We’re heading for the air space over la Belle Paris, where we will spend such a memorable few days, meeting up with Véronique and Thierry, and Manya and Hakeem. You can tell it’s France down below from the beautifully sculpted blocks of land, some tilled, others awaiting cultivation: the richness of the French agricultural tradition.
Whereas Venice will be a feast for the eyes, Paris is style, fresh food in street markets, wonderful cuisine and products in delis, and interesting, generous people. Admittedly, there’s also a creeping sense of depression there, as the young abandon ship and take off for richer pastures further afield: New York, Sydney, Berlin…anywhere they can find work. But things augure well for the future, so long as its large youth population returns once the economy recuperates.
Mark had one day working hard in Paris teaching the Lidcombe Program. He was exhausted afterwards, but we were served dinner: ‘foie gras d’oie’—home-made by Thierry!—and baked lamb with vegetables and sauce and lots of red wine! It was a real feast, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience like staying in the Presidential Suite in Cavtat. But I must admit to suffering from ‘mal au foie’ the next day.
We caught a smaller plane out of Charles de Gaulle Airport heading for Venice. Venice was a feast for the eyes! Even the tourists from all over the world, milling around the Piazza San Marco, didn’t put us off. The buildings there were worth the discomfort of the throngs of people and the trinket sellers and their stalls staining the sight of the ancient monuments in the background. I took photos of Mark in front of the Duomo San Marco and we had coffee in an expensive café nearby. Then we learnt how to escape the tourists, by exploring along smaller wharves, across bridges and into the hinterland of San Paolo. I became expert at choosing tavernas where locals were eating, and I enjoyed the small jugs of house vino and the various seafood and pasta dishes.
We took the inexpensive and convenient motor boats—‘vaporetti’—along the Grand Canal and around Venice, including a day trip to the island of Murano, where we saw glass being blown in a furnace, and bought gifts of lovely pendants to take back. Siesta back at the hotel was a good idea, because the light lasted until eight or nine at night, when we set off once again to find eateries and to wander along the streets enjoying gelatos and noticing the customs of the locals. Next day we went to Burrano, a lace-making island renowned for its brightly painted houses in all the colours of the rainbow, where I purchased a lovely creamy coloured lace scarf. I also experienced a swim at the famous beach—the Lido, and we lay under an umbrella on rented banana chairs remarking on the dark colour of the sand, so different from Coogee!
We’ve just flown out of Venice and up and around so that I can see the lagoon turning into the sea, and then the shape of the fish that makes up the islands of Venice with the Grand Canal snaking through the middle of it; and the islands and the Lido Beach stretching for miles along the coast. I feel a certain wrench leaving it, so enthralled was I by its beauty. Nothing like it in the world: a city built on water. The posts holding it up don’t decay because they’re not exposed to oxygen. Italy, for a land-bound person like me, always reminds me of the fairy-tale of Rip Van Winkle, who went to sleep for a hundred years and awoke in a changed land. Where else can you get off the plane from Frankfurt and step into a watertaxi that speeds across a vast lagoon in between a liquid roadway marked by posts, and takes you almost to the steps of your hotel: Locanda Ca’ San Marcuola, a bright pink building from the 1800s.
Now we’re flying over Tuscany on the way to Heathrow and thence to Dublin. Now over the snow-tipped mountains of the Alps, the sharp rocky edges contrasting with the pearly white of the snow-covered valleys and that of the cotton-wool clouds floating just above. Highways coming into view down below.
We’re heading for the English Channel—or should I say ‘la Manche’—for our arrival in London soon. And here it comes into view now: a lovely tranquil-looking stretch or ‘sleeve’ of green water that brings back memories of a trip across from Dover to Calais when I was young and silly and in search of adventure, and when I drank too much wine with some Scottish youth and had a grand old time on the way to Paris.
Heathrow ‘Fright Lounge’, as Mark calls them: here we come! En route to Dublin and meeting up with Kay. It’s 21degrees down below, but we’re expecting cooler weather in Ireland.