Thursday, February 19, 2015


In 1997 Dennis and I left Rome after the official end of the St. Dominic’s Choir Pilgrimage Tour and spent a few days in Vicenza. Then from Vicenza we took the train to Venezia for our second time together. We stayed two days at a small hotel near San Marco, and later moved to the Artigianelli Monastery in the Zatterre.

Dennis was so pleased when we were stopped by some students in a more remote part of the city and were asked to register to vote. In our cordoroys, sensible shoes, wool caps and Barbour coats, we didn’t look like tourists. They actually thought we were Venetians!

On our last day of the trip, we took the large water-bus to the island of Torcello, the furthest away from the main city. On the way we stopped at another island and had a terrific lunch at a restaurant apparently frequented by local fishermen. We arrived at Torcello near the end of daylight. It’s perfectly flat and very empty. There wasn’t much there besides an inn run by Cipriani, an old Byzantine church and the original 7th century cathedral. Torcello had been the first settlement for Venice, but was later abandoned because of malaria. Much of the island is now cultivated.

We entered the cathedral, which appeared to be empty. Scaffolding blocked an unobstructed view of the apse with its marvelous mosaics of Mary. In the darkened nave, Dennis and I sang a plainsong Salve Regina (one that Dennis had sung regularly at Summer Benedictine Camp). Previously unseen German tourists complimented our singing.

We exited the cathedral to see the sun setting over the lagoon. It was a perfect moment. We had time to go back to Venice for dinner before heading off to Milan to catch our flight home the next morning. Instead we decided to collect our things and leave directly for Milano. Nothing could surpass that sublime experience!

How different would be the second and third visits to Torcello.

While Dennis had been upset that I had paid his way to Italy and Venice in 1997, we returned three more times in 2000, 2003 & 2006.

In 2000 we were in Venice just a few foggy, rainy days before starting our Mediterranean cruise out of the port near Rome. We didn’t go back to Torcello then, but we did take the elevator to the top of the campanile by San Marco. (I had been there before in 1979, in much better weather.)

In Rome we stayed at a convent just around the corner from Piazza Navona. On the first full day we took a side trip to Subiaco to see the cave where St. Benedict had his extraordinary vision and later founded the Benedictine order. We missed the last bus from town, and ended up walking about three miles up hill. On the way we passed the ruins of one of Nero’s villas, where he committed suicide after being hunted down by his enemies. Dennis was about to give up, but with encouragement we continued to the top. Being there fulfilled one of Dennis’ lifelong goals.

In 2003 we had an offer from US Airways for really cheap tickets to Rome, so we decided to go to the opening of Carnevale in Venezia. My niece Allison Martin was studying at Christie’s in London at the time, and we invited her to join us in Venice. Actually, as I recall, the original offer was for inexpensive tickets to London to visit Allison, but Dennis said he’d rather go to Italy.

In Venezia we stayed again at the Artigianelli Monastery in the Zattere.We left a message for Allison and her boyfriend at their hotel on the Lido to meet us at Café Florian in Piazza San Marco. They got the message and had already saved us an inside table when we met them.

Dennis and I brought 18th Century costumes rented from the Bohemian Club thanks to my friend, John Blauer, head of costumes at the club. We had silk long johns to give a little substance to the clothes designed primarily for indoor productions. Allison and her friend brought costumes from London. We wore them to dinner at a restaurant next to Quadri.

We missed the official opening of Carnevale that Sunday in order to visit three Palladian villas in the Veneto. We rented a car which I drove. The tricky part was navigating through Mestre and making connections north. We first went to Villa Cornaro, where we had to make special arrangements for a private tour. We met the young lad at the Palladio Café across the street from the villa. Then we drove to Villa Barbaro with its extraordinary frescos by Veronese and the handsome chapel, where Palladio reportedly died after falling off a scaffold. We saved Villa Emo, Dennis’ favorite, for last. It was a perfectly wonder-filled day!

Allison and her friend flew back to London the following morning. Dennis and I had two more days in Venice before returning to Rome on the night train to make our return flight from Leonardo da Vinci. Before leaving on the trip (which we nearly had to cancel because of a severe snow storm which had shut down the entire East Coast from Boston to Atlanta – then at the last minute, were able to make connections to Frankfurt through Pittsburgh PA) Dennis had emailed Karen Marshall with Save Venice in New York. Karen is a marvelous photographer, and Dennis wrote to ask for her suggestions in Venice. I printed out Karen’s email with a list of her favorite places in Venice and decided we should try to visit all of them. That proved to be a major problem and eventual disappointment for Dennis (and for me).

We accomplished a great deal on Monday, but Ca’ Rezonico was closed and Dennis just knew it would be one of his favorite places on earth. So we went on Tuesday morning, which threw off our – or my—planned itinerary. Karen had recommended we visit Torcello to climb the campanile, which had just reopened after several years’ restoration. As mentioned earlier, our first visit to Torcello in 1997 had been perfect.

