MAY 10, Tuesday: Picturesque Venice and a Family Affair (Day Four)
I like to get up in the early morning and go someplace quiet to meditate. I usually awaken with the light of dawn, and since the sun is up around 5:30am these days in Europe I generally find myself wide awake while all the others are still sound asleep. Walking on the grounds of the Schloss Pienzenau at 5:00am I found a lovely rose garden with benches scattered around, and there I sat myself down for some quiet time. At first I found it difficult to calm my mind, as I kept worrying about the situation with the bus, it being so large and possibly unable to get all the way to our desired destinations. Also the anxiety and upset expressed by Driver David had me feeling apprehensive. But eventually, these words came to my tormented mind:
“Six thousand miles from my home,
in a foreign country
where I don’t speak the language,
he’s pissed off at me
because I can’t find him a parking space.”
The awareness of this absurdity relieved my personal anxiety (at David’s expressions of upset), but it also made me laugh so much that I again found it difficult to meditate. Eventually, as the bird-songs and bird-populations changed, my mind calmed, and a pleasant mental state ensued. It just took me almost two hours to get there (instead of the usual 30 minutes!).
Another surprisingly sumptuous breakfast in the castle, from which we also prepare sandwiches for the road. Margot gives each and every one of us a little plastic orb, contained within which are the seeds of a pine tree (she calls them “Pine Semen”). We head out on a brisk sunny day, but due to roadwork we are slow to achieve the highway. The drive to Venice is going to take longer than anticipated.
In the moving bus, I talk to the group about cultural differences, and my absurd insight (about Driver David’s anger at “this foreigner providing no parking spot”). Celeste embraces the role of “Lunch Manager.” The kilometers pass as we leave the mountains. The city of Verona, “site of Romeo and Juliet” (as we are informed by David), marks the entry onto Italy’s flatlands. From the highway this looks kind of dull, but from prior experience I know that when we get off the road and approach Venice, the views will be more picturesque.
As we approach our destination (a suburb of Venice) we realize “we’re not in Kansas anymore” – we are required to purchase a permit to drive in the neighborhood (not even to park) – this costs about $165. Wow! Our Hotel Elite is basically a simple, clean place - with numerous touches (furniture and wall sculptures) tres moderne. We haven’t much time to meet up with our contact person in Venice. The Front Desk tells me we can take a cab for all eight of us to get to the entry to the city (about 2 miles away) for 30 to 40 Euros (about US$50) and I decide to spring for it. They call the cab/van and we pile in; but when we arrive, the lady cabdriver asks for 70 Euros (US$105)! Why the discrepancy? She says “It’s a big group, like two taxis.” Marisa protests fluently and says perhaps we will call the police, but I don’t want the hassle so I pay and we head off for the Vaporetto (water bus) which will take us to the park at the far end of the island(s).
At our stop “Santa Helena’s Giardini” we meet Anna Maria Parisi - the only local person who made it to meet us! After a short stroll we choose to have our laughter session in the park, near the waterbus stop. I never knew there was a grassy park, with tall trees, in Venice! All the Laughter Leaders (including Anna Maria) swap the leading of a jolly mess of exercises, including waving (laughing) at the passing luxury cruise ships. We end by lying on the grass, our heads toward the center of our circle, our bodies on the soil of Venice.
We take another Vaporetto to Saint Mark’s Square. Several of the cafés have a live band playing; they take turns to avoid aural overlap. Anna Maria and I do the Waltz to a melody by Strauss. A long stroll back is punctuated by charming photo-taking and outdoor stall-shopping. Ruthe finds a horizontal-striped shirt she has long desired; moments later we see the “real thing” (gondoliers).
We walk across the last bridge to the Piazzale Roma, from where we can depart. We are taking the public bus this time, for sure! Anna Maria’s locals’ bus pass gets us a discount so we end up paying only 50 cents each! (Eight people from the hotel to Venice was $105; the same eight from Venice to the hotel was only four bucks. What’s wrong with this picture?) Between the bus stop and the hotel we go to Anna Maria’s apartment. She wants to quickly grab something, but she says we are not to go up because her mother isn’t feeling well. However, I insist I really must dash in to use the toilet, as I had consumed a liter of water during our hike through Venice. When her family (parents and sister) see me, they MUST have me sit, have food, share wine… it ends up that EVERYONE is invited up, and we eight spend a delightful half-hour chatting, tasting the really good salami from Genova (so tender, it nearly melts in your mouth!), and savoring some really nice wines. Anna Maria’s sister even speaks German, so Driver David is pleased. Finally we say our “Arrividerci’s” and get to our really good Indian restaurant, right by the hotel. We arrive there at almost 10:00pm - the reservations had originally been made for 2 or 3 hours earlier. But since Anna Maria had called them periodically on her “Handy” (cellphone) to advise of our change of plans, no one seems displeased as we chow down, tasting of each others’ different foods and sharing stories. For several of the group this was the first time they’d ever had Indian food. Fortunately, the quality was quite good - but I think Driver David was not pleased by the too-complicated seasonings.
At the hotel we complain of the Taxi overcharge (we Americans would use the term “rip-off”) and they say we must talk to the hotel owner in the morning. Very well --- buono notte (“Good Night”!