Sunday, February 28, 2010

We Are All Italian at Carnival

Each group arrived on Friday in the “City of Canals” on different yet, complex modes of transportation; we arrived on airplanes, buses and trains reminding us of man’s amazing ingenuity. Ann and Pearse arrived extremely late from Egypt via a mad dash across the Roma airport to catch the last plane to Venice. We all laugh when Pearse recounts to the delight of all “Mom actually ran for the first time in Europe, it was funny!” Mary, my sister and Kristen, a long time family friend, arrive haggard and a bit tired via Munich, Germany from America, a journey that started 18 hours ago on Thursday. Eamon, Seamus and I arrived on our second train of the day from Verona, home to Romeo and Juliet, after taking the bus and a train from Ortisei, Italy to Balzano.

As we chugged across Italy on the final train, Seamus asked innocently, “Dad when we will know when it’s Venice?” Eamon, smirk intact, looked at him like only a 15 year old could in between winks of sleep and the changing of the I-Pod selection and says “There will be a lot of WATER, you see any WATER yet?” Such is our life this fine morning that started at 5:00 AM with so much anticipation. I look at the train ticket and know we’re behind schedule and try as I might I am still struggling with adding the “42 minutes late” that the Verona to Venezia train was to the platform to what was the expected arrival time of 11:18AM. Let’s see 42 +1118 is….? Where is Ann when I need her? She would have chuckled at me when I was pacing the platform, nervously, in Verona and I asked every Italian guy with a green/blue brimmed cap and a cigarette in his mouth, 2 sure signs they worked for the railroad, “Train to Venezia????” Why did they insist on answering me in Italian, I didn’t ask them in Italian? I think to myself, “When I rule the world some day everyone in bus stations, train stations and airports will speak English!” You heard it here first.

The train makes the next to last stop in Maestro and I know the next stop is Venice. I alert Seamus who sharply elbows a sleeping Eamon and says “Dude, WATER.” Eamon deserved that so I let it pass. It is a mystical Harry Potter like feeling as the only thing between us and the city is a solo bridge with train tracks. It is surreal as the train slows and we can see commerce afloat on water craft of every shape and size below us. The train platform is packed with people and as we hop from the steps of the train with 1 suitcase that holds the clothes, change of underwear and tooth brushes for all 3 of us for the weekend (mom will be appalled). We laugh at the lady with 2 huge suitcases that barely fit through the door as she screams at her husband or boyfriend in a language we didn’t understand but we know it’s not Italian.

The exit from the train station in Venice is one of the most picturesque sights in the world. Most train stations empty you into some corner of a city or right into city center and then there is the mad dash to a loved one waiting in a car or one hustles to the metro, taxi stand or bus station. When you arrive in Venice, almost everyone that emerges from the train station stops, even the locals, and for the briefest of moments one’s heart fills with overwhelming admiration. Your mind races to absorb and process the image of the “Grand Canal” flowing by the plaza, not a car or bus in sight. It is the stuff of poetry, literature and movie alike and for that very moment you feel like the poet, the writer or the director all in unison. As I look at Eamon and Seamus I can see simple appreciation for “the water” and it is best summed up by both of them “How cool!”

It takes all day and all night to get Team Glavin fully assembled in Venice. Aunt Mary and Kristen wind up 1hr and 15 minutes late from Munich. We work through the challenges of the bus, getting tickets and negotiating the crowd for seats. The airport is flooded with people; can you say that in Venice where the airport is at Sea level? Eamon and Seamus maneuver as the bus driver opens the door and they stake our seats for all of us. Mary and Kristen marvel at their planning and execution as the bus pulls from the curb and our weary American travelers are grateful to have seats as the #5 airport bus is packed with folks from all over the world coming to Venice for its famous “Carnival.” Eamon looks at Kristen and says “We’re pretty good at getting seats after 8 months on trains, planes and buses.” She’s grateful to have such an experienced 15 year old on the trip. His bravado and travel experience is short lived as I send him to look for a water taxi once we land back at the transportation center to take us to the apartments we have rented. He returns to us a bit miffed and embarrassed and says “See that boat, he’s not a taxi?” Seamus says duh “Didn’t you see the Polizia sign painted in Big Blue letters on the side?” Eamon laughs and says “No wonder he looked at me funny and shook his head when I said ‘How much to take us to this address as I handed him the paper.’” We all roared with laughter and it was the beginning of “Carnival” for us. Eamon popped back to the other side of the dock, Seamus yelling to him, “No Polizia, no Guarda, no Securidad this time, okay.” Everyone laughs again when Eamon returns and declares “Success, I’ve located the ‘real’ water taxi.” We boarded the taxis and made our way through the canals of Venice as the portly captain negotiated the narrow waterways. I sat outside and looked inside the cabin of the boat from where the driver sat and it looked like 4 of those bobble head dolls in the back of a car window as everyone’s head was bouncing right and left up and down absorbing all that is so unique to Venice.

