Like fathers, like daughters: Friends re-create their dads’ long-ago trip to Venice.
Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Wendy Larimer (the author) of Williamsburg and Kristin Doney of New York City.
Where, when, why: For 20 or more years we have talked about going to Venice to trace the footsteps of our fathers, who made the same trip 40 years ago. A writer and an artist, respectively, they helped pay for their trip by writing about it for a newspaper, commissioning paintings and publishing a small book called “Return to Venice.” Our goal was to find the locations that were highlighted in their book as well as the scenes depicted in numerous paintings that line the walls of our homes. In April, we finally pooled our resources for a week-long trip to Venice and fulfilled our plan of seeing for ourselves what was so wonderful about this island that had kept our fathers reminiscing for many years and our mothers grumbling about being left behind.
Highlights and high points: A visit to Venice brings the expectation of seeing great art at every turn, but nothing prepared us for Scuola Grande di San Rocco. A somewhat unassuming building from the outside, we questioned whether it was worth the price of admission. Thinking that since we were there, we should just see it, we entered. The ground floor walls contained an impressive collection of Tintoretto paintings, including “The Assumption of the Virgin” and “The Adoration of the Magi,” but it was the upper hall that left us slack-jawed and sucking in our breath. There was not a bare square of wall or ceiling. Tintoretto’s works covered the ceilings and walls in between intricate gold carvings and a collection of wooden sculptures by Francesco Pianta that depicted the arts and professions. Standing completely surrounded by beautiful art was a highlight that left us both, surprisingly, speechless.
Cultural connection or disconnect: If you go to Venice you will get lost. Every traveler must get that warning, but until you experience Venice, you have no idea just how lost a person can get. Stopping into restaurants, shops and hotels to say to the staff “We are completely lost” became a daily occurrence. In every place, we would get a similar answer: “Go over two bridges, turn right and then just go straight.” Simple enough, but after you cross the first bridge, is the second one towards the right or left? Then after you make that right turn, is “straight” the jag to the left or right? Nothing in Venice is a straight line. A few days in, though, we learned landmarks, we learned that the signs do make some sense, and we were given a better map. We also learned that if you make a wrong turn, you can end up on picturesque street, adjacent to a blue-green canal with only the pigeons to keep you company.
Biggest laugh or cry: We went to the Venetian island of Burano to find the restaurant whose owner was worthy of nearly a chapter in our dads’ book. The colorful homes with etched glass doors, the neighborhood feel and the perfect blue sky almost made us forget our mission, but as we sat sipping coffee, I noticed right across the street was the famous Ristorante Galuppi. We walked through the door and were met by walls completely covered in paintings and by a nice Thai gentleman. My father had given me a snapshot of himself standing with the restaurant’s owner and Kristin’s dad. We showed it to the waiter and watched as his eyes grew big and a huge smile crossed his face. He was the brother-in-law of the owner and, through tears, told us the man had died two years ago. But he went on to share story after story about how wonderful the owner had been. As we sat feasting on fresh seafood and pitchers of wine, a woman approached us, and we quickly learned she was the wife of the owner. More tears and more stories followed, and we understood why our fathers had found this man so special. We left with hugs, promises of a return visit and bags of biscotti.
How unexpected: Despite our efforts to map the location of the hotel where our fathers stayed and favorite restaurants and squares, we ended up finding the sites through complete coincidence. I was standing waiting for Kristin on a busy street when I looked up and realized I was standing before the Hotel Minerva, our fathers’ home for three weeks. We went inside armed with our book and told the manager our story. He flipped through the book and showed us that one of the sketches was obviously from this hotel. He took us up to a room so we could see the view. The man was so excited about the book he tried to take it from us until we promised to send him one of his own. In return, he gave us a book by a local author, assuring us that if we returned with the receipt from when our fathers stayed at the hotel, he would let us stay there for the same price.
Fondest memento or memory: We saw Venice through not only our eyes but those of our fathers’. To have that experience was a memory we will never lose.
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Burano, near Venice. Wendy Larimer and Kristin Doney followed in their fathers’ footsteps here, connecting with the relative of a restaurant owner who had been a part of that first trip 40 years ago.
Larimer, left, and Doney made good on a lifelong goal and ventured to Venice to savor wine, Renaissance art and the (occasional) beauty of getting lost.