So the time came that we must leave Nice for the next phase of our adventure Venice. We drove our rental car the short distance to Aeroport Nice Cote d’ Azur and were greeted by a cacophony of honking horns. The Nice cab drivers were conducting a work slow down and expressing their frustrations audibly. Jeff had booked our flight to Venice on easyjet which he often flies on his numerous trips around Europe. He had even been able to secure us front row seats with lovely leg room. When we arrived at Marco Polo airport we walked to the boat docks to board our water taxi which took almost an hour to reach Venice.
When we arrived at the Grand Canal boat docks we soon were united with our guide to our apartment and her dog Charlie. As we walked the narrow streets I noticed that we crossed more than one bridge. Venice is composed of 118 islands. When you walk over one of the bridges you are traveling from one island to another and the canals of the lagoon that Venice sets upon are the separations between the islands. The islands are not all at the same level in the lagoon as is illustrated, if you care to count, by the uneven number of stairs on one side of a bridge as opposed to the other. We soon came upon the grand wooden door to our apartment with its’ most elaborate door handle of a partially nude woman.
Our apartment was overlooking one of the canals and directly next to one of the many bridges which was heavily used. We were also near to the Piazza San Marco which is the primary public square of Venice. The busy urban space just outside our windows would be called a campi or field as there is only one Piazza in Venice.
The Doge’s Palace is located in Piazza San Marco. It was the residence of the Doge of Venice who was the authority of the Republic of Venice. It has been a museum since 1923. It is a uniquely beautiful building with the oldest parts of it overlooking the lagoon and dating back to the 14th century.
I notice as we toured our new home for the next five days that one of the closets had water tight boots from children’s size to large. It is then that I realized that what I had heard about Venice flooding from time to time might be more frequent than I had known. Venice floods in part over 200 days per year and the Piazza San Marco is the first to flood due to being the lowest parcel of land in the city.
We took our lunch at a trattoria very near our apartment where the waiter told us that his mother and father lived in Pennsylvania and that he visited them whenever he could. Shortly after this Jeff was looking wan. He had mentioned to me that morning that he was feeling poorly and that his lungs were rattling and I listened and found his prognosis correct. From here it went down hill for my friend as he got progressively sicker for the remainder of our stay in Venice. After three trips to the Pharmacy and Doctor Brooks remedies he finally started getting better.
During the first of our stay, Jeff was still with us, we entered a small shop to encounter a very sweet shop keeper who told us she had just opened her new establishment. Have you ever met someone that was just so nice that you just had to buy something from them? That was this lady. She gave Margo and Mary Jane a handmade leather carrying case before we had purchased anything and was so overcome at the conclusion of our visit she hugged each of us. We now have a harlequin painting in our foyer.
I could not help but notice from the first morning until the last how different from what I was accustomed to life in Venice was. It was extremely crowded with tourists and residents, although the population of Venice has been falling from 90 thousand to todays 60 thousand, and there were many men pushing or pulling large carts full of various products that was both being delivered to stores as well as boats. These men were constantly calling for the crowd to give way for them and it was somewhat disconcerting as they were often right behind me before I heard their pleas. Also all of Venice is prepared for the next flood. We noticed in the entrance foyer to our apartment house that water had come in the door facing the canal. Throughout the city the shops have water blockades for their doors and boots at the ready.
One afternoon I was setting outside our apartment in the campi watching the most interesting component of any holiday…the people. As I smoked an Italian cigar, yes I have enjoyed the occasional cigar since I was 10 years old, a group of young men approached me with a look of mission in their eyes. One began to speak and asked me if I spoke english to which I replied that I did. He went on to explain that they were filming people for a promo they were doing for the Venice Stage. He said that I was very beautiful and would I consent to being filmed. Having never been referred to as very beautiful…I could not help but say yes. My moment of stardom is less than one second in the attached film.
