Ruminations on Ruination
Over Thanksgiving, my husband and I went to Greece for a week--actually a cruise around some of the islands--and then spent a few days in Venice. It was our reward to ourselves for 30 years of basically happy marriage. (No parent of teenagers could ever be called truly happy, could they?) Over the years, we've taken a few beach vacations with the kids, not to mention a gazillion trips to Disney (not my favorite place on earth, which may tip you off about where I'm going with this today) but this trip was really special. It was an up-close stroll through a part of the world besides our comfy corner.
Here are some thoughts:
> My husband and I shared the cruise ship with nearly 2000 fellow passengers and 900 crew members. Yet at twilight on our first night aboard, Jeff and I were THE ONLY PEOPLE on the deck as the ship sailed out of Venice. We watched the lights of the city pass by, listened to the bells of San Marco that have been ringing for hundreds--no, thousands of years--and marveled that we had that miraculous experience to ourselves. Unforgettable.
> Then we spent a few days going ashore on various islands and poking around historic ruins. Let me tell you, the Greeks have no clue how to manage an archaeological site. Or else we Americans are idiots. Picture this: We were touring Olympia--yes, the site of the original Olympics, which were founded by some Greeks who wanted to unite warring cultures by conducting peaceful athletic competitions.
The buildings were destroyed by a couple of earthquakes and a flood or two, but the stones pretty much show where things used to be. The giant, grassy bowl of the first stadium is clearly visible. Amazing. But when our tour guide showed us the altar where the Olympic torch is still ignited, she INVITED US TO SIT ON THE REMAINS OF THE TEMPLE OF ATHENA while she talked. I mean, the actual stone columns of the temple had been tumbled onto the ground, and we SAT ON THE PIECES.
Would this happen in America? No. In fact, no way in hell.
But if we Americans were allowed to, say, sit on the steps of the White House, would we think differently about our country's past and what it means? I dunno. I got to thinking about the Viet Nam memorial. Remember the controversy when it was first built? People complained that it looked stupid, but the veterans immediately connected with it--touching the wall of granite, making rubbings of the engraved names--and showed the rest of us that their experience and sacrifice was much more meaningful than the rest of us had ever imagined. (In fact, I believe the current support of our troops during an unpopular war has resulted directly from the reaction to the Viet Nam memorial.) Is the tactile element part of changing people's minds, do you think?
> In Venice, the local bus is . . . a boat. The Vaporetto is a fleet of small ferry boats you can jump onto and ride the canals to wherever you're going in the city. It's very convenient, cheap and charming. Plus necessary, because there aren't any roads for cars. Skip the expensive gondola ride and take the Vaporetto. You can spend a weekend taking in the whole city for about 15 euros apiece.
But the "bus stops" are boat docks, and when you get off at your stop, you must step from the bobbing deck of the boat onto the stationary platform. Which elderly Venetian ladies with canes manage to do without pitching headfirst into the canal. But an American woman ahead of me stumbled as she took the unfamiliar step, and she turned to her husband with some outrage. "The Italians have a serious safety problem here!" Which made me laugh. Have we learned to depend upon our government to protect us from our own human clumsiness? I mean, the city where I live was initially settled hundreds of years after Venice was papering their ceilings with paintings by Tintoretto. But here in the U.S. we're tearing down city playgrounds because kids might scrape their knees. It's nuts.
> Languages. Our Venice hotel desk clerk spoke halting English when we checked in. It was difficult but not impossible for us to understand her. She also spoke Spanish to the couple who checked in before us, and German to the people after us. And I heard her making herself clear to some Asians later the same weekend. Which is really humbling when you think about it. I can barely remember a sentence or two from the French I took for FIVE YEARS in high school and college. Try to imagine a French tourist exhanging euros for dollars at your local bank. Chances are better he'd get arrested for being a terrorist before he'd get his money changed.
> In Venice, all the locals wear black. Why? Are they in mourning, or something? For what? Wait, maybe I've already answered that question. Anyway, it looks vey chic. Which is a typically American reaction, I suppose: To us, how they look is more important than the way they think.
> Last of all, why does anybody buy expensive luggage these days? It must be a status thing, like thousand dollar Prada handbags. Our luggage came off the baggage carousel looking as if it had been abandoned on the tarmac during a monsoon, then run over by a 747 and left in a mud hole---which, come to think of it, might have happened. I saw a lady leaving our cruise ship with a Louis Vuitton suitcase that had come with a clear plastic wrapper, kinda like the plastic slipcover our neighbor, Mrs. Turnbull, used on her sofa years ago. Is preserving the label on the suitcase more important than the trip?
We had a delightful time, really. We saw astonishing historic sights, met some charming---and not-so-charming, but still interesting--people. We didn't visit a sanitized amusement park where you must buckle a seat belt before "shooting the rapids" on a mechanical ride. We ate a few slices of pizza in the shadow of the Rialto bridge, smelled the canal and watched a new world go by. I sang on the steps of La Fenice. ("Don't Cry For Me, Argentina." Trust me, it was amusing at the time.) The whole trip was a chance to explore and remember why we decided to marry each other 30 years ago.
Jeff and I are not terribly romantic with each other.--Maybe that's why we've lasted together. But that twilight sail out of Venice with him holding me close to stay warm? Now, that was romantic!