Bumbling our way through the labyrinthine side streets and crossing arched bridges and canals clogged with tourist-filled gondolas, I reiterated my belief that it is better to travel light, especially in Venice. We eventually found our bed and breakfast and were lucky that the Carnevale hadn’t officially started yet. Getting lost in the middle of the festivities with all our luggage and then having masked people throw confetti at us may have induced a nervous breakdown. I kept having to pinch myself to verify this was really happening. Being there during the Venetian version of Mardi Gras just made the experience more surreal.
Carnevale is a 10-day celebration that involves merry-makers dressed up like aristocratic Europeans from the 17th century. The feminine masks usually boast frills, feathers and sequins, while the masculine masks have sharper Batman-esque edges or Phantom of the Opera simplicity. The man who checked us into our room told us it wasn’t the tourist season, but it seemed like everyone was flocking to Venice in their elaborate costumes. I can’t imagine how crowded it must get during the tourist season.
I bought a mask that had been ambushed by orange glitter, and when I wore my orange shawl and a long orange wig, I looked like some mutant citrus fruit that had fallen off a tree in Florida.
At the Peggy Guggenheim museum I felt moved to tears at the surreal, captivating moment when I came across Marc Chagall’s painting, “Rain.” At this exact time last year, I was reading Peggy Guggenheim’s autobiography, Confessions of an Art Addict, and living in a room papered with Marc Chagall pictures that had been recycled from an old calendar. I’m in a better place now than I was one year ago, back when I was just dreaming about how nice it would be to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice but not imagining I would actually be going anytime soon. What starts out as a tiny idea can evolve into reality in a very short amount of time.
Because of my spiritual bond with Peggy Guggenheim, visiting her old house-turned-museum has been the highlight of my trip to Italy. I was thrilled to see paintings by one of my favorite artists, Leonora Carrington, hanging right next to some paintings by her lover, Max Ernst. I know I am probably romanticizing their romance, but I could feel the passion radiating from their work, and I can only imagine how passionate their relationship must have been.
On Monday, a friend who lives in Padua took the train in. With her Italian roommate, who knows Venice well, we combed the side streets, stomping all over Venice until I felt we’d been just about everywhere. Dining in Venice restaurants is very expensive, especially during the Carnevale, so my friends brought homemade food and we had a picnic on a park bench. My friend made a rice and chicken dish and her roommate made an Italian dessert, frittelle, basically Venetian donuts. I bought us all Tiramisu so I could contribute something to our picnic.
As our day together reached a grand finale, we decided to take the train to Padua for dinner. Train tickets only cost 4 Euros and the invitation to eat cheap delicious street food and receive a tour of a historic college town was too enticing to pass up. I twisted Kelley’s arm and convinced her to join us. We ate panzerottis, which are like miniature calzones, followed by gelato at a heavenly chocolate store known as Venchi.
I am indulging my appetite for Italian cuisine and culture and everything that is vaguely in my price range. I don’t want to miss out on anything. We even rode in a gondola and our gondolier sang in Italian as he paddled and steered our romantic vessel through the canals. This private concert cost us a pretty penny and I know he sings just to entice the tourists, but it was still fun.
Now the Venice portion of my adventure is over and I no longer feel like I’m living in the movie, Interview with the Vampire.