‘strangers’ (un)known

By: Brad

A city devoid of a single car, its inhabitants choose only to walk everywhere, unless one chooses to ride the beautifully ornate custom gondolas, each decorated individually by their own gondoliers—though each has the same distinctly carved ferro di prua that signifies the 5 districts separated by the Grand Canal. Ah… Venice.

Perhaps one of the greatest sights in Venice is the Doges Palace (a Doge being the political leader of Venice prior to Italy’s unification in the mid 19th century). The palace was absolutely glorious with every room adorned with marvelous paintings and sculpted marble covering the walls and ceilings. One room was as large as a high school gymnasium—completely covered in extravagant paintings that remind me of great portraits I would see at the Metropolitan Museum or the Smithsonian.

We move forward through the opulent palace, marveling at the archaic dungeons that resided in the very same place—we enter back into the street through the back of the palatial home of the Great Doges. Appearing upon the famous St. Mark’s Square, we quickly took a right entering St. Mark’s Basilica. I must admit I was, as usual, impressed by the architecture and décor—we have spent nearly a week in Italy by this point and have visited nearly a dozen cathedrals already… and yet, each time I am renewed by the sheer majestic quality in every inch of these truly immense buildings. But at that moment I was actually much more enthused by the conversations I have been engaged in with the Jennings family.

The mother/wife is an avid runner with over ten marathons and one ultra-marathon under her belt, with eyes toward completing an Ironman triathlon one day. The father/husband was very intriguing to talk with about complicated social topics. On this day we had spoken many times about race, politics, education, leadership, and parenthood. They have two amazing boys, the eldest (16 years old) showing admirable respect and maturity beyond his age.

Race and politics. Two topics that are often referred to as subjects that should not be broached by strangers. And yet, here we are—strangers in a strange land who do not share the same racial identities—discussing shunned topics. The Jennings seemed to be wonderful and caring parents, and judging by their eldest son’s character this statement could only be proven more true. I was shocked when asked by the father while exiting St. Mark’s Basilica into the square by the same name, “Would you do me a favor, and please speak to my son?” I was taken aback by the request. He continued, “he is a good boy with a great heart, but he is at that age where wisdom is often ignored when given by his father.”

“He seems to be learning quite well from you. He is a young man with great character and maturity,” I assured him.

“Thank you, that means a lot to hear. But I would really appreciate it though. From our conversations, I feel like he could really learn from you… about honor, leadership, and being open…” I assured him that I would speak to his son sometime during the trip.

Shortly after, the tour guide gave us a few hours to explore the gorgeous city of Venice. I can say this about Venice; first, there is no greater place in the world to get lost in. Truly a wondrous maze to traverse and behold its beauty! The ‘streets’ are no more than narrow alleyways that fork and turn randomly without enough view to find where you are headed—other than two signs posted on nearly every corner; one that points to the direction of the Grand Canal, and the other pointing to St. Mark’s Square. It was within this labyrinth of stone buildings and narrow streets that I happened upon one of my life’s goals—simple as it sounds, I have always wanted to sit in an outdoor café in a small square, sipping espresso while people watching.

The people of Venice exist somewhere between gorgeous and beautiful. As fashionable as one would expect, the men are always well kempt and dressed comfortably elegant with a touch of sexiness. Such words can be similarly spoken of the women—elegant with a hint of sexiness. The fashion of Italy holds a semblance of seduction behind a veneer of sophistication that draws admiration of the spectator.

I could speak at length on the style of Italian men and women with great veneration, but it is not my favorite memory of Venice. That is saved for the joyous moment that ran down upon me as I sat in a small ‘ristorante’ in an unmarked square no larger than your neighbor’s backyard. While feasting gracefully on the best pizza I’ve ever had (another story for a different time), faint chuckles poured into my ears as I raised my eyes to look beyond my wife’s shoulder.

Tumbling down the cobblestones with a smile as large as could be, a young Asian boy—dressed in a Superman costume from head to toe—chased behind his mother. She called back to him in a language not common to myself nor to where we were, and his impossibly large smile grew even more as he caught up to hold her hand. And it was in that beautiful moment where all things collide into the clearest thought where words are not necessary. My wife and I from one side of the world, a mother and son from the other, all meeting under the same pretenses of visiting a land foreign to us all. The mother looks up at me as I smile and laugh looking at her son… she giggles back at me and nods. We both understand each other.

 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”                                   ~Mark Twain

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