It was mid-morning of December 30th when J and I emerged from the train in Venice. Watching the sun rise over the waters and feeling the not all together unpleasant breeze, we knew we had made the best decision possible. The day before we had been in Vienna—it was beautiful, but, as anyone can tell you, there are few places colder than Vienna in December, and we were in need of some rejuvenation. It didn’t hurt that we also needed a night train. Light on cash and unable to return to our friend’s apartment while her boyfriend “visited,” it was an adventure too timely to reject.
As Venice woke up around us, we wandered over to the Grand Canal partaking in only the finest of breakfasts: fresh baked rolls and … Pepsi. What can I say; it’s ubiquitous and easy to obtain no matter what language you are working in (and my Italian is so poor that I asked the train porter if he spoke English in what turned out to be junior high school Spanish without noticing the slip until he rolled his eyes). While probably only in the mid-50’s, the rising sun gave off a welcome heat, as we took in the new city. We museum hopped much in the same way we had pub crawled not two weeks earlier—slowly, with reverence and with just a taste at each location (though I will admit to trying to absorb The Madonna and The Tempest into my brain so the memory would be vivid enough to revisit years later).
Late afternoon and the water began its siren call. We gleefully brought pizza to the dock and watched the flow from the Adriatic lap against the planks. I was at peace; something that seemed antithetical to the vagabond life I was experiencing, but there it was. Perhaps the openness of my countenance is what attracted him first, or maybe I radiated a kind of innocence that some men find appealing. It certainly wasn’t my stylish attire—I was dressed for travel and warmth, not seduction. Still, when he approached with his friend, my confusion was tempered with amusement, and I found myself flattered.
He was an artist. His friend was a professor (though he didn’t teach). I’d estimated he was in his early 50s. Dapper in the way of very successful Italian men, his gallery tales told in halting English were charming. Apparently, he was moved by me; so much so that he grabbed the empty pizza box from between us, in order to begin his creation immediately. My visage had inspired him to take pen to pizza box and craft a portrait of a traveler. Much to my increasing amusement, he used J’s head as a table. I’m not certain she found it as entertaining. Then again, she was used to being the center of male attention more than I (she was willowy with flame red hair—quite striking even in travel gear). Perhaps he sensed this as he kept telling her not be jealous of his attentions as he continued to draw. He kept telling me to sit up.
I’ll have to say, as encounters go, it was unique. He used the two grease spots to form my eyes, so I was beginning to look a bit cross-eyed in the portrait, but I could tell he was moving swiftly to flesh out the version of me he wanted the world to see. It was a natural evolution for him to invite us back to the gallery. It only momentarily startled his friend, but I’m sure the professor was used to having the artist offer to bring women back to his gallery to see his work. Other than his interest in me, there really hadn’t been anything untoward, and yet I began to second guess the plan.
He asked if I was Italian, and if I had family or friends in the area. It could have been idle curiosity, but I started to get the feeling that he was checking to see if anyone would miss us if we didn’t make our train. He looked deep into my eyes and told me that he was taken with me. He told me he was Italian and didn’t need me because he could have any woman he wanted, but that he was honoring me, and I shouldn’t be frightened. I looked into his eyes—a bit dazed by it all as he began to speak the words every woman longs to hear: “You aren’t beautiful. You have no figure. You are nothing, and no one has made you more famous than I have just made you.”
Much to his dismay, and growing irritation, I cut off the discussion of what wine (and other things) he would introduce me to with a quickly invented train schedule conflict (and a silent vow to avoid that particular canal area if I was to ever return). Our departure was… swift.
And that’s what happens when I meet a man on vacation.