He picked me up near the Giardini on a damp, gray day in Venice. I’d been enjoying the artwork at La Biennale without the crowds, as it was the end of the season and starting to get cold.
The rain had sent a handful of visitors scurrying back to their pensiones, but I’d waited it out. I had always wanted to visit the Venice Biennale and here I was, not about to let a little more water ruin the moment.
As his boat approaches, Amy Winehouse is singing “Love is a Losing Game” at top volume.
He himself has a deep bass note kind of energy. Slow…but resonant and necessary. He’s wearing round, orange-framed sunglasses – the kind of high-design style you find in Italy or Germany or Switzerland – and very rarely anywhere else .
He’s large, manly and buttoned tight into a dark nautical jacket with the collar turned up around his beard. His hairline is receding at the front, loose and windblown at the back.
The boat stops. His hands rest loosely on the wheel.
He stands up and offers his hand as I climb in. I feel small next to him and I’m immediately curious about where he lives, what he dreams about at night, his personal stories of Venice and other places. I can tell that he’s seen things.
He turns the music down for a moment and I tell him, in English, that I want to go to Calle della Malvasia. I’m staying at the Aqua Palace and for a moment I consider asking if he’s ever seen a room there, but then I’m not that kind of girl anymore. (My husband wouldn’t like it…)
As the music goes back up to full volume, he settles into a cool half-slump over the steering wheel and I settle into my seat behind him. He makes a little gesture with his head that asks “is it too loud?” I say no, no, no. I shake my head, give a thumbs up. It’s all perfect. We glide through the canals sharing an Amy Winehouse moment, connected and disconnected at the same time.
He’s a ladies man – maybe a writer or musician – the kind of guy who lives in his own head, ignoring heated glances from the women he meets not because he dislikes them, but because he’s focused on deeper subjects.
We share four or five soulful songs as we travel past villas and gondolas. We pass a disheveled old man sitting on his dock, working at an easel and we have a moment in the mirror, acknowledging the beauty of the scene. Water birds paddle by us in a long, slow line. As we reach one of the wider canals, the wake of a bigger boat sets us down to a slow crawl and I get a misty spray of canal water in the face. That too, is perfect.
Amy Winehouse is “Back to Black” by now and I’m back at my hotel. The coolest taxi driver ever helps me balance as the boat sways to the music.
I’m out, and on dry land again and walking back to the Aqua Palace as he and Amy drift away.
The best part of traveling is very often the people you meet. Some of them you never know much about, but they’re fascinating anyway, and you fall in love for a few moments and then you hang on to the memory of them because they woke you up and sent your mind off on a lovely wander.
I’m glad I got pictures…too bad there’s no sound.