Beach season kicked off May 24 on the Lido, but I unfortunately did not get the chance to enjoy the beach until this week. Once again, I have a share in a summer cabana (capanna ) at a private beach, and I've made a promise to myself I WILL use it more than I did last summer!
I'll never forget the first time I tried to find the beach where my capanna is located at last summer. I had to take the vaporetto over to Lido, then hop on a bus going towards Chioggia. My beach isn't too far down from the main street (Granviale S. Maria Elisabetta), but a bit too far for a walk on a hot day. I wasn't entirely sure I was on the correct bus, so I asked a woman already on the bus if this was the right one if I wanted to go to the Consorzio beach. This woman was elegant, typical Italian. Classy, everything perfect- perfect clothes, perfect jewelry, perfect makeup, perfect blond hair. She was Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren-like. I asked the question, she politely responded "Yes". I immediately nicknamed her "La Contessa".
Later that morning I noticed La Contessa was sitting on a towel not far from where I had set up my beach chair. I wondered what La Contessa's story was. My mind was inventing all sorts of glorious stories for her.
A few other times during the summer I noticed she was at the beach the same time I was, and always had her towel spread out near me. After the beach closed for the season, I never saw La Contessa again, although it was clear she was Venetian. I'm always walking all over Venice but our paths didn't cross again. Until three days ago.
This week, I've returned to the beach. I'm a morning beach person. I love to get there early before the crowds so I have the beach to myself. Monday morning I arrived at the beach later than I would have liked, around 10. I found my way to our capanna, introduced myself to the few capanna-mates who were already in attendance, and went inside to drop off some things before heading down to the water with my chair. Inside our capanna was...La Contessa! We said hello to each other, after which she commented, "Sei Americana." (You are American). It wasn't a question. My accent gives me away every day. I recognized her, I doubt she recognized me. I took my chair on down to the water.
I was at the beach a bit earlier on Tuesday morning. La Contessa and I arrived about the same time. She laid her towel out. I set my chair up. We said "Buongiorno" to each other. The few times I've seen La Contessa, I've noticed she has a routine. She lays the towel out, gets her stuff organized, ties a lovely sarong around her neck or waist, grabs her cigarettes then goes for a stroll down the beach walking at the waters edge. A while later she returns, chats with several people, smokes another cigarette, then spends some time sitting on her towel. When she's smoking, the cigarette hangs from her mouth. Even with a cigarette dangling from her lips like truck driver, she's classy. What a dame!
Tuesday just before La Contessa left the beach she yelled over a "Buongiorno" to me. I was flabbergasted to get noticed by her, and to have such a pleasantry extended. I waved and yelled "Buona giornata" in return.
On my way home I made plans to write a blog about La Contessa. In my mind I was imagining what her Venetian life was like, what old Venetian family she might be a descendant of.
Life took over on Tuesday, and I never got that blog written.
This morning as I made my way over to the Lido I was already plotting about a summer of blog posts, starting with the one about La Contessa. I arrived a bit later than I had expected this morning because, with my head full of ideas, I completely missed the right boat over to the Lido! I mistakenly ended up on a boat headed towards Murano instead. When I finally got to the beach, La Contessa was already on her towel. She and I have very similar beach habits. We are both there early before the crowds. We both leave somewhere between 11-12. That's probably the only similarity anyone could ever find between the pair of us.
I set my chair up, got myself situated, and just as I opened my book to read La Contessa yelled over a "Buongiorno". I looked up. She was talking to me. A Venetian talking to me is not normal in my world, so I tried not to look too stupified. She said something else, which I couldn't hear at all. She walked over to me and asked if I wanted to take a passeggiata (walk) with her? Si!! Absolutely Si!
Hopefully my elation didn't make me look too much like a fool. I wanted to do a happy dance. I wanted to fist pump in the air. In my seven years in Venice, I have dreamed of even a little thing like a walk with a native. It just doesn't happen. There seems to be an imaginary line drawn between Venetians and everyone else. It isn't just me who has experienced this. But all these years I've wished for a little tiny local experience. And today it happened. La Contessa asked me.... ME... to take her daily passeggiata with her. Are you kidding me? I wouldn't have missed this for the world.
As we started walking, I apologized first for not speaking Italian well. I explained that I study Italian, have been for several years, but still am not fluent. She just said "No, you are doing fine. " She had loads of questions. Evidently she was as curious about me as I had been about her. Where was I from in America? Why was I in Venice? and on and on and on.
Upon learning that my name is Karen, she decided she would just call me Karina- with a K. She has a granddaughter named Carina. I'm good with that. She liked, loved, that I love Venice. She smiled a huge smile, telling me she's Venetian, it's in her blood, but we both love this city. We walked. She smoked, that cigarette dangling from her mouth the whole way. We talked. Then she invited me to stop for coffee with her. She introduced me to one of her favorite cafes along the beach. We kept talking. About the upcoming election for the new mayor. About Venice's problems. About our husbands and our children. About where we shop. About some of her favorite buildings in Venice. About our shared love for the beach early in the morning. She insists she will teach me Venetian over the summer. By the way, La Contessa doesn't speak English. I did this whole wacky wonderful Italian conversation with no English. This is EXACTLY what I have been working so hard for these last 8 months of studying and lessons.
We wandered back to our beach and took up our respective spots. A bit later, La Contessa yelled over a "Buongiorno, Karina. A domani" as she packed up her towel.
I've dreamed of the possibility of an experience like this morning, but had given up dreaming that dream a few years ago. Today that dream came true.
I cannot wait to see what else awaits me this summer!
La Contessa has a name. Paola. She'll remain La Contessa to me.