“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming things you once thought you couldn’t.” This is a quote on the Fly Home web site. Tim Griffin, the pilot who offers a fear of flying program, was certain I could overcome my trepidation about flying so I could journey to Italy for a long awaited anniversary celebration with my husband. It’s not that I hadn’t flown many times over the years, even to far flung countries as India and Japan. However, in recent years, I boarded planes with white knuckles, panic, as well as determination. It stemmed from many reasons, but mostly from not being in control because of leftover PTSD from childhood. Tim says that fear of flying is a closet fear, as shame accompanies this fear. He’s right and also right about overcoming this fear. His program was educational and practical and was delivered with warmth and understanding. It is said that it takes a community to raise a child and it also takes a community to help others overcome difficulties. I’d like to believe that within myself there is enough faith and strength to get me through anything, especially at this age of wisdom. I believe there is, but it is also connected to the love and support of others. I’m not a practicing Catholic, nor am I religious, but my soul is full and I have moments of feeling the presence of the Creator. I live uttering prayers and meditations daily for my friends and family and for myself and the world. I am a spiritual person and reluctant to write about it, for words cannot adequately describe the dance of divine light that I do each day. The rigid fundamentalist would deem me a “cop out,” if I say that I am spiritual, but not religious. So be it. I boarded the plane to Italy feeling the wings of angels and friends.
Venice is alluring, mystical, and romantic in books and film and I wondered if I could withstand such emotion in real time. Marlena De Blasi writes in her memoir, A Thousand Days in Venice, “I don’t know where to put my eyes. The Venice of myth is real, rolled out before me.” My husband and I arrived in Venice and walked into San Marco Square with church bells ringing and flags flying. It was April 25th and Festa di San Marco and Liberation Day. I, too, didn’t know where to put my eyes and felt as if I was floating eerily in a fairy tale as we wandered amongst the tourists and Venetians in the piazza. There was vibrancy of red splashed here and there as we walked that was in stark contrast to the magnificence of the gray facades of Gothic and classic architecture. People carried red roses for love, for romance, and I felt romanced by Venice herself, her history, and even her haughtiness. In the center of the square is San Marco Clock Tower with all of its bells, ringing with meaning for Venice and for me.
A custom on this day was for men to give their loved ones a red rose bud. There is an age old love story that has lasted in Venice (of course). A story about a commoner who fell for a noble born lady and went away to war to prove himself. He was fatally wounded, but had a red rose bud delivered to the lady. We left the square and walked onto a narrow lane to gather our senses. I watched a nun pressing a large bouquet of roses to her heart as she scurried down a narrow lane, her serious black nun shoes echoing love. The picturesque lanes, sometimes with laundry hanging between buildings, would always beckon us, as if Venice was inviting us on a private walk. But really, we knew we weren’t that important to her as much as she was to us. The lanes were mostly empty and would give us pause to grasp a modicum of meaning from the layers of stories in stone.
Florian’s Café in St. Mark’s Square did not disappoint and I felt like Katherine Hepburn in the movie, Summertime, that was set in Venice, for although she found romance with an Italian, it was really Venice that had romanced her. We listened to an orchestra, drank prosecco, and then danced the rumba in the piazza. We left Florian’s Café and walked to where we were gently helped into a gondola with a few others. No, this was not touristy. This was like the movies and Venice had asked us to come into her ethereal, watery world. How elegant and beautiful when an opera singer suddenly stood up in the gondola and sang her heart out to us. Oh, Venice, you have won my heart.
Phantoms of history’s cruelty linger all over the earth and certainly if I stayed longer in Venice, I would have to learn to step aside when they passed by. But on this day, Venice was aglow with love’s liberation and I just happened to be there. We just happened to be there. Marlene De Blasi also writes in A Thousand Days in Venice, “I wait for a moment, listening for the clanging of la Marangona, the most ancient of San Marco’s bells, the one whose solemn basso has signaled the beginning and the end of the Venetian artisan’s workday for fifteen centuries. Once it warned of enemy approach, saluted a visiting king, and announced the death of a doge. Some say it rings by its own will, that if one arrives in Venice to its great noble clanging, it is proof of one’s Venetian soul, proof the old bell remembers one from some other time.” I’m very pleased that we have Venetian souls.