Venice Vignettes 1999
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. ~Mark Twain
Happy Holidays from Feminist Footprints!
Whew! Can you believe it's Christmas time already?! I can't. But I am happy nonetheless because Christmas is my favorite holiday. And what better way to celebrate than to feature my best friend in the last FF blog post of the year.
You've already met Dana M. and know she is truly a gift---the best gift a girl could have. So I hope you will indulge me for wanting to unwrap a few more presents with these Venice Vignettes.
Vignette One: Futballers & Tough Talk
Dinner was delicious. Nothing about the ingredients were Parts Unknown worthy but made in a native Venetian kitchen the locally sourced pancetta, rich cream, and aromatic herbs made for the best handmade pasta I had ever eaten---until Rome 2010, anyway.
After our feast and a day spent exploring while thoroughly lost, we headed back to our hotel. The wharf was up ahead and the last water taxi to Lido would soon depart. Tipsy, our bellies full, we reveled in one of our last full days together before Dana continued her thirtieth birthday trip on her own. The unseasonably balmy November weather and being on the right path for the first time all day added to a contentment that was to be shattered moments later.
Best friends since the age of twelve, we were giggling like we always do when we’re together---forever those Duran Duran-worshipping-tweens from 1982---when suddenly, out of nowhere five hulking Italian futballers appeared. They were loud and jovial and almost as startled to see us---two women, two foreign women, two foreign Black women---as we were to see them.
We weren’t scared initially even though the winding Venice streets in the light of day could feel like you’d been dropped to the bottom of a canal and at night, especially under the wrong circumstances, felt like you were walking through a medieval dungeon.
But the men were in high spirits, friendly, their surprise swiftly diffusing as they tried to speak to us, to ask where we were from? What we were doing? Things were going along fine if a bit awkward… until it wasn’t.
One minute we were all making international hand gestures, laughing with embarrassment as we tried to communicate and then suddenly a hand was reaching out with the speed of famed futballer Alessandro Nesta and grabbing Dana’s breast!
One of our many running jokes on this trip was that we didn’t speak any Italian and had only learned the prerequisite Si, Non, Grazie, Buon giorno Ciao, Permesso and one curse word: Non farlo. We didn’t think we’d have an occasion to use Non farlo but liked to shout it dramatically at one another and shriek with laughter. So, no one was more surprised than us when I suddenly screamed “Non farlo!” at the top of my lungs and followed it up with a solid punch to the face like famed American boxer Jack Johnson.
All five of our futballers were much bigger and stronger than either Dana or I but something about a Black girl with a white and black braided mohawk punching one of them on a dark, lonely street in the middle of their town while screaming Non farlo in broken Italian struck everyone as funny. And with my voice still echoing off the cobble stones and Murano hand blown glass, the tension and danger dissipated. The men gave a great yell of their own and staggered off into the darkness.
I don’t think I have ever punched someone in the face before or since. I still don’t know any Italian despite going on to spend three weeks in Italy in 2010, but to this day Dana and I still get the giggles whenever one of us shouts, “Non farlo!”
Vignette Two: Keystone Cops Italian Style
I remember us as arm in arm, yet again heads tilted back in laughter as we set out to explore the gorgeous City of Canals. I remember an azure sky and a sense of possibility. I remember the sensation of a faint electric shock coursing beneath my skin when, steps from our hotel, they appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Four black clad poliziotto. They didn’t link arms yet still created an impenetrable wall, a barrier to the glittering, mysterious world we had flown thousands of miles to devour.
We tried to walk around them not understanding that they were there for us. One put out a hand---yes, another male Italian hand reached out with unknown intent---his palm broad, his lifelines mute. We tried to walk around them again. Another officer held up a hand in the universal position of stop. We stopped. In broken, garbled English and lyrical Italian they demanded our passports. Our carefree, besties on vacation giggles ceased. We gestured toward our hotel by way of explanation for why we existed. They demanded our passports with more insistence. We looked around with bewilderment---two women, two foreign women, two foreign Black women and sighed.
Vignette Three: Water Taxis and Throwing Elbows
On the outside, my bestie Dana Monique is a self-effacing sweet smile and twinkling brown eyes. On the inside she is a, “Come on! Are you kidding me?” diva with a wicked sense of humor. Over the decades, the two halves of her personality have merged. Like most of us, like most women, as she has gotten older she has found her inside voice and learned to weld it outside. But in 1999, shy, accommodating Dana was the one the world knew (I was well acquainted with the inside Dana!) and she was on full display in tourist weary Venice.
Tourists are a pain in the ass. Trust me, I know. I live my life as one and once upon a time made my living catering to them. And what was true for me as a waiter/bartender, I should have realized was true for service industry people all over the world: people who live and work in tourist destination hot spots such as NYC, Paris, or Venice are heartily sick of tourists by the end of the season.
Most people travel during the spring and summer. And why not, the snow has ceased, the flowers are beginning to bloom, and the water is just right. I don’t mind summer travel, but the fall or early winter is more my jam. It’s what’s known as Off-peak. Off-peak is generally October through February---just before Spring Break kicks off. Off-peak is cheaper and I think more enjoyable because the crowds have thinned and the wait for the Mona Lisa, the David or whatever the city’s Must See” is, isn’t as long.
But as I mentioned earlier, tourists are hell and even though they maybe the thing keeping the lights on, at the end of the season, you are glad to see the back of them. And then come the off-peakers. People like me and Dana, both of whom become flustered in public situations, are perpetually lost, and don’t speak the language. Time and again over our three days in the City of Bridges we enjoyed a Mediterranean stink-eye from a Venetian waiter, clerk, or attendant.
Nowhere was their collective irritation felt more strongly than on the ferries we used to get around. A sort of floating subway, the ferries were convenient and cheap, but they were also crowded and trigger happy. You had to know where you were going and be prepared to disembark immediately. Venice ferries wait for no man! Or woman.
Perhaps because I had been living in the public transportation capital of the world for the past seven years and had a breast smooshing, toe smashing, rib bruising familiarity with it, getting on and off the ferries didn’t faze me. Dana on the other hand, like most Californians, drove everywhere, including to the 7-11 a ten-minute walk away. The crowd and the rush and impatience of the other ferry riders brought out the nervous, self-effacing Dana. Unfortunately, who we needed was the Diva.
Her timid, sweet voice unable to pierce the horde as we tried to get off, her unwillingness to politely tap someone on the shoulder with a Prego or Permesso lead to many a mad dash as the ferry began to pull away from the dock.
Finally, exasperated, in full New Yorker mode, I had to explain to her that if we were ever going to disembark with a little dignity and me not having an anxiety attack, she was going to have to tap into her inside voice. She was going to have to prepare to get off five minutes before our stop, put some bass in her voice, angle her body into a blood and bone wedge between her and anyone who stood between us and the exit. And if all else failed, she would need to throw a few elbows.
We grew up in sleepy San Jose not Don’t fuck with us Oakland, so Dana was a little shocked, a little reluctant but in the end, we managed to get to our destinations without falling into a canal. And so, no Venetians were harmed in the making of our first trip abroad together.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in January (the new year, wow!) for my second annual Year in Review post!
In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!