Mother on the Orient Express: Part Four (Venice)

Before I continue, I need to take a moment to compliment every single person who works for the brand that is Orient Express. Their attention to detail is phenomenal, but my travel agent Heather was so spectacular that I wrote letters of praise to anyone who would listen.

So when I’m about to complain about the hotels where we were booked, know that I do not blame her.

Here’s why it’s already not her fault: Mom wouldn’t stay in the hotels they first recommended. I sent Mom some links while we were on the phone.

“Oh, no!” she said at the first hotel in Paris. “That’s too fancy. I won’t even step foot in there! No. I don’t the right clothes to stay in that hotel. Where would I drink tea?”

When it came time to find the Venice location, I had to find something not too fancy, but also not “too wet.” Travel agent Heather was like, “What about an old castle?” And that’s how we ended up at the Ca’ Segredo.

It was pretty dark in there, and while it was pretty, it felt like The Phantom was about to murder you while you were on your way to get some eggs.

Mom didn’t care because the room had a smoking section:

This was “the balcony.” And I’m not really going to complain about Ca’Segredo because the staff were very friendly and helpful. When I couldn’t get the Internet to work, our bellman came back to the room. After having to go through the usual “I’m not a dumb girl; I know how computers work” bullshit I find happens way more than should be acceptable when asking a stranger for help with anything technological, it was determined that the only way to get my laptop to connect to the Internet was to delete the cache, close all tabs permanently and reboot.

“It is because you use The Apple,” the bellman said. “You know who also has this problem when he stays here? Alan Alda. You are just like Alan Alda.”

And all was forgiven.

We got in late, but not too late that we couldn’t eat dinner. The bellman called the concierge and booked us a reservation at a restaurant around the corner.

Mom and I walked through the darkened streets of Venice and had a lovely meal (Italian!) at a restaurant with a very flirty waiter, who looked just like Liev Schreiber, who kept complimenting all my choices. (I’m not bragging; this is important for later.) “I think that waiter likes you,” Mom said to me. “I think that waiter likes getting tips,” I said back.

After dinner we wandered the streets as far as we were brave enough to go. It’s very easy to get turned around when all the narrow alleys look the same, yet spit you out in very different places. We didn’t have a map and we’d been awake for almost two days, so we decided we’d get up early and explore when the sun was up.

Mom says, “I bought a leather coat for the trip. It’s red. I wasn’t going to buy it, but the girls talked me into it.”

“You bought a red leather coat?”

“It’s very nice.”

It was also very helpful in making sure I never lost my mom in public.

Venice looks like this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And lots of other pictures I will point you to on my Flickr page.

We started early in the morning wandering to St. Marks, with the intention of going up into the cathedral. Well, this was my intention. I didn’t realize until we got there that there were a couple of things Mom hadn’t really told me:

1. She doesn’t like standing in lines.
2. She doesn’t like walking, especially to places.
3. She doesn’t like stairs.

I will give her that cobblestones are difficult, particularly when your feet hurt 98% of your life, which is what has happened with my mom’s feet. I know I should have more sympathy for her feet, because I know they hurt her. But I also know that I inherited her feet, and I cram those assholes into high heels and quad skates most days and I’ve run a marathon on them, so I know that while feet hurt, you can get past it if you want to.

Or maybe she can’t. I don’t know. I just know that our Venice was observed at a leisurely pace.

We left St. Marks to walk a little while, which is when I learned “a little while” actually had a number attached to it, an actual amount of time. I figured out that for every 45 minutes of walking, we were going to do another 45 minutes to an hour of sitting. This wouldn’t have been as difficult if I knew the landscape of where we were headed, but often the 45-minute internal alarm would go off in Mom’s feet when we were nowhere near our destination.

It meant we quickly had to adopt a way more European method of doing things. Every hour or so we’d find a cafe, sit, and people watch.

