by Marilyn Brant
I don't remember now what I'd read or heard, exactly, that first convinced me I hadn't fully lived until I'd seen Venice, but it became a persistent, almost tangible desire. I strongly recall a physical, pit-of-my-stomach ache in junior high because I'd wanted to look at it with my own eyes so much, and I was just too young (and too well supervised by my parents and teachers) to escape and fly there on my own.
But the desire haunted me until, at last, I finally saved up enough to go there in the summer of 1992. My husband-to-be and I were taking our first "Grand European Tour" together, a mostly Eurail/backpacking/cheap-food-and-hotel kind of vacation that my twenty-something wanderlusting self couldn't wait to experience. That summer, I visited many of the major cities of Europe, but the one I was most anticipating was, of course, The Venice of My Imagination.
There are times -- particularly for creative types, I think -- that the reality of something fails to live up to the brilliance of the vision. As our waterbus/vaporetto cut through the Grand Canal and curved toward St. Marco's Square, I feared that would be the case for me. I'd daydreamed about my first real glimpse of Venice for so long... How could an actual city -- even one built on water with those cute red and white poles sticking up and gondolas everywhere -- possibly exceed the high expectations of a fantasy?
But it did.
It did in all the same ways that love eclipses infatuation. Venice is not a city without faults. Sometimes it floods. Sometimes there are unpleasant odors. Sometimes the buildings aren't well kept up. Sometimes the signs are so confusing that there's no way to follow them. Sometimes vendors will try to raise their prices on tourists that they think can't read Italian...or do basic math. But, hey, sometimes my husband forgets to rinse his dish in the sink. Sometimes he screws the lid on the soda bottle so tightly it's impossible for me to open. Doesn't stop me from being glad I married him almost two decades ago.
I wasn't deaf to what people who didn't like Venice said about it behind its back. I listened. I looked. I saw it all and simply didn't care that it was imperfect. It was, and still is, perfect for me. Magical in a way that's nearly impossible to explain. I found myself blinking more than usual while I was there because I couldn't believe I was really seeing it. That it looked so elegantly timeless -- and just like all the photos and the film footage I'd pored over through the years. That, above all, it really, truly existed. Do you know what I mean? It's like that feeling of incredulousness when you realize that, after all those years of searching, you've finally found "The One."
Some may have left their hearts in San Francisco, but mine? It's wandering across the Rialto Bridge, loitering alongside the pigeons in the middle of St. Marco's Square, persuing masks in artsy shops on those twisty sidestreets, riding on a gondola at twilight with the man I love.
December 1st is the official release day for my new women's fiction book from Kensington, A Summer in Europe (although it's now available at bookstores or for download). It's the story of a junior-high math teacher named Gwendolyn Reese, who gets a month-long tour through Europe as a 30th birthday gift from her eccentric Aunt Bea and her aunt’s Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. She’s hesitant to leave Iowa and her insurance-agent boyfriend behind for the summer at first, but she’s never had an adventure overseas before and is soon convinced to go. What she experiences there changes all she thought she knew about love and life...
In honor of the release of this novel, I'm “traveling” to different cities, via blogs around the web, on a book tour for travel lovers. I'm talking about many of the places Gwen visited in the novel, all of which are places I personally loved, places from which I brought back cherished memories. Some of my stops will include:
Friday 11/25: Rome at Magical Musings
Monday 11/28: Pompeii at SOS Aloha
Tuesday 11/29: Isle of Capri at The Stiletto Gang
Wednesday 11/30: Venice at Girlfriends Book Club (Here!)
Thursday 12/1: Budapest at Women’s Fiction Writers
Friday 12/2: Florence at Writer Unboxed
Monday 12/5: London at Austen Authors
Tuesday 12/6: Salzburg at Robin Bielman’s blog
Wednesday 12/7: Lake Como at Brant Flakes
Monday 12/12: French Riviera at Get Lost in a Story
And other cities will be added for later in December -- including Pisa, Vienna, Brussles and Paris (I'll update the itinerary on my website as plans are finalized). I hope you'll join me for a few stops on the tour and celebrate the release of A Summer in Europe with me! It's a Literary Guild and Rhapsody Book Club featured alternate selection for December, and if you'd like to read an excerpt, it was recently a "Red Hot Read" on Single Minded Women.
These are some Venetian carnival masks, which I use in the novel, but I also collect them in real life. Do any of you have any masks -- from Italy or from any country? Is there something you like to collect when you travel? I'd love to hear about it!