“Well, we did it,” said Michael
“And I have no doubt we’ll do it again,” replied Judy, whose radiance was a left-over from the wedding day (and night).
“I was talking about getting married, Jude.”
They were at Gatwick airport, awaiting their flight to Venice. Michael, who was an expert worrier where flights were concerned, had decreed an early start which is why they now found themselves with four hours to kill. A game of I-Spy had taken up the first thirty minutes quite comfortably. Michael unzipped his small rucksack and fumbled around.
“For God’s sake, Mike, will you stop checking the boarding passes every few minutes? Where do you think they are going to vanish to?”
“Call it excitement, Jude.”
“Is that what it is?”
“Ah, the multi-lingual Michael Hamilton speaks. Is your Italian coming along nicely?”
“I hope that isn’t the full extent of your Italian linguistic skills.”
“You’re funny. Have you actually learned anything useful or will I have to take over?”
“Of course I have. Scusi, dov'è il bagno? Capisco?”
“Yes, you’re asking where the toilet is.”
“You have to agree, it’s useful!”
“With your bladder, it’s bound to be.”
One airport is pretty much like another, the layouts conform to a blueprint thought up by someone with too much time on their hands, Functional, yes. Soulless, yes. Satan himself has probably had Hell re-designed with the information gained from observing airport layouts. Time crawled slowly. Another game of I-Spy, another bout of people watching. Michael checked the boarding passes a further three times while Judy rolled her eyes in his general direction. Not literally, that would be hideous.
The best man/woman Fay was keeping an eye on their flat while they were away. The decision had been taken to live in Judy’s Manchuria Road flat and sell Michael’s in Canford Road and save that money for a rainy day which our climate thoughtfully provided often. They had discussed starting a family. Well, half-discussed it. Well, Judy had brought it up and Michael had listened. No decision had been taken.
When the call came for their flight, they were both asleep, but fortunately a fellow traveller (David Hamilton-no relation) nudged them forcefully which had the desired effect. Hands linked, they marched off. Venice next stop, oh my.
Neither were seasoned fliers. Each pretended to the other they were not nervous. Each had sweaty palms. Each had limited leg-room which Michael decreed would play havoc with his dodgy knees. Each rejected the offers of teas, coffees, newspapers, cigarettes, jewellery, confectionery, pastries. Each assured the other they were absolutely loving the flight. Each turned chalky white at the merest hint of turbulence. Each said, ‘don’t worry’ at the same time.
“Look,” said Michael excitedly, “Venice.” He was right; he often was about these things. The course he once took on recognising famous cities from the air proving useful at last.
Judy considered her response. It was simple when it came, “Wow.”
Eternal Venice, sinking by degrees into the water that she lights, briefly illuminated in all her glory by the late afternoon sun which had chosen an opportune moment to peep out from behind the clouds. Not only would their first sight of Venice never leave them, but the city itself would never leave them, wherever they went in life, whatever they did they would feel its shimmering presence. The flattering yet suspect beauty haunted all those who came here.
Passport control negotiated. Baggage carousel negotiated. A ten minute walk and they found themselves boarding the alilaguna bound for the beckoning city.
“So, this so-called ear thing of yours stops you riding a horse, a bike and a water-bus?”
“So it seems,” replied a distinctly green-faced Michael. “Be fair though, Jude, it is a bit rough.”
“Yes I agree, but you are still a big girls-blouse about the whole thing. Just calm down and enjoy the ride, which funnily enough is what you said to me at your place after our third date.”
Michael calmed down, but did not enjoy the ride.
“Perhaps you should ask for the bagno,” laughed a largely unsympathetic Judy.
Approximately thirty-seven heads were turned towards the starboard windows as the water-bus edged closer to the city. There was a thirty-eighth head, but that was situated between Michael’s dodgy knees. (To clarify, it was Michael’s own head).
“Nearly there,” said Judy, addressing the back of Michael’s head. “Arsenale next stop.”