During our quest for the perfect meal we happened on a trattoria less than a block from our apartment. We had the most delightful waiter, Mr. Bean Junior, we called him due to his uncanny resemblance to Rowan Atkinson’s popular British character, who brought us the most delicious pasta dishes that it had been our privilege to partake of in Venice. You see there is more to the story in that a night or two before we had taken dinner at a highly recommended trattoria and ordered the signature dish of lobster and pasta. When the feast arrived there was the lobster resting comfortably on top of the pasta…shell and all. Needless to say we were taken aback. Thus I spoke to the owner of Mr. Bean Junior’s trattoria to ensure that the shell would be removed from the lobster and pasta that we were going to try again at their establishment. Language barriers being what they are the owner asked me at one point if I wanted lobster shell with my dish to which I replied with a hearty no. Mary Jane and I enjoyed the food, wine, and service so much that we returned for dinner the next two evenings.
One evening we took the Original Venice Ghost Walking Tour. This was a ninety minute tour of the dark side of Venice. Among the stories were that of a young woman who entered a monastery in Venice disguised as a man. She went on to serve many years believed to be a man until a young woman accused the female monk of rape. Rather than break her promise to her father that she would never reveal her true identity she was hung for a crime that was impossible for her to commit.
Another story is that of a young husband and wife who during a domestic dispute the husband beheaded his wife. Seeking absolution for his sins he gathered both the body and the head and took them to Rome for the Pope’s forgiveness. Receiving none he returned to Venice and cast the head off of the boat dock near their dwelling. It is said that if you peer off the dock…at times you can still see the head floating. We looked…and I thought I saw something.
The Gondola ride that Mary Jane and I took was extremely enjoyable. The first thing we noticed as that we had an entirely different perspective of Venice from the view point of the gondola. First of all the buildings aligning both sides of the canals are setting in water. Several feet of water. That in it self is incredible. The canals are narrow and have a lot of boat traffic on them. According to our Gondolier many of the beautiful old buildings that we passed are vacant and more are becoming so on a regular basis. This is due to the high cost of purchasing an apartment in Venice and then you have only begun with expenses because of the high cost of upkeep and or remodeling of extremely old structures that set in water. The actor Johnny Depp has purchased an entire building on the Grand Canal for 12 million dollars.
Venice is like no city that I have ever seen. It is breathtaking in its’ sublime beauty and distinctive setting. Outside of our apartment building setting on the ascending steps of the bridge adjacent to us was a beggar with the face of an angel. Each time we either came or left the dwelling he greeted us with his beatific smile. Jeff took him food for which he was not only grateful but began eating immediately. Often I wonder if the grandest test in this life is how we treat those less fortunate than ourselves.
So, after our adventures in Venice, including Jeff and I enjoying watching English Comics on his I Pad for over an hour one late evening, we set out on our Mystery Tour of Italy. You will not want to miss it.
Mary Jane and I have just returned from the adventure of our lives. We spent a month in Europe with our dear friends Margo and Jeff Lestz. The Lestz live in Nice, France as well as Surrey in England. After a significant flight across the Atlantic we finally arrived at Aeoport Nice Cote d’ Azur to soon be greeted by Margo’s wonderful smile. As we departed from a short bus ride to walk the remainder of the distance to their apartment there was Jeff overlooking our arrival from one of the balconies of their beautiful apartment.
Soon after my short recuperative nap of ten hours I was ready for adventure. It is somewhat difficult to categorize the many sites, smells, and tastes that we encountered and so I will highlight a few from each stop on our odyssey.
The Mediterranean sea is unparalleled in its’ breathtaking beauty. All who are near it, are drawn to it with a magnetic pull that is compelling. We observed every one from young lovers getting married to the homeless equally enjoying its’ comforts. We walked along the pebble beaches several times and wondered about the stories the sea could tell. Jeff and I throughly enjoyed reminiscing over old adventures and times gone by and it seemed that instead of over forty years of knowing each other we were magically transported back to the beginnings when we were both teenagers. One evening we had dinner at a lovely restaurant on the beach. I could not help but notice the table next to ours that was full of a jubilant French family who appeared might be enjoying a family reunion. They subsequently ate, took turns swimming, and huddled for family pictures with a freedom and joy that was a refreshing change.