After finding a bit of a dead end in an extremely sunny section of Venice, it was clear to me that we weren’t going to do too much more exploring. Mom had hit a wall after five hours, and it was looking like she wanted a nap. We headed back to St. Marks, where we were going to need to rest again. It had gotten much more crowded with the lunch rush, and there was a band playing outside one of the restaurants. I saw my mom looking longingly at the tables in front of the band, where there was a fee just to sit down. But I knew her feet hurt. I knew she wanted to sit and smoke and have her tea.

NOTE: “HER” tea. Not the tea that anybody in Europe gives you. These places, known for their teas, my mother shakes her head at them. “Yicky,” she says, making up a word that could approach her level of disgust for their teas, when she has her Lipton in a Ziploc from a Big Y in Connecticut, the only tea worth drinking seventeen cups a day.

I had to turn down tea bags in Venice, in Paris, on the Orient Express. Teas that were like, twelve euros a bag, I had to turn down to buy atwelve euro pot of hot water.

So there, in St. Marks, I proceeded to buy my mother the most expensive cup of tea in her life.

It was worth it. So worth it. Because this is when acqua alta rushed in.

It hits so quickly. In the morning people were putting these platforms up around the cathedral, which I assumed were going to be for vendors. It turns out it’s for people to stand on in order to keep from getting wet when water floods the square.

By the time we were done with our fifty-dollar tea and coffee, the tide was so high there were only two options: stand in the long lines along the platforms or take your shoes off and walk through the water.

I was wearing boots and tights, and I didn’t feel like taking off half my clothes to walk through notoriously filthy water.

My mother, however… my mother, who wouldn’t let me sit on cold concrete while I waited for the school bus for fear of developing hemorrhoids, my mother who doesn’t like the “taste” of water, who still won’t let me go outside with “a wet head” for fear of pneumonia —

My mother — who thought Venice sounded “too wet” — took her shoes off and trotted through all tra-la-la.

I waited in line on the platforms while Mom walked along with the people in strollers and wheelchairs (AKA: those who could not use the platforms). “This feels so good on my feet,” she said. “Take your time. I’m happy.”

We got lost for a little while, trying to get back to the hotel. In our defense, every street looks exactly the same, with the same shops and the same stained glass and the same trinkets. Mom was getting wearier, which meant she was slowing down even more. We stopped at a few more cafes and restaurants. I am very smitten with Venice and want to go back to see more of it. We had train reservations in the morning, so we only had that one day in Venice, one that was quickly coming to an end as Mom definitely needed a nap.

I’ll just have to find a way to get back there again.

So while Mom napped I headed down to the hotel’s restaurant on the canal and ordered a glass of wine to go along with my Rob Sheffield book. I watched the pretty people at the table near me have what was either a business dinner or some kind of “Look, we’re all ridiculously attractive. We should do it in public.” gathering. I wrote in my notebook before taking a few pictures of the boats on the canal and tried to focus on my book, but everything in front of me was so beautiful. I truly felt like my eyes were getting full, an experience that would only increase the next day on the train.

A female gondolier went past, looking wonderfully defiant. And at that moment I wanted to see the parts of Venice that weren’t covered in Murino glass and carnival masks, that weren’t for foreign eyes, but for the people who lived there. Maybe next time.

When they brought me my glass of wine? They also brought a bowl of potato chips. As if it were possible for me to love Venice any more, it is a city who already understands my wine-and-fries happy hour. I have converted many a friend to Happy Hour Wine-and-Fries. All begin with skepticism. All end with, “Why don’t we do this all the time? YOU ARE A GENIUS.”

“Excuse me,” a woman said to me as I was happily sitting with my book, wine and crispy potatoes. “You look like a picture. I noticed you have your camera. Can I take your picture?”

It was one of the fancy ladies from Table Pretty. She took my camera and took a picture. “I hope it looks like the picture I saw from my table.”

I told her I think I look like a dork, not the old world serious writer I was somehow fancying myself a few minutes earlier. She didn’t know what that meant. “Studious,” I tried. She nodded, as “nerd” reaches through no matter what language.

