Friday, February 27, 2009

That moment in Venice

When starting a blog, I feel it’s best to establish the character of the narrator – a quick story that will sum up my personality, philosophy, and tragic flaws all at once – so I’ve chosen to tell a tale that will define the protagonist (me) and my long, inevitable, often humorous, sometimes informative, and always sublime relationship with travel… (I would add some really dramatic music here, something with lots of strings building up to a crescendo, but you get the picture).

Everyone has a moment – that perfect fragment of time when everything in your head aligns and you come to a life-altering realization. For me, it was the moment when I first stood atop the balcony of the magnificent Basilica of St. Mark’s in Venice. You know the one: elegant archways; imposing domes; impossible extremes of dazzling colors on blinding fields of gold; and that balcony, gracing the façade and adorned with the famed bronze horses from antiquity poised to take off into the sky. It still boggles my mind that they let just anyone go up there and every time I do, I feel like royalty.

So there I was, overlooking the expanse of St. Mark’s Square below in all its splendor, bordered by graceful arcades and cafés with live music, and opening up to the very grand Grand Canal. The day was brilliantly sunny with a light that sparkled on the water, threw dramatic shadows through the archways surrounding the square, and bathed the entire atmosphere in golden light. A new, and yet utterly familiar scene.

And then it hit me. It was at that very moment that I thought of the painting of St. Mark’s Square by Canaletto that hung over the couch in my parents’ house ever since I could remember. Venice was my parents’ favorite place – a place that embodied the beauty and romance of their storybook relationship. For years, that painting stood as a witness to my family and its memories: my father practicing his vocals (he was an opera singer), the birth of nine children (oh, did I forget to mention I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters?), piano lessons (more like piano torture), homework, proms, tv, fights, tears, laughter, the whole range of human experience.

I used to stare for hours at this painting, my head filled with stories of the beauty of Venice, and I wished I could be there and see it for myself. What did it smell like? What did it sound like? Was it still as beautiful as in the painting?... And there I was. Finally. In the painting. Looking out on the square; feeling the salt in the air, missing my parents, my mother who was back in the states, and my father who had passed away; realizing in that instant what this place meant to them; how it tied into my place in time, my moment. A dream fulfilled. And just then, one of the bands on the square played a song that I had heard a million times growing up, one of those sweet, melodic, overdramatic Italian songs that were so popular in the 60’s; and I felt chills run through me. At that moment, I knew that if this place could inspire that height of emotion, that much wonder, I wanted more.

Many years have passed since that moment. My mother has passed away; I’ve returned to Venice more times than I can count, never missing the opportunity to stand on that balcony; and Canaletto’s painting now hangs in my home, a stalwart sentinel ever watchful, a constant reminder of where I’ve been and where I’m going. I can’t look at it without being transported back in an instant to my precious moment. I can picture the scene in my mind’s eye as if I were standing there and had never left: the light, the air, the music, and the chill -- that familiar, blissful chill returns, bringing with it the full rush of emotion, the full understanding of that moment, that place in my time.

Travel is not just going places and ticking them off your list. It is marked by sights and experiences that can alter your life forever. There is an element of rebirth in travel, a “renaissance”; a point when you understand that you are a richer person for having had the experience. If you’ve had your moment, you’ll know exactly what I mean.