Times Colonist

Rick Steves:

the so­cial dance of Venice

- RICK STEVES Europe This ar­ti­cle was adapted from Rick’s new book, For the Love of Europe. Rick Steves (www.rick­steves. com) writes Euro­pean guide­books, hosts travel shows on pub­lic TV and ra­dio, and or­ga­nizes Euro­pean tours. You can email Rick at rick@ric Viral · Venice · England

As we’ve had to post­pone our trav­els be­cause of the pan­demic, I be­lieve a weekly dose of travel dream­ing can be good medicine. Here’s a re­minder of the fun that awaits us in Europe at the other end of this cri­sis.

While Ital­ian men are hope­lessly ma­cho, Ital­ian women are strong in re­sponse. It’s a so­cial dance that is fas­ci­nat­ing to ob­serve, as I did one evening in Venice. I was din­ing with my Vene­tian friend Piero.

An­tonella, the daugh­ter of Alessandro the bar­ber, waves to Piero and me as her dog drags her down the lane. We’re just fin­ish­ing up our meal at Bepi’s Trat­to­ria, but I in­vite her over. Pour­ing her a glass of Bepi’s licorice liqueur, I say, “Please, An­tonella, help me. We are talk­ing about Ital­ian liv­ing, but Piero is giv­ing me only the ma­cho side.”

“What is ma­cho? There are no ma­cho men in Venice,” she says, grab­bing a seat. An­tonella is a busi­ness­woman used to deal­ing with Ital­ian men. She’s small and tough, more savvy than sweet, with a thick head of long black hair. When she talks, her di­rect eyes and busy hands give an in­ten­sity to her words. “They are mama’s boys. We call this mam­mone.”

Piero, as if he’s heard the com­plaint a thou­sand times, cries, “Ahhh, mam­mone.” Pulling an imag­i­nary um­bil­i­cal cord from his belly and pet­ting it rather than cut­ting it, he says, “It is true. I can­not cut the cor­done ombe­l­i­cale. I love my mama. And she loves me even more.”

An­tonella sips her liqueur. “The Ital­ian boys, 95 per cent stay at home un­til they find a wife to be their new mother,” she says. “At 30, 35 years old they are still with their moth­ers. Even if they move out, they come home for the cook­ing and laun­dry. This is not ma­cho…this is ridicu­lous.

“And…” she con­tin­ues, light­ing a cig­a­rette, “they want a wife ex­actly like their mother. If they find a woman like me, in­de­pen­dent, with some money, per­haps beau­ti­ful, this is a prob­lem.”

Piero nods like a scolded puppy. “Yes, this is true.”

An­tonella says, “If I make my hair spe­cial and wear strong makeup, they will take me to din­ner and take me to bed. But they will not look at me to make a fam­ily.

“They want to be sure their wife won’t leave them. A woman like me…it is too risky.”

We pay and prom­ise Bepi we’ll be back soon. An­tonella un­ties her dog and, to­gether, the three of us walk through the quiet and ro­man­tic lanes of Venice.

I tell An­tonella: “I could not fin­ish a sen­tence with Piero. Al­ways look­ing at the girls.”

Piero raises his eye­brows and his hands as if to mount a de­fence and just sighs.

An­tonella says: “I was in Eng­land for two years. No boys looked at me. When I came home, in five min­utes I was be­ing stared at. I like this. It feels good to be home.”

“But why are the Ital­ian boys al­ways think­ing about the girls?”

An­tonella says: “In Venice, this is par­tic­u­larly true — es­pe­cially the tourist girls.”

Walk­ing over a mar­ble ve­neered bridge, we pass a gon­do­lier. He’s dash­ing in his straight-brimmed, red-sashed straw hat, ob­vi­ously well-built un­der his striped shirt and black pants.

As the gon­do­lier hollers a hope­ful hello to a cute pass­ing tourist, Piero says: “He hopes to be suc-sex-ful.” As we turn the cor­ner, Piero gig­gles. “The gon­do­liers, they get the girls.”

Bounc­ing hap­pily, wav­ing his hands melo­dra­mat­i­cally, he plays the gon­do­lier on the prowl, singing, “The moon. Me and you and the la­goon. Oh my, I feel ro­man­tic to­day. I don’t know why. My heart is go­ing bo­ing bo­ing. May I of­fer you a small spe­cial ride for free later on? Here, grab my oar.” Grab­bing An­tonella from be­hind around the waist as if she’s about to fall from a gon­dola, he says: “Be care­ful, you can fall.”

Push­ing Piero away, An­tonella says, “Gon­do­liers are the worst. Here, if a woman mar­ries a gon­do­lier and ex­pects him to be true, we say she has hams over her eyes.”

Piero, with sud­denly sad eyes, says: “This is true.”

An­tonella adds: “in Venice there are plenty of ways to find the ro­man­tic life.”

We walk to moon­lit St. Mark’s Square, where the orches­tra plays as if re­fus­ing to go home. The vast, nearly empty square has been claimed by two se­niors, waltz­ing like they did 50 years ago.

They twirl grace­fully round and round. The woman smiles with her eyes closed. An­tonella whis­pers: “In Venice, love is a three­some: you, the right part­ner, and our city.”

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 ?? DO­MINIC ARI­ZONA BONUCCELLI, RICK STEVES’ EUROPE ?? Gon­do­lier in Venice, Italy. “The gon­do­liers, they get the girls.”
DO­MINIC ARI­ZONA BONUCCELLI, RICK STEVES’ EUROPE Gon­do­lier in Venice, Italy. “The gon­do­liers, they get the girls.”

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