September 9, 2020 — I huff and puff up white marble staircases of the Doge’s Palace, over-the-top gold ceilings high above. Even on a rainy day, the gold-leaf reflects a shimmer in the mighty stairwells. We cross over the Bridge of Sighs and see Casanova’s home in captivity, a lightless cell where he likely contemplated his conquests. The tour of the Palace is over, and we want to return to our hotel on the other side of Venice.
Friends told us not to come to Venice. The Grand Canal, they said, is so dirty. We laughed, reminding them that we live a mile from the Ohio River, with its coffee-colored water that contains everything toxic from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and down river to us. Today is our third and last day before we go to Lake Como.
It’s raining as we step out onto the walkway to St. Mark’s Plaza along the seawall. There’s a slight October chill in the air, a reminder that colder weather isn’t far away. My husband opens his black umbrella and covers both of us. Bluish-brown waves from the Venetian Lagoon crest over the wide sidewalk, forcing tourists to cling to the ornate outside wall of the Palace. Moored vaporetto’s and gondolas whack against the seawall, boats covered tightly with tarps sealed like plastic wrap over leftovers.
We fan out once reaching St. Mark’s, tourists scattering in all directions for safe places, hotels, restaurants, Harry’s Bar for the original Bellini. The pink lamps – five on a post – cast a spell on the plaza in the light rain. Did Lord Byron see these same lamps in the rain? Where was his safe place to get out of the weather? Seagulls perch atop each lamp, as if arranged in advance, one bird to one lamp. The plaza itself is devoid of the usual crowds. Tables are shoved to the side, their accompanying chairs upside down on them, puddles coagulating around each grouping. A growing mist settles from the lagoon over the plaza, fingers of dampness reaching into dozens of little streets in three directions.
My husband has a headache, and we need to find a Pharmacia. Which street will we choose? We quickly ascend steps in the rain, steps by now slippery. Most of our fellow tourists have disappeared. We pass little restaurants, shops selling elaborate masks, crystal-colored rhinestone, and maroon feathers—no Pharmacia.
We cross small canals as we chart our course for the hotel, hoping to find headache relief along the way. We find ourselves near the Rialto Bridge. Haven’t we crossed this already? Are we walking in circles? Asking directions with a language barrier is fruitless. We follow the signs to the bridge over the Grand Canal nearest our hotel. Weren’t we just here? Three-hundred bridges in Venice, and to us, they all look the same, except for the famous Rialto with its distinct shape. We find ourselves in a more touristy area – there’s a Hard Rock Café. Ugly Americans in business also as out of place as the Starbucks at the Louvre. Why are my expectations for Europe so different from our much younger America?
We find a Pharmacia, and my husband and the pharmacist negotiate his need for headache relief.
Finally, something looks familiar, a big bridge over the Grand Canal. But we’re on the wrong side. We cross and believe we are getting closer. A turn and another right beside a smaller canal, and the Hotel Papadopoli is ahead, sanctuary on a rainy day.