On the way, we went to Burano and stayed for lunch. Afterwards we visited the main church, which reopened later than I had thought. By the time we reached Torcello, Dennis was irritated with me and agitated. He wouldn’t climb the campanile. He wouldn’t even go in the cathedral. Fuming, he sat and smoked. I decided we should return to the Zatterre right away. But we had just missed the boat. We waited….and waited ….and Dennis got more and more agitated.

His concern was we would be late for our gondola ride to dinner. This was to be our very first gondola ride. Dennis had never before wanted to pay the exorbitant fee. On a regular basis, we had taken traghetti (stand-up gondolas from point A to point B across the Grand Canal) but had never taken a sit-down view-ride up the Grand Canal.

Our train to Rome left at midnight, so our plan was to check out of the Artigianelli, leave our luggage by the front desk, and meet the group by the Gritti Palace vaporetto stop for the costumed ride to dinner.

We finally made our connections, returned to the monastery, and changed clothes with about fifteen minutes to spare to join the group. On the vaporetto we saw an American couple dressed in bumblebee costumes and asked them which location was the Gritti Palace stop. I should have asked where they were heading.

We got off. Nobody was there!!!

A lesson I’ve since learned is never to trust a web-site itinerary without first checking for any changes at the actual site. I had a printout of the scheduled event back when Dennis reserved it online. But details of the meeting place had changed without our knowledge.

We waited and waited. I checked with the doorman at the Gritti Palace Hotel. He knew nothing. (The event planners should have notified him!)

We fretted and walked around. After three quarters of an hour we both decided to try to find the restaurant near the fish market on the other side of the Rialto Bridge. We had already missed our paid gondola ride up the Grand Canal!

Eventually we found the restaurant and learned that they had waited about half an hour for us at the very next vaporetto stop by Harry’s Bar. We must have just missed seeing them going up the Grand Canal where we could have hailed them.

Dinner had already begun. People were in fine and colorful costumes. The bumblebee couple was sitting at the next table. Dennis seemed amazingly calm and carried on delightful conversations with everybody at our table. I was morose—and ended up getting quite drunk on wine.

After dinner we took the vaporetto back to the Accademia stop to go to the Artigianelli, change clothes, pick up our bags, and head to the stazione for our midnight train to Rome.

Although I had used the John at the restaurant, I badly needed to go again! But all the public restrooms were closed and padlocked. I couldn’t wait to make the Artigianelli, so in desperation I went to a calle near the Accademia Bridge to relieve myself. As drunk as I was— I was still ashamed— but couldn’t help myself.

At last we got on the train. It was filled with Italian soldiers, some of whom were coughing repeatedly. I didn’t sleep at all that night ---and ended up getting bronchitis after our return to San Francisco.

In Rome we checked into the Istituto Santa Giulianna Falconieri, the convent around the corner from Piazza Navona. We spent the entire day in the Piazza. Dennis smoked—and we both drank strong Italian coffee. Dennis struck up conversations with several painters. He bought one handsome painting of Venice by Alberto Tropeo (who later painted the marvelous commissioned portrait of India Pudding). I bought another view of Venice from him, also a painting of Piazza Navona itself.

In Venice, Dennis had bought his first painting of Venezia when I went to the train station to get a new transit card. I had lost my VeniceCard (good for transportation, some museums, and rest rooms) at a rest stop after we had reserved the rental car for the Sunday we visited the three Palladian villas. Dennis was quite amused at my predicament. You must purchase the all-inclusive VeniceCard out of the country, so I had to settle for a transit card alone. While I was gone, Dennis drank bottled Bellini cocktails in Piazza San Marco, and bought his painting of Venice from Picchio Santangelo (the same artist from whom he would later buy four paintings on our last day in Venice 28 February 2006). This painting had a wonderful sky, but the figures in the foreground were rather primitive.

When I returned with my new transit card, Dennis told me he had bought a painting, but that I couldn’t look at it until we got home – that this was a “Yes, Dear” moment.

Back in Rome, we headed to the Stazione Termini to take the train to the airport. We had plenty of time to make the flight. But what should have taken about an hour ended up being closer to three. We later heard that a young girl had been hit by a train! We just made the flight as the gate was closing. After 9/11 that wouldn’t have worked. (In October 2006 Dennis and I flew to Phoenix Arizona for Carl Noelke’s installation in the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. I had suggested taking BART to SFO. We were delayed three quarters of an hour near Daly City for construction and missed our plane even though we arrived 25 minutes before takeoff.)

On the flight from Rome, I struck up a conversation with a young American woman who was returning with her husband from their honeymoon in Italy. I related the story of our missed gondola ride. When the young woman got up to stretch her legs, Dennis turned to me very seriously and declared that he never wanted me to talk about that again – he never wanted to hear about it from any of our friends, especially Deb – that it was as painful to hear it retold, as it had been to experience it in the first place.

For several years I never did……..until Dennis was dying.

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Titian in the Frari (Venezia)