Chapter II: VENICE & FLORENCE, ITALY
Mar. 9, 1996
Sitting at my gate, watching the drizzle come down on the plane that will take me on my
journey to Italy, I feel at peace, exhilarated, anxious and ready, ready for an adventure of
a lifetime. For the first time in my life, I will be leaving the continent to visit a different
part of the world.
I made a great choice by coming to San Francisco the night before. I had a nice relaxing
Saturday. I went outside, strolled around, said good-bye to my neighbor's cocker spaniel
Jessica, and wandered my small rural streets. I knew I would soon be walking very
different streets, experiencing a completely different culture in a seemingly different era.
Arriving home, I put on Bjork, volume setting #12, extra-bass and bee-bopped around the
room, while I got to the task of packing for Italy. What lucky items got to come with me,
to share my journey: my walkman, a new age tape, my sign-language watch and my
Italian suit from Barney's. Squeezing it all in my little suitcase, along with a half-dozen
vitamins and a gajillion rolls of film, I hurriedly threw everything in my car and zoomed
off to San Francisco.
I checked into the Crowne Plaza, not knowing it was really a Holiday Inn. The
atmosphere was very neutral, not much energy or activity. I felt like I was in a neutral
zone, a "decompression area", waiting for the "all-clear" signal to advance to the next
area, the next level up, the "New Country".
Throwing my stuff on the bed, I exited my decompression area and headed for "Windows
on the Bay", the dining room at the hotel. I was seated next to the window, looking out
on a beautiful sunset over the San Francisco bay. How relaxing! What a way to start a
journey. Looking around, it was wonderful to see so many different types of people. It
was great to hear Japanese words and see two beautiful black couples laughing it up. I
missed the "melting pot" of New York. Where I lived now, it was white on white and
Wonder Bread has never been that tasty to me!
After stuffing myself with basil-covered bow-ties, I went back to my private
decompression area. I hopped in bed and surrounded myself with all my Italian literature.
Scanning all the images of Michelangelo's David and gondolas gliding over powerful
waters, I knew I would soon be seeing them with my own eyes.
The only dream I remember seemed a little strange. I was in the midst of a sex change. I
was beginning to look more like a woman. My hair was longer, wavy, darker and stylish.
My lips were red and my nose was smaller. I was pretty, not yet woman, not quite man.
I was hoping the people from my job wouldn't make a big deal of it. Arcy, a transsexual
I knew from San Francisco was giving me pointers, telling me I should shave much more
closely. I was happy I was making the change.
Could this be simply a change of countries I was looking forward to or was my soul
preparing to visit a place it had been as a woman? Waking up in the dark was
disorienting. I felt like Christopher Reeves in "Somewhere in Time". I was searching for
the "right time zone" to get to the past and I was trying to shut out the modern world,
keep everything dark, so nothing would remind me it's 1996. This way I could
concentrate on the past - of 16th century Italy. The stronger I visualized, the closer I'd be
to getting there.
As the alarm rang, I realized I was still in San Francisco, not Italy quite yet. I jammed
some bun down my throat, zipped up all my bags, slid down the elevator shaft, returned
my decompression key to the smiling woman and cut through the drizzle, to my first
means of transportation, my shuttle bus.
It's now delivered me to these very seats I sit on, to the view of my wet plane. It's time.
I'M GOING TO ITALY!
After taking what seemed like 3 days of planes, I have arrived. Barely missing my 2nd
plane, I rushed through the gates of lovely Newark, New Jersey with 10 minutes to spare
to catch my plane to Milan. Everybody stared at me as I huffed and puffed, stashing my
luggage and taking my seat (some silly late American). A familiar voice called out my
name and there was lovely Sergio, one of my best friends from New York, a sweet teddy
bear of a man who had dedicated his life to doing social work. We finally got seated
together and we were once again united, this time on an adventure to Italy. Already,
different languages were all around me. It excited me as well as made me nervous.
Could I get along in Europe - what if Sergio weren't here to help me?
We then changed planes at Milan, smokers lighting up left and right. I saw the word
Venezia on the gate for the first time. We got on a small plane, flight attendants passing
out newspapers instead of juice. I spoke my first Italian words to two Italians next to me,
mostly "me, Tarzan, you, Jane" type of conversation.
Soon, the sparkling waters appeared below, reflecting the rays of sun, nestling the Italian
islands in its light. It looked like a fantasy world, an illusion in the distance.
Quickly exiting the plane and rushing through customs, we met Patya, our shuttle hostess
who was holding up a sign with Sergio's name. She showed us toour deluxe motor-taxi.
It was very luxurious with blue-padded velvety seats, and a low windowed ceiling - very
decadent. As we glided closer towards Venice, Patya gave us some travel tips as well as
giving Sergio her map as a gift.
As we drew closer, my eyes grew larger. We entered Venice. My mouth dropped open.