Fabio Ballotelli, the apartment owner was there on the quayside to greet them. He was tall and Italian looking as befits an Italian. He was holding up a sign saying, ‘Hamiltons’ on it in such a way as to make one believe he had no interest in greeting anyone. Nevertheless, charm oozed out of him. Chipping Norton would hold no fears for him. The apartment off Via Garibaldi was only a few minutes’ walk away, situated in a small campo. Small, but striking.
The first night of their honeymoon passed off without incident, any kind of incident. Judy blamed Michael’s insistence on getting up early. Michael, as usual, blamed his dodgy knees. Fortunately, in the morning his knees were very much up to it and Judy was refreshed and suitably eager. They made love to the pitter-patter of rain drops splashing onto the campo. They didn’t notice, nor did they care.
They by-passed breakfast and wandered off to play at being tourists. Michael had thoughtfully provided a detailed itinerary of where to go when, at what time and which day. His timings allowed for the odd excursion not covered by his programme of events. The whole itinerary covered ten pages of foolscap with several sections highlighted in different colours. Yellow for churches, pink for museums, green for galleries, blue for scenic viewpoints. It would be no surprise if he had called it the Rainbow Itinerary, which he hadn’t. Judy, in the spirit of spontaneity, had consigned Michael’s timetable to the bin before she did the final pack the previous morning. She left him to rummage in the baggage for fifteen minutes before she illuminated him and caused his crest to fall.
“We’re in this together, Mike, so we do it together. But you can decide where we go first.”
“Why, thank you,” said Michael, his crest now rising a little. “Right, let’s go and look at the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo .”
“A fifteenth century palace with an external spiral staircase. I showed you a photo, remember?”
Judy didn’t. They strolled through St Mark’s Square, their stroll marked by swivelling heads as they attempted to take in everything. Only a few yards away now, said Michael. As indeed they still were ten minutes later and then twenty minutes later. Forty minutes later Michael assured Judy they must be almost on top of it.
“For God’ sake, Mike, ask somebody. And not for the bloody bagno either!”
“I read somewhere that getting lost in Venice is one of the great pleasures of the world.”
Michael looked at Judy’s face and instantly realised that this was not a pleasure, great or otherwise for his new wife. It was not the first time he had said something stupid to Judy, but it was the first time he had done so in such beautiful surroundings.
And suddenly, as if by magic there is was, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, looking as magical as its sudden appearance.
Judy considered her response to this sight. When it came, it was simple, “Wow.”
There were to be a lot of ‘wows’ that week for reasons not just pertaining to architecture and history.
They were overwhelmed by the buildings. They were underwhelmed by the food. They were overwhelmed by the history. They were underwhelmed by the smell. They were overwhelmed by the art. They were underwhelmed by the cost of everything. They gave the language their best shot; spoke Italian with all the right flourish and flamboyance they could muster. Pronounced words with an accent so truly authentic that even their own parents would have been convinced they were Veneta born. To no avail. They were answered in English each and every time. They were perceived as being English everywhere they went apart from one occasion where Michael was asked in hesitant Italian, “Scusi,..er….dov'è…um..il bagno?” He didn’t know.
They idly wondered how Venetian artists like Titian or Tintoretto, whose works were everywhere, ever had time to attend to the mundane aspects of life. Coming for a pint Tint? Sorry, got this painting to finish for the Doge, still got another two hundred people to put in it. How about you, Tiziano? No. you’re all right mate, I’ve got to knock off another Assumption.
The weather reserved its splendour for their final day. The skies stayed blue, the sun shone and when evening came the city was bathed in an orange glow, like a golden benediction. It was a scene so startling, so beautiful that Ascension painters could only have dreamed of it. Michael and Judy shared a bottle of Prosecco as the sun dipped over the city. As beautiful moments go it could hardly be bettered. And it would go with them, stay with them as would Venice.