Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Summer in Europe: Falling in Love with Venice

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!


  1. The books sounds wonderful, Marilyn! Can't wait to read it. (And what a gorgeous cover!!!)

    Huge congrats ... and have fun with the blog tour!

  2. I long to visit Venice too and thought it might happen next spring, but it looks like it won't. You and your husband sure haven't aged much!

  3. Yay! Congrats!! Have fun on tour. :)

  4. Congrats on the book, Marilyn. Can't wait to read it. Venice has to be the most romantic city on earth!

  5. Happy pub day--tomorrow! I've been waiting for this book for a long time. Enjoy your tour!

  6. Oh, Marilyn, I love this . . . and you took me back to that exact moment on Sept. 2, 2011 when I first saw Venice . . . and it is perfect in its own imperfect way.

    I can't wait to read A SUMMER IN EUROPE and relive more of my own travels through the magic of your words.

    Love your mask collection, too--I try to get Xmas ornaments when I travel.

    Happy Release day, too!

  7. I'll have to live vicariously through Gwendolyn; I've never been to Europe, but it's on my bucket list.

    The masks are stunning. Unfortunately, the only one I own appears after I apply makeup...

    Congrats on your release!

  8. Happy pub day, Marilyn and what a clever idea for touring!

  9. I won a trip to Venice several years ago, and fell in love with the place. I love what you said about it being perfect for you - it was for me too. I long to return - and even imagine myself living there for a month or two just to fully absorb it.

    I can't wait to read your book. It just went to the top of my list!

  10. I do have any masks. I do collect keychains from Hard Rocks that I visit. I also collect postcards from different cities that we go to also. I love the keychains, because they are reasonably priced and most all the hardrocks have them. I only have 2 so far, from Atlanta and Nashville. I would love to visit Europe. I think that would be a gorgeous place to visit.

  11. Marilyn, I am so loving the pics of you and Jeff that you're posting on your blog tour! You guys are SO cute (then and now!). :-) I know readers are going to adore SUMMER. I sure did!!!

  12. Congrats on the tour! Someday I hope to travel and see Rome. *sighs dreamily* Just to stand in the middle of the Colisuem...*sighs again*

  13. Happy pub day, Marilyn! I'm looking forward to reading your book. I love travel fiction. I felt the same way about Venice--I loved it on first sight, even though it was raining! Glad to say the sun came out and we had a wonderful few days there. Have you been able to go back to any of the sites you visited?

  14. Ellen, thank you so much! And I agree about the cover -- I thought the designer did a beautiful job with it. I just want to walk inside the picture!

    Bermudaonion/Kathy, okay, I love you for saying that! I glance in the mirror and rarely think I look like that 20-something anymore...sigh. I truly hope you and your husband will get to Venice sometime soon.

    Sandra, thank you!!

    Deborah, I thought it was *incredibly* romantic, but I know I'm biased :).

    Cindy, thanks so much. I hope you'll like it!!

    Judy, I thought of you as I was writing this because I remembered your lovely post on Venice from earlier this fall!! It's such a unique city...I just LOVE it. (p.s. I'll bet your ornament collection is beautiful!)

  15. Happy Pub Day, Marilyn - can't wait to read!

  16. Christa, LOL about your "mask" -- I don't believe that! I do wish ALL of the carnival masks in that photo were mine. It was a display at a shop. But one of them -- that blue butterfly in the upper middle of the picture -- came home with me!

    Karin, thank you! It's been a lot of fun so far. I've loved getting to talk about all of these wonderful places and visit such great blogs.

    Tracy, thanks so much!! And, wow, to win a trip to Venice?! That must have been *thrilling* -- I'm so glad you felt as I did about it :).

    Christine, I think keychains are a cool item to collect and, also, there are so many creatively designed ones. I've only been to a couple of Hard Rock Cafes, but they were fun to visit, too!

    Susan, thank you!! We were so young and innocent looking then, LOL. You've been so supportive -- you know how much I appreciate it -- and I loved getting to talk about the Isle of Capri at the Stiletto Gang yesterday!

    V.L., I really hope you'll get to visit Rome! It was fascinating to see the way huge historical monuments were there, right next to the modern roads. I loved that combination of the ancient and the contemporary side by side...

    Sara, thank you! I'm glad you got to visit *and* that it turned sunny while you were there ;). In answer to your question, yes. Though I haven't been to Europe at all in more than a decade (not since our son was born, and he's now 13...), we did return to a number of places we loved more than once during our travel years. We visited Venice three times (each for only 2-3 days -- I would have loved to have stayed a month!), and many of the other sites (like Vienna, Florence, Paris, Rome, London, etc.) we revisited on later backpacking trips.