Was this real? No, this had to be Disneyland; I must be on the "Pirates of the Caribbean"
ride. It couldn't be real!! Images flooded me, little alleyways of water, gondolas sliding
side by side, buildings with shutters and flowerpots, the water lapping everywhere. I had
pictured this all my life and now here I was! I was laughing, deliriously in shock and
amazement. It was all so beautiful! Words can't describe how happy I was to be seeing
this new world, an old, new world.
There were boats with people, boats with groceries, garbage, crates, all part of a little
system they had created to transport everything the old-fashioned way - a city without
modern, polluted cars. How grand!
The motor-taxi putted to a stop right at a landing near our hotel. I walked up the rock
steps from the water and felt like hugging Patya. I was so happy to have her introduce us
We opened the quaint little doors to our hotel, Albergo Sole. Saying our first of many
"Buon Giorno's" , the hotel clerk told us our room would be ready around 12:00, so we
could leave our bags and wander the streets.
We began to meander the little alleyways and rivulets of Venice. We were both in
heaven. It was like being in an endless maze, and around each corner was a new surprise.
A turn to the left would take you into a "campo" (a neighborhood) usually with a
courtyard or plaza, a meeting place with tap water dripping into a bucket for the
wandering dogs and countless pigeons. A turn to the right could take you into a main
thoroughfare, a busy wider street with restaurants and stores everywhere.
We were searching for a little "pranzo" (lunch), but decided to snack instead. We went
into a "Panificio" (bakery) and I scanned the rolls and sandwiches of all shapes and sizes.
Sergio bravely ordered his roll first in excellent Italian. I was soon to learn that not many
people spoke English like all the books said, Italian was almost essential. My three week
study of my little phrase book I hoped were still somewhere in my brain. I went up and
said "Vorrei questo, per favore" (I would like this one, please), gave her my colorful
money, and my first transaction was accomplished - a tasty panini would be my reward.
We continued wandering, being thrilled by all the sights and sounds. It was wonderful,
crossing the canals on "pontes" (bridges) and simply stopping at the top and staring
down, seeing the many gondolas and boats passing under the bridge and in the distance.
I soon labeled this stopping at a bridge " a Sergio", because it happened almost every
All of a sudden, the bells of the city began to ring all around us. We saw a crowd of
black and yellow-coated fireman and others perched on a bridge staring at the waters
below. We scrambled for a peek and saw many boats traveling in one direction and the
last one had a coffin in the center with flowers all around. All the people stopped what
they were doing and paid their respect. Perhaps this is how one's life was glorified.
Perhaps the city always knows when someone has passed away and takes a moment to
respect their life.
We drifted down the stairs and found ourselves in a campus university. Cute, Italian
boys dressed in leather jackets, big leather shoes, colored knapsacks and dark sunglasses
seemed to be the standard. Making our way towards the sound of "hooting", we saw
what looked like frat boys who had tied a pledge to a tree and were singing an Italian
song as they softly threw eggs at this tied-up pledge in his underwear. The whole campo
was watching and laughing along, so much nicer than "keg parties" . This was pure camp
We wound ourselves further down the alleyways and ended up at the Zattere - a walkway
by the Adriatic Sea. We decided to go into our first church, the Geustica. It was
beautiful with altars and paintings of religious themes. Candles were lit and for 500 lire,
you could light up the paintings with more powerful lights.
It was now time to check into our room: a sparse little room with wooden shutters that
opened on to other rooftops of Venice. It was quaint, just as it should be.
After a quick nap, we took ourselves to the Grand Canal and boarded a boat that's
comparable to a subway, but what a grand collection of sights for the ride. We took the
whole tour of the canal, passing by glorious building after glorious building with gondola
stands and painted blue and white poles in front. Each building seemed to tell a story of
a certain past with different sculptures and carved windows.
It was fascinating looking at all the people's faces. No one spoke English, all the guys
were gorgeous with thick black hair and deep-set brown eyes with unshaven faces.
We passed under the Rialto Bridge, the biggest bridge in the city, that cost about 10
million dollars for that time period. It was lusciously beautiful with a banner draped on
the top advertising an art show.
We got off and walked to the Frari church. We saw beautiful art from Titian's
Assumption to a Canova tomb, a pyramid with sculpted beings about to enter. The art
here is spectacular, massive and everywhere.
We snacked more, on little pizzas and little candies. As night drew closer, Sergio took
me on a walking tour of Canareggio, the Jewish district where Jews used to be exiled and
not allowed to leave. There were plaques commemorating the Holocaust and the energy
was intense - I could feel the pain still present around me. There were still a few
synagogues operating and it was nice to read some of the Hebrew across the doors to
We walked out of this death into a lively area called Calle de Leonardo with hundreds of
people bustling around. We ended up quite tired after 27 hours of being awake with only
a short nap. We snuggled into bed in our hotel room and drifted off to a much-needed
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