My story goes back to 2011, when Linda and I were finishing up a “Grand Tour” through Europe. We had been on the road for five weeks straight and now were ready to tackle Venice.
The problem is that Linda is “vertically challenged.” At 5’ 3”, she’s short enough that the handle on her wheeled carry-on nearly reaches her waist. After dragging it through Ireland, Switzerland, Amsterdam and Paris, she lugged it up and down all the hotel steps in Rome and Florence. Today, it was the train to Venice, then the water taxi, and the bridges arching over all those canals.
Me? I just wanted to get to the hotel, dump the luggage and get out to explore the city. She was taking Far. Too. Long.
Venice's bridges had no ramps back then, so Her Shortness had a struggle. In my rush to get us to our hotel, I searched for the fastest route: Just carry all my stuff over each bridge and then go back to help her.
Something finally snapped. I lost my patience and I told her, ”I will never travel with you again!”
Yes, I actually said it out loud. Suddenly, those beautiful brown eyes welled up and flowed down her cheeks as she began to apologize for causing me extra work. I just shoved my backpack at her and, without another word, carried both suitcases the rest of the way to the hotel MYSELF.
Then Venice happened.
Looking at it through the lens of my camera, I soon became captivated. Just as I had imagined, Venice was a magical town full of color, canals and romance.
Venice just did something to me. There is something about the canals, still waters reflecting ancient bridges and multi-hued buildings that gave me pause. I can't quite explain it. This unique city and its people, living their own lives on different islands but connected by bridges everywhere, put everything in a new perspective.
Linda was the same of course, but something had changed in me. The alluring charm of Venice seduced me.
All the misery and challenges I had endured to get to Venice were worth it as Venice revealed itself to me. Yet, something was different; something changed as we wandered the streets. I just can’t put a finger on it; maybe it was the all this water surrounding the Venetian people that brought a sense of shalom or peace into my soul. I began to tie them to their sinking city. They were struggling together to preserve what they love.
Markets have a habit of encouraging conversation for us, and my silent treatment was killing me. So, we headed off to window shop.
The first thing I noticed there was all the Venetian glass. It seemed as though every shop was loaded with it, in every shape, size and color of the rainbow.
Trying to deal with my attitude as we walked, Linda occasionally mentioned things that she'd read about Venetian glass. I learned that it was made here on Venice Island until 1291. At that point, the government forced the glassmakers to move to Murano Island. They wanted to avoid the risk of a fire destroying Venice because of all its wooden buildings.
The second thing I noticed was the weird looking, yet extremely colorful masks everywhere. Why would they have such unusual masks? That question made a good opening for making up with Linda, as she is so knowledgeable about the places we visit.
The masks are worn during Carnival but traditionally they were used from December 26 until the start of the Catholic lent season.
Masks that are traditionally used during Venetian Carnival can be divided in to two groups: Commedia dell' Arte masks and Carnival masks. The Commedia dell' Arte was a type of improvisational theatre that was popular form 16th to 18th century but is played even today.
Maybe they are on to something here: Masks represent the various roles that actors play during a performance.
Venice is where I found my new travel partner
So Venice had won. The masks of Venice became an analogy to me: We each wear different masks in our lives, depending on what role we are playing, and we see things a little differently depending on which mask we choose to wear.
I have masks for my roles as a husband, father, grandfather, son and friend. Now I have a new mask to wear: that of a travel partner.
My new mask has helped me to see that everyone travels differently and has different challenges. The struggles we face when traveling as a couple are no different than any other problem in life. The difference is that without all the daily distractions, traveling seems to magnify those struggles more vividly.
Love is in the … gondola
Somewhere over a canal or on a lonely stretch of narrow cobblestone street, hidden deep within the city of Venice, I came to my senses. I didn’t lose my wife in Venice, I gained a travel partner. I gained a new understanding: Just as those Venetian masks, we play different roles as a couple as we walk through life hand-in-hand.
Maybe it was the unusual features in Venice, from those scrollwork lamps to the spiked buildings. It could have been the whimsical signs in various shapes that mark a business by an icon rather than words, or maybe the cafes along the canal, or perhaps the romance of the Grand Canal at twilight.
I don't know, but something drew us even closer.
I finally figured out just exactly what we needed: a gondola ride through the love-infused city of Venice. Seeing Venice from a gondola changes everything: It is not about the sights, but the experience.
Venice is not a city you go to see, snap a few pictures and call it a day. Venice brings much more to the table.
The lesson of Venice
Venice took me to school and taught me a very important lesson: Life is a series of different roles, and we wear masks as we play them. Travel forces you to wear all those masks, so be prepared to pack each one of them.
When the trip began, I had packed the mask of a husband and the mask of a best friend. But Venice made me realize that I also needed a travel partner's mask as well. And that is totally different from any other.
Playing my role as travel partner
Thankfully, Venice had a travel partner mask readily available and I graciously accepted the offering.
Now more fully equipped as I look through the mask of a travel partner myself, I can grab life by the leg and jump for joy with my new-found travel partner.
Thank you, Venice, for bringing out the best in those who are willing to receive what you have to offer.
The Bible says “all things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” and this scripture was proven true here in Venice. What started out as a disastrous attempt to see Venice turned into a romantic experience of Venice.
My new travel partner mask, Venice I thank you.