The Miracle of Venice

CameraBag_Photo_1002I have always loved reading and watching mystery stories. I had read Donna Leon’s entire Commissario Brunetti series and its magical Venetian setting prompted me to suggest to Jamie that we visit Venice on the way back to LA from Forte dei Marmi one August.

“Not Lake Como?” he asked.

“No, Venice.”

“London?”

“No, Venice.”

“Lake Garda?”

“Is there something you’re not telling me?” I asked.

“Danny says that the canals smell.”

“Not anymore. Besides, at low tide, pretty much every place near water smells.”

“The mosquitoes might be bad, too.”

“So I’ll buy repellant. They’re deadly at your mother’s house in East Hampton, too, but we go there. Why don’t you want to go to Venice?”

He signed. “It’s not that I don’t want to go, exactly.”

“What is it exactly?”

“I want to go to Lake Como.”

“Next year. You chose Florence last year. And Siena the year before that. “

“You liked both of them.”

“Yes, I did, but it’s my turn. This year it’s Venice. It is supposed to be beautiful and besides, we can go to Murano and buy a chandelier for the dining room.”

Eventually Jamie warmed to the idea, especially after he learned that he could use some of his zillion Hilton points to stay for free. The thought of finally covering the hole in the dining room ceiling where the wires hung out appealed to him, too. (To his chagrin, it had been that way for seventeen years because I refused to buy anything other than something magical and we had not yet seen anything that met my indistinct, yet immovable, specifications.)

In late July, I was watching my friend Charlotte paint a rug on our kitchen floor when my phone pinged with an email confirmation from the Hilton Molino Stucky. Following the links I learned that it was a beautiful building, a disused pasta factory on the island of Giudecca rehabbed into a luxury hotel. It looked terrific, with Venetian glass decorations, a rooftop pool, and quarter-hourly boat service across the lagoon to Venice. After viewing the site I called Jamie at work.

“Hey, did you look at this hotel’s website?”

“What hotel?”

“The Hilton in Venice.”

“No, I just called Hilton Points and they booked it. Why? Is it awful? If it’s awful I’ll cancel and call American Express and tell them to move us to the Danieli”

“Ooooh, the Danieli. Dickens stayed there.”

“Would you rather be there?” He sounded hopeful.

“Now I can’t decide. I want to go to the Danieli but this Hilton is a redone industrial space and it looks really cool. Plus it’s not in Venice, exactly; it’s on the island of Giudecca, an old shipyard town across the lagoon. There are other small factories, too; Fortuny’s workshop is there – right next to the hotel. And Cipriani is at the other end of the island. “

“I don’t know. Maybe I should call AmEx.”

“No, we can stay at the Danieli another time. This place looks like a good choice.”

He said nothing. That meant vacillation.

“Jame, do you remember the first time we went to New Orleans?”

“Of course. Why?”

“Remember I chose the little back street hotel that used to be someone’s home and it was jewel-box perfect? So perfect that Food & Wine was there photographing it? And we returned to stay there six times.”

“What’s your point?”

“That we should follow my antennae. This place is cool. It’s interesting. It’s unique. If it’s not, you get to say ‘I told you so’ all the way back to LAX.”

“That’s not much; we sleep most of the way back. I get to say ‘I told you so’ for longer than that.”

“Okay, until your birthday in September. Deal?”

“Deal.”

The day finally came. After taking a car service from Tuscany to the Piazzale Roma, we found a water taxi. The pilot stowed our luggage as we made our way into, then out of, the cabin, preferring to stand in the sunshine at the front of the boat as it sped across the water toward Venice. I love Italy; I think it’s the most beautiful country I have ever seen, but the natural beauty surrounding us dazzled even me. The distant city glistened in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun while the water sparkled like sapphires as we glided through it, spray dampening and curling my hair.

The hotel was everything I had hoped for and more. Hilton had upgraded us to a suite with a dining area, two bathrooms, a king-sized bed, and stunning views. Closing the heavy wooden door after the bellman, Jamie wandered around the dining area and into the lounge. Flopping on the sofa, he gestured at the chandelier hanging above the dining room table. “That’s pretty,” he said. “I wonder what kind it is.”