  17. Lauren, thank you so much!! I really hope you'll enjoy the story :).

  18. I'm having a blast traveling your you on your Summer In Europe blog tour. I've never been to any of these cities and I love seeing them from your eyes. Venice sounds wonderful, and is on one of my must-see list now.

    I'm not big on collecting. But I love your writing and I'm happy to collect all of your books!

  19. Venice is all you say and more! I'm always amazed by people who allow minor issues there to overshadow the beauty, history and romance of this unique treasure. So looking forward to your book! Congratulations!

  20. I agree Marilyn, Venice is magical. It's one of my favorite European cities. I had the good fortune of arriving Venice by boat from the Adriatic Sea. It was beyond breathtaking approaching the city of canals via water. One of my most memorable experiences.

    Your masks sound wonderful. I try to collect artwork from places I visit but it's not always an easy thing to find. My favorite piece of art are two ink drawings I bought for $4 each from an artist in Malaysia who created them right in front of me. Love them.

    And I agree with Edie. I loved According to Jane and I think collecting your books would a goal!

    See you at our next stop on your itinerary...

  21. Edie, how wonderful you are!! I'm thrilled you're enjoying the tour. It's been so fun to write and think about Europe, especially now when I get to blog about these cities every day. Makes me daydream again and again about going back... xo

    Patricia, thank you! I was also surprised when I first heard comments from a few acquaintances about how they thought Venice was "old" and "rundown" and, worst of all, "smelly"...LOL. In spite of any faults -- real or perceived -- I couldn't have loved it more, and I'm so glad you did, too!

    Beth, ohhh, I'm not at all surprised that it was a favorite city of yours, and to arrive from the Adriatic must have been gorgeous!!! We need to get together sometime and talk about travel, my friend... You've been to some places I've only imagined (Malaysia!) -- and, am I guessing right, were you visiting Yugoslavia before coming to Venice?! It was a country I would have loved to see before the war that divided the country. I feel all the wanderlust rushing back to me ;).

  22. Actually I was coming from Sicily on the boat to Venice. I've never been to Yugoslavia. I have a good friend from there and hope to go one day. Malaysia was wonderful. I've been to 6-7 Far East countries and would like to do more. At the top of my list right now is Istanbul. Hope to do that in the next year or two. :-)

  23. Hi Marilyn! When I finally get to Europe, I'm going to need to be there for *weeks* to see everything! Thanks for sharing your memories and pictures with us - I'm so enjoying taking the journey with you.

    I'm not a big collector of things, but I do like to buy something from special places I've been to remind me of the time I had.

  24. Beth, Sicily is on our must-see list the next time we get to Italy. I'll bet it's beautiful! And you know I'd love to hear about your Istanbul trip after you go...

    Robin, I love having you along!! And I think it would be wonderfully fun to take a couple of long European trips -- one with spouses and another with friends ;).

  25. Wow, what a great tour you have set up, Marilyn! Can't wait to read the book!

  26. Marilyn, what a great story and what great pics of you and Mr. Hunky your hubby. it takes a certain kind of person to want to explore and see things for themselves and then there are those of us who must live vicariously through you. I applaud you for making my trip through Europe as memorable as if I'd stood on the Rialto bridge myself.
    thank you for the memories
    good luck with the book, It was fabulous

  27. Love the pictures! Fun blog, Marilyn!!

  28. Lucy, thanks!! It was great fun to set up a tour that is so travel focused. I get to relive visiting all of these beautiful places!

    Deb, oh, I could hug you (and I would if you lived anywhere nearby ;). Thank you for being so kind and supportive of me and this novel. You've helped make this book's journey more fun and memorable to me than it would've been otherwise. I'm delighted I could bring a little of Europe to you. xox

    Maria, thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures as well as the post... We were so young back then, weren't we?!

  29. Love your blog tour city stops. How fun! Can't wait to read this book. xo

  30. Venice has always been my special love and, like you, I've schlepped many masks home from each trip there. I can't wait to read this book, Marilyn. BN tracking says it should be here tomorrow - guess what I'll be doing this weekend? :-)

  31. Malena, thank you!! It's been a lot of fun to write ;). xox

    Orly, I'm thrilled you ordered a copy!! Thanks SO much. I really hope you'll like the story and will enjoy the Venice references inside of it!

  32. The Venice that springs to my mind is that in Helen MacInnes' Venetian Affair.

  33. Liz, I haven't seen that one -- thank you so much for telling me about it! Sounds like it would be one I'd enjoy ;).

  34. Perfect destination for a lover's holiday! You definitely won't be disappointed. Congrats on your book btw. Readers will get to visit places in Europe without ever leaving home!

  35. congrats on the book! Venice looks like the most romantic place ever! I must make a plan to visit Venice.