Ann and Pearse arrived in Venice so late that the clock turned to Saturday but nothing could dampen their spirits not even the “lost luggage” from Rome. Pearse was filled with stories of the great pyramids, the sphinx, grave robbers and instructions on how to make papyrus. He was so tired and talked so much I think he missed that our apartment required a boat to access! Ann called from the airport and then the bus station and I waited on the “bridge over the canal” by the apartment, like a navy man standing watch, hoping as each boat passed by the apartment that it would be the one to bring home our last 2 family members.

It is the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and we are greeted by amazing sunshine and the sounds of moored boats knocking against their docks as other boats make waves going by. The forest green shutters that keep the noise and sunlight dampened are opened and all that is Venice is 2 stories below us. It is a sensational feeling as I attempt to rouse the team to experience this magical Venetian morning, I am a bit puzzled when my exuberance is met with “That water and those canals will still be there in a couple hours won’t they?” It’s hard to argue that point as they have history on their side. Aunt Mary, an early riser, takes a walk with me and we buy some fresh baked goods and some “American cafĂ©.” How do you say “To go” in Italian? It is a brief walk but you can hear and see the city coming to life as the merchants slam and roll up the steel door barricades and slide stools and tables to the front of the stores and sidewalks, glasses are clinging as bars are loaded for the days festivities and sweeping commences from shop to shop. It’s like a pre-game ritual for their Super Bowl.

We leave the apartment and make our way, zig zagging from side to side and narrow street to narrow street over canals and beside canals. There isn’t a straight line to San Marco Square but who cares; today isn’t about speed it’s about enjoyment of the moment. Shop keepers have masks of all shapes and sizes in their windows inviting the curious to venture in and lose themselves in the greatest of the Carnival traditions, “The man or woman behind the mask.” You can be anyone you want to be, happy or sad, silly or serious and some masks allow you to be all of those things at once. There are people of all shapes and sizes walking the streets and promenading; they just want to have fun. There’s no prize at the end just the feeling of making oneself anonymous and if you’re lucky you make someone else happy as well. The costumes are magnificent and the kids and adults alike are on a full day’s walk just to “people watch.” There are Victorian costumes and one’s of Henry the VIII and Marie Antoinette, the court jester and the harlequin, there are the most elaborate ensembles and the simplest of masks. You can’t pass a canal bridge without seeing fully dressed adults as if they are waiting on the Universal Studios lot for the cast call to the movie Gone with the Wind or Amadeus. How many times can you say in a day “This is so cool?”

The 7 of us walked from right to left and forwards and at times backwards as we make the way to San Marco Square. With 3 kids you worry about crowds of 300,000+ people but with Saint Mark the Lion staring down from his lofty perch you felt immensely safe. There’s music playing as if Italian weddings are taking place all over the city. The walk along the Grand Canal is joyous and a mix between bumper cars and a stadium entrance for a USC vs. Notre Dame Football game, the face painting is included. A quick look down each canal and you can see the famous gondolier piloting his 11 meter boat around buildings with millimeters to spare. Seamus looks longingly and wonders when the magical phrase will be uttered “Let’s take a gondola ride.” Pearse is mumbling and I think he is praying that we don’t actually have to go to Church at St. Mark’s. Eamon and Kristen are having a staccato type conversation, rapid fire that is befitting their ages. As the hours pass we slowly accumulate masks and capes and hats for the team and before we know it we are outfitted for Carnival. I look at Mary and say “It’s a long way from Darby isn’t it?” Her simple nod of the head is affirmation enough.

The Plaza at St. Mark’s square is filled to capacity with revelers from around the world. You hear Italian, Spanish, German, English and French it is a cacophony that would make the United Nations proud. There’s amazing “floats” and a stage for performances. To be here at this moment is one of life’s amazing gifts as you look on what is sure to be centuries of tradition dating back as far back as the deMedicci’s, perhaps.

Seamus is itching for a gondola ride and as we approach a bridge with a guy working and selling the crowd he asks “Can we do it now?” I tell him “Go negotiate the best deal you can for 7 of us.” Eamon goes as his wing man and they run back with the deal of the century. I don’t know if it was good deal or a bad deal but the 2 of them were like cats that ate the canary (Sorry if any one is a PETA member). We climb into the rocking gondola and our gondolier leans up and tells Pearse “If I say Polizia you scrunch down, we only allowed 6 in gondola at a time.” Seamus looks at Eamon and says “Hope it’s not the Polizia water taxi you asked to take us to the apartment!” We all laugh hysterically as Ann shoots us a quizzical look. There are only so many memorable “transportation moments” in one’s life your first camel ride and your first gondola ride have to be at the top of the list and Pearse had them both in the same week! We glided from canal to canal like a black water snake as I watched one person or another in our boat lean right or left with the hope that they could aid the man with the huge oar and avoid destroying his century old boat. He ducked and maneuvered under bridges and whistled at cross points so no unsuspecting collisions took place. It was the simplest of transport but you couldn’t help but feel regal as folks from the bridges look pleased to see you glide by and waved to the kids who were smiling from ear to ear.

Monday came to fast and as the water taxi picked up all 7 of us with bags and rolling suitcases in hand we made our way to the train station. As I jumped up the last step and looked over my shoulder I could still feel the poet, the writer and the film maker in my heart as I took one last look at the Grand Canal during Carnival.

Carpe Diem.