The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild overlooking the Bay of Villefranche was a fascinating study in the lives of the ultra rich. The home of the Baroness de Rothschild has nine gardens and a magnificent fountain thats’ spray was set to music. The house is flamingo colored and illustrates the lives of the wealthy during the Belle Epoque. The Baroness had a very interesting collection of porcelain that included an orchestra of monkeys that was quite unusual. Among her animals, during her life, was a monkey in residence.
Villa Santos Sospir owned by Jean Cocteau’s friend, Francine Weisweiller, located at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, is one of the most unique homes that I have toured. Cocteau often returned to the home from 1950 until his death in 1963. The originality of this home was that Cocteau drew and painted on almost every wall. Jean Cocteau was famous novelist, poet, artist, and filmmaker. It is said that Francine invited Cocteau to the Villa for dinner in 1950 and that he stayed for thirteen years. Cocteau made a short film about his artistic borrowed abode that can be found at: http://youtu.be/PVDI7SBv9RI .
I left the United States without my hat. When I arrived in Nice…in the Mediterranean I quickly noticed how hot my head became and subsequently began searching for a covering. Being a fan of straw hats, I have three of them, I could not help but take note of Margo’s great straw hat and especially its’ high quality straw. The search began for a hat like Margo’s and continued to no avail for three hot days. Finally one morning Mary Jane and I were exploring the quaint diverse shops of Nice when we happen upon a hat store…having nothing but hats. Wa La I leave with a wonderful cloth hat that has no straw in its’ composition. Mary Jane finds a lovely french hat, that I am told makes her look like the literary character Madeline, but she must think about the purchase over lunch. During lunch she decided to look further. So, we begin our quest again and quickly find another hat store. As we peer into the door we notice the same people that were in the first store are now here as well…or as Mary Jane said it must be fate. She now has a new french hat.
One of the most powerful sensory stimuli I received while I in Nice was the location of Margo and Jeff’s apartment. It is not only a minute or so away from the Mediterranean Sea but it is also in the middle of where the action is. It is directly above several restaurants and the continual laughing and talking and life I found refreshing and mentally stimulating. I even enjoyed hearing one of the restaurants below washing their dishes late at night especially after I realized that I need not feel guilty of not helping Margo and Jeff with what I thought was their late night dish washing efforts.
We drove to Grasse, France which is famous for perfume manufacturing. It is known as the perfume capital of the world. We went to the Fragonard perfume factory to observe how their perfume is produced and then to purchase some. During the tour our guide spoke of the rare talent in the perfume industry of being able to distinguish between the thousands of scents used to produce exotic French perfume, this person is known as the Nose. There are very few of these olfactory gifted individuals world wide. The young woman who both performed the tour and sold the perfume was a delight and a truly dedicated perfume professional.
Margo graciously invited us to attend a meeting her and other authors that was conducted by Patricia Sands. The group was diverse with Canadian, French, English, and American guests and extremely warm and collegial with Patricia taking time to speak with each of us and make us welcome. I was impressed with Margo’s establishment as a member of the literary scene in Nice. I left the meeting with a renewed desire to write and self publish after hearing of Patricia’s success in doing so as she told us that one of her books has sold over twenty-six thousand copies.
As the Nice adventure of our trip concluded we prepared for our flight to Venice and excitement and bronchitis. Stay tuned.
The beach in Nice, France in the summer. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
By Margo Lestz
If you visit the French Riviera in July or August, you might have trouble finding an open space on the beach to put your towel. It’s hard to imagine that up until the 1920s there were no summer tourists here, no hotels were open, and there was certainly no one swimming in the sea.
The French Riviera was “discovered” in the 1800s by the European nobility who spent their winters here. But when springtime rolled around these wealthy holiday-makers went home and left the summer heat to the locals. Then in the 1920s, an American couple played a big part in the Riviera’s “rediscovery”.
Gerald and Sara Murphy – Photo © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Gerald and Sara Murphy were one of the first American couples…
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