Night time. It’s raining. Storming, in fact, but we want dinner and we don’t want it in the sad, old castle. We decide to wander down the same street and find a restaurant a little further away. We are looking at the menu of the place across the street from where we ate the night before when we hear:

“Pa-mellla! Pa-melllla! Pa-mella, are you not going to eat here tonight? Oh, Pa-melllla, did we not have something? I am so sad, Pa-mella.”

“You don’t have anywhere to sit!” I said to him. “It’s so crowded here!”

“I give you seat. You wait. Stay under this, it is raining.”

And then they made us a table, in a safe, dry spot, moving people around and causing a bit of a commotion.

Mom’s giving me all these nudge-nudge/wink-winks, like I’m going to go home with the waiter. “If only I weren’t here to ruin your opportunities,” she beams. My mother, the wingman. “We should at least get his picture,” Mom says. So we do.

Please note my nervous expression and that one hand ready to do something if he tries to reach for any of my body parts. Mom was less anxious:

We tell him how he looks like Liev Schreiber. He doesn’t know who that is. I get out my iPhone and head to the Internet to find a picture. “I look like Charlie Sheen,” he says. “I know that. Charlie Sheen with less money.”

It’s a livelier night from the night before, and customers are talking across tables to each other in many different languages. The couple next to us speaks French, and I use my very basic skills to answer a few of their questions. Their patient smiles let me know I am butchering their language, but we get to an understanding that they are in Venice for their thirtieth anniversary. Their children paid for their trip. My mom tells her that this was my treat to her, for her birthday. And then we’re all silent, having run out of mutual words.

The waiter comes back and I show him some Liev Schreiber pics from a Google search. He realizes just how much he looks like Liev Schreiber. He takes my phone and says, “I need to show my boss. I want a raise!” My phone gets passed from table to table, as each person notes that yes, he does look quite a bit like Liev Schreiber.

Dessert comes to the table and I can hear the people behind us talking about how fantastic our food looks. They are speaking in English, which is why I can notice it, like how you can recognize a song you love within three notes. I hear them debate ordering everything we have on our table, and as I excuse myself to the restroom, one of them is asking my mother what we’re eating, and just as I’m on the edge of hearing distance, someone says something about Los Angeles. I assume it’s my mom, and we will now have a family of six to take care of when we get back to the States.

When I walk back to the table, one of the English speakers is standing by my chair. She looks at me and shouts, “Then you must know Robin Shorr!”

This is funny for several reasons, but mostly because my instinct upon hearing Robin’s name is to launch into my impression of her (which you can see on that clip I just linked above).

“Of course I know Robin, ohmygod!” I shout. And the table of six erupts into shouts and laughter. “She DOES know her!” they say, clapping.

And I’m sorry, Robin, it’s so unfair to you because I’m thousands of miles away doing my Robin Shorr impression like I’m still at the writers room table of Samantha Who? But these people have known Robin since she was a baby, I guess, and they watched her grow up, and now we’re all in the same rain-soaked restaurant in Venice, bonding over ABC sitcoms and the people who write them.

Their group had just come back from Paris, so they began writing things down that we had to see, while one of them asked if she could set me up with her son (You guys, go to this restaurant in Venice! It’s better than speed dating!), and the waiter came back around to return my phone. On the screen was a picture of a shirtless Liev Schrieber holding a baby. “Oh, is this how you look, too?” I asked (because there was a lot of wine at this point, people). He smiled. “Yes, but that is becauseyou are the baby.”

And then I blushed a lot.

The restaurant closed down around us and despite my mothers myriad forceful attempts to I think have me hook up with a random waiter in Venice who looked like Liev Schreiber, we headed back to our cold, dark castle, stopping only for some gelato, which was a perfect way to end the night.

We only had twenty-four hours in Venice, but I can’t imagine them going any better. We drifted off to sleep knowing that when we woke up… we were boarding the Orient Express.


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