On our very last international trip we returned to Italy, where — two years earlier — we had arranged to spend a year. After my wife Grace’s devastating metastasis, that year was reduced to a mere 2 weeks. But now we were back in our town in the Cilento, in Campania, 2 hours southeast of Naples, and then later in the village in Umbria where we’d stayed 9 years earlier. And finally, on our last two nights, with Grace struggling but then feeling well enough to take the bus from Maestre on the mainland, we reached Venice, which had been so beautiful in the past.
We strolled the canals with me trying not to pay attention to where we were. It was an incredible movie set with so many dilapidated, ramshackle and/or beautiful façades. So many buildings, what looked like luxurious rooms out of a midnight dream, free of the restrictions that, in these states, imagination overcomes.
Ah, dream-o, chemo. But when we merely edged into the busier and more touristic parts of town we at once saw a change that disgusted us both. It was as though we had come into a Disneyland-style shopping mall, designed in supposedly exquisite intimidating taste. We felt or were meant to feel that this was a playground for the rich that we ordinary types — ordinary but well-enough off to travel! — would feel compelled to, would feel ashamed not to imitate.
This seemed a kind of desecration. A World Heritage site, yes, but that was 9 years ago; now this was about greed and manipulation; beauty was sacrificed — as it had been long ago — at some obscure altar of business. As I quote — from myself, I guess — in more than one novel and screenplay, “To a businessman business is always a possibility.”
Well, haven’t attractive women always been made use of, hired to sell cars, booze and whatever else? And those are human beings. What’s so strange or horrifying about the sacrifice of a beautiful World Heritage site? Maybe just that it was new to us. Nine years ago there wasn’t this.
So, do what? Boycott? Lobby? Tell our friends, tell the TV? Or adjust our own mania? Is it really such spectacular news that “beauty is just one more commodity”? Are we not merely innocent but plumb out-of-it, unplugged from what’s been going on — apparently everywhere — all this time? Are we 20 years behind, lost and dreaming in our own happy beautiful tiny world? A world of love, joy and struggle. But away from the cool hard reality that has developed meanwhile outside…
In the end we ate in a touristy restaurant by the Rialto Bridge. The food, to be generous, was nothing special and afterward we felt ripped off. But one of us (I forget which) had a view of the scene with the bridge and the other had a neck-craning view of the same.
Next day, our last day out of the country, Grace felt better an hour earlier than the day before. We took the vaporetto to San Marcos, were disgusted by the prices of gelato, by the price of sitting down for even a lemonade — and in general altogether disgusted. We headed away, had a gelato to go, walked and walked, and on my stepson’s advice headed up north to Canareggio, which was much less touristy, and finally to the old Jewish Ghetto. And we found ourselves a little quiet restaurant on an alley, just what we’d half-wanted the night before. There we ate and dawdled and probably toasted our last night abroad together, then or ever. We strolled back toward Piazzale Roma, crossed a footbridge and found our bus…
© Jerry Kurtz
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