I kicked off my sandals, pulled out a dining chair, and climbed atop it to examine the fixture closely. It was thick translucent glass with serpentines of gold swirling diagonally across it. Within the gold curlicues were alternating designs of heart and teardrop shaped figures accompanied by an almost thistly pattern, then surrounded with still more swirls. It hung from silken cords and was held in place by hand-tied knots accompanied by amber glass beads. From the center hung a large, amethyst, glass bead with a silken tassel waterfalling from it.   It was elegant, sophisticated, ascetic, and romantic simultaneously. I turned it slightly and read the word close to the top.   “It’s Mariano Fortuny!” I exclaimed, surprised. I knew he had been a fabric designer who also had created theatre sets, but had no idea that lighting was also among his talents.

“What do you think about something like that for the dining room?” Jamie asked.

“You mean instead of a Murano glass one? But I already made the appointment at Gritti for the day after tomorrow.”

“Yeah. We can still go to Murano and look if you want, but I think this may be the one. Besides, didn’t you say Fortuny is next door?”

I nodded and climbed down.

Jamie looked out the window at the darkening sky and glanced at his watch. “Let’s unpack and go eat,” he said.

“Italians don’t dine this early,” I reminded him.

“No, but their lunches stretch on forever. Come on.”

By the time we had put away all of our clothes and showered, the sky was a dark, inky, blue. Jamie was watching the BBC World News as I entered the living room in a red linen dress. “Do you want to eat in the hotel?” I asked.

He pressed the Off button of the remote control and shook his head. “No, not really. Let’s go look at this island. It’s what we came here for.”

The lobby was awash with clear, white, light spilling from sparkling Murano glass fixtures. We exited the hotel through the big front doors, then walked down to the boat pier and hung over the railing. Venice glittered in the distance. Jamie walked along the pier to the left. “This is the end of the island,” he called.

I nodded and pointed behind me. “Everything is that way.”

He retraced his steps. “What’s everything?”

“I don’t really know. I just know that that – “ I pointed at a dark building – “is Fortuny and down at the other end – “ I gestured “- is Cipriani.”

“What’s that?” Jamie pointed to what looked like a white tent at the edge of the lagoon wall. It was hung with glimmering light and appeared filled with people.

I shook my head. “I donno. Let’s go see.”

We crossed over the small canal on a sloping bridge and began walking along the paved path atop the sea wall. Delicious aromas of perfectly cooked food wafted through the air, enticing us before we were anywhere near the tent. I pointed to a discreet sign. “Cipriani Dolce,” I said. “It must be a satellite of the hotel.”

“It smells great,” Jamie said tugging at my hand to walk faster.

“But Dolce means sweet. You don’t suppose it’s just desserts, do you?”

Jamie sniffed. “Doesn’t smell like it.”

Within minutes we had reached the tent. The maitre d’ greeted us enthusiastically and seated us at a tiny table covered with a white linen cloth and gleaming flatware.

“Do you want a Bellini?” Jamie asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I have never had one. What is it?”

“Prosecco and white peach puree,” Jamie answered.

“Oh, yeah; that sounds perfect.”

We ordered drinks, and Cipriani’s famous tagliolini with ham in a rich Béchamel sauce. We sat there for over two hours, talking, laughing, kissing, and planning our days in Venice while we drank one Bellini after another.  Finally, Jamie paid the bill and we began our tipsy stroll back to the Hilton. I wobbled on my spike heels and, leaning on Jamie’s shoulder, removed them, allowing them to dangle from my right hand. Giudecca was all but silent. The indigo sky was awash with stars and a gentle sea breeze sighed and surrounded us as we walked.

We paused in front of the dark Fortuny building to read a sign posted on its door stating that while it was closed for the summer, products were available at all Venetia Studium.   “Let’s go to the shop tomorrow and buy a chandelier,” Jamie said as we began the climb up the little humpbacked bridge just before the hotel forecourt. I nodded.

Jamie stopped at the highest point of the bridge. Looking around at the endless sky, water, and distant glowing city, he squeezed my hand. “Good choice, he said. “Lake Como can wait until next year.”

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