain, tranquilly dreaming as we drove.

Sleeping Andre

We reached a village perched astride a steep ridge, and Ryo pulled over. “This is San Pellegrino. Want to have a roam around?” He stayed with the car and the child and I struck out toward an old archway and a sign to the sanctuary.

I stopped inside the church that was tucked inside the rocky tunnel, but missed the mummy (evidently there’s a mummy). I left an offering and took a holy card then headed back down the passageway that lead from the streets of the small town out onto the ridge. I fell in love with the view from the tunnel and spent quite a lot of time trying to capture it.  By the time I emerged, my hands were nearly numb.

Arch View

I turned to look at a cat sitting in the alpine sun, when a little Dachshund came running up behind me. She sniffed my pants and ran up ahead into the snow on a mission of her own. My attention was captured by a placard that explained the history of the place. I walked over to it and began reading, but was interrupted by a shrill and persistent bark coming from just behind the placard. The little Dachshund was suddenly barking at me and did not appear to have any intention of stopping. Her ears were flapping as she jumped with each bark.
Dog friend

There was nobody around and she was raising quite a racket. So I did the only thing I could think of: I bent down and put my bare hands in the snow, made a snowball and tossed it in the air for her to catch. It was exactly what she was looking for. She ran and jumped and pounced and champed. Ball after ball I threw as the little dog danced around in utter delight. After maybe 5 minutes of this, I said “ciao, ciao” and continued along the path to look at the shrine perched at the furthest point out on the ridge.

I took pictures, admired the scenery and pondered the complex in utter silence and solitude. Until my friend reappeared. She came from below the trail and started barking again. So, my hand finally thawed from our earlier game, I reached back down and started again. She was absolutely transfixed. Every snowball was magical to her, worthy of total exploration and attention. She would thrust her face into the indentation left by a missed catch, searching out every last bit of fun. We played our way back to the arch, me tossing increasingly shorter throws to reel her in, her short legs carrying her through the snow. Before I left she chanced a tentative poke at my hand and then ran a few feet away waiting for another toss.

The cats came over to see what was up and I bid them all “ciao,” heading back through the arch, past the church and out into the town where Ryo and André were both asleep in the car. We stopped for a quick cappu and headed down the mountain to the ski slopes that were our real destination. As soon as we crossed over the ridge at San Pellegrino, there was snow everywhere, the landscape completely transformed.

Snow driving

Down the mountain we wound, the bare tracks of the ski slopes sliding in and out of view as we drove. It became increasingly clear that we would not be skiing this weekend. The parking lot at the bottom of the slopes where we stopped the car for lunch was completely bare, and the tennis courts below were green. Still the trip to the slopes brought us to a lovely place for lunch, where we had pasta frita (fried pasta dough) and gelato with blueberries. Fantastic.

Pasta frita Gelato con Mirtilli

And I learned the valuable lesson: even if the waiter says it’s pasta with funghi, confirm that it’s not also with meat. Bastard meat sneaking in places it doesn’t belong… Anyway, Ryo was kind enough to share, and André liked the meaty mushroom pasta, so it all worked out. Then we headed up the mountain for a hike to check out the snow.

Once again, my Vasque Blur Gore-Tex shoes were awesome, if a bit unnecessary. The snow, at deepest, was about 4 inches – not so good for skiing but just right for a hike and breathtaking scenery.

Ski slope

We headed back, collected ourselves, and started the descent from the parking lot to Barga. Along the way, Ryo brought us to Sasso Rosso , a notoriously beautiful town set into the side of the mountain, and built out of the local, pink rock. It looks like a giant grabbed a hunk of the hill, crushed it and then rearranged the pieces.


On our way from the pink town, André started to melt down. It had been 5 exhausting hours of excitement in the mountains, and he had had enough. We tried singing and little piggies. We tried peek-a-boo and cookies. Nothing worked. Something would hold his attention for a short time bringing a smile to his little face, and then the smile would fall into a tragic, gaping pit of despair, wailing about his boots, always his boots.

André has a pair of yellow wellington boots. They’re perfect for going to the horse arena, or into the mountains. He loves his boots. He loves that they are yellow. “Lello.” He calls them. Today it was:


There’s something about a child crying – I mean really crying their heart out – that has an effect on people. I think it can go one of two ways, usually. 1. A person will want to comfort the child, in order to make them stop crying. 2. A person will want to kill the child, in order to make them stop crying. When it’s a child I don’t know, it’s a toss-up for me, comfort or kill. When it’s a child I do know, though, I just laugh. I know it’s not helpful to the situation. I know it won’t make them stop. But the honesty with which a child will cry when they are truly melting-down is amazing, and André was crying with complete honesty.

We had taken his boots and socks off when we got in the car. It was warm, he had wanted them off earlier, and there was really no need for them now. Or so we thought. After the initial 5 or so minutes of negotiating about the boots staying off, we thought the situation was solved. He was grumbly and obviously tired, but so was I. We drove, sang, talked. And then it hit. Full on tantrum. It took us at least another 10 minutes to figure out that he was still upset about the boots. After some excellent kiddy translation by Ryo, he reached down, tugged a boot off the floorboards and handed it to André. Quiet. Then “two.” So I reached back, picked up the other and handed it to him.

He clutched the boots to his chest and a great, shuddering sigh came out of his little body. Ryo and I chuckled. There are times to put your foot down with a child, but this was not one of those times. If he wanted his boots, that was totally fine with us. The next 10 minutes was quiet. André flirted with sleep, his boots pulled to his body, his breath coming in great heaving gasps.


Ryo and I looked at each other and smiled.

We were fools.

“ONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONON.” Ryo was first to reach back and pick up one of the fallen boots. He had it on André’s foot in about 2 seconds while maintaining perfect control of the car on a mountain road. “Is he saying ‘on’, or ‘no?’” I asked, fumbling for the other boot. “On, I think.” André was definitely awake, and the presence of the boots was no longer enough. I jammed the other boot on his bare foot thinking how difficult it would be to get it off later.


I tried to tell him softly that they were his; that nobody would take them from him. I imagined him in therapy years later, clinging to a pair of yellow boots, talking about vague memories of a stranger in aviator glasses taking his most favorite thing in the world and how is dad let it all happen.


There was nothing for it. Ryo comforted his son as best he could, and André did his best to scream himself out of the car. I just laughed to myself.

There are times when we can communicate our wants and needs so clearly that, with a single bark, a stranger knows to throw a snowball for us. And there are times when we want something so terribly much that we want to scream ourselves to sleep. Even after we get it, the wanting is so intense that its memory won’t let us go.

When I dropped Ryo and André in Barga on the way back home, I was ready for some quiet. And I was happy for the invite from earlier in the day. “Want to come to dinner tonight?” “Sure, Ryo, that would be great. Thanks. What can I bring?”

Bookmark and Share

November 13, 2009   3 Comments