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The Thief Lord

July 3, 2022

I wanted to go to Venice because of reading Byron and Othello, Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her Regard and Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, which is an underrated children’s book that more people should read. In it, there’s a magical carousel that’s hard to find but if you come across the island in the lagoon where it’s hidden, replace the missing pieces, and manage to take a ride, you can put years on or take them off your age. I wasn’t hoping for that much, but to be able to still have enough knee power to get in and out of boats and see St. Mark’s square before the tides cover it. And I managed (with a lot of help getting in and out of boats from my son and husband.)

We saw so much art and so many churches. We ate so much excellent pasta. One of our party tried the tiramisu at every restaurant. The party was me and Ron, both of our adult children and their partners, my brother, sister-in-law, and my oldest niece, and two of our lifelong friends who went off to explore on their own after seeing Venice and some of Florence with us.

In Florence we were standing in front of the Pitti palace and I was remarking that it would be the right place to have a certain kind of party (insert groan here) when the tour guide started telling us a long and involved story about Giovanni da Verrazzano which ended abruptly with the straight-faced comment that he had been “eaten… and forgotten.” We, of course, adopted this as our joke for the trip; everything after that was commented on in terms of whether it had been eaten and forgotten.

We took a four-hour walking tour through the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s. The Sistine Chapel was packed entirely full of people. The last time I was in a place that crowded it was 2017 and we were at Tipitina’s in New Orleans to hear George Clinton, the king of funk. We were wearing masks, but most in the crowd were not.

A lot of people in Rome were wearing elbow masks. They would push the elastic ear bands of a mask up onto their arm, presumably so they would have the mask available to wear in a crowded place, although it did look rather like they were afraid of germs that would attack the elbow specifically. Wearing face masks kept us from getting covid on the trip—or after. Wear a mask and you can travel is one of my take-aways from this trip.

The highlights of our trip, for me, were a boat trip to Murano, where we saw glass-blowing, a walk through Orvieto and a look at its Duomo, and a trip to Santa Croce in Florence to see medieval frescoes and a side chapel where I saw an emblem of a man and a bear showing each other their books. While I was sitting on a stone bench at the back of the chapel, a group of men dressed in athletic gear came in and started singing. It was beautiful, all the more for being unexpected; I think they might have been just trying out the acoustics.

In Rome I got a long look at the Colosseum, inside and out, as it turned out I wasn’t able to walk across the stones they call “ankle-breakers” and on up the hill to the Forum, in full sun on an almost 100-degree afternoon. I walked a lot, but there were limits to how far I could go in one day. We did see a marvelous memento mori inside St. Peter’s basilica:

After our visit to Vatican City, some of the party went off to see something else and ended up at an underground Capuchin hideaway where the monks had decorated with the bones of those who had lived and died before them. My husband and daughter brought me postcards–of a bone clock, of a vertebrae picture frame for a skeleton dressed as a reaper with a bone scythe, and of doorways rimmed with skulls.

Now it’s time to write a few postcard poems, for a backyard barbeque on the fourth of July, and to re-read The Thief Lord once again and dream of the waters of the lagoon.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2022 3:05 pm

    Oh my goodness, Jeanne. Breathtaking pictures! I’m so glad you got to experience this. I’d love to go to Italy someday. It’s been far too long since I was across the ocean (16 years!) I’m also glad you were able to avoid Covid. I’ve never read The Thief Lord but now you’ve got me curious.

    • July 6, 2022 10:41 am

      The Thief Lord is a good book for any age, but your son is at about the right age for it.

  2. July 3, 2022 5:23 pm

    What a lovely family vacation – glad you can walk enough to enjoy it, even if you sometimes need a bit of help.

    • July 6, 2022 10:42 am

      This trip was planned for years before, and I started walking and swimming last fall to be in the best shape I could for the trip. There’s no incentive like travel, for me.

  3. July 3, 2022 6:02 pm

    Wow! What a fantastic and unforgettable trip! You are the third person I know who has been to the colosseum this summer. Was there a colosseum Groupon? Does Groupon even still exist? 😀 Glad you had such a wonderful trip!

    • July 6, 2022 10:44 am

      I expect there are a lot of people who, like me, said to themselves during the pandemic that if they got through it, they were going to go see the wonders of the world, and the Colosseum is certainly one.

  4. July 4, 2022 5:55 am

    What a great vacation! I hope it hasn’t been too hot, Rome can be a bitch at this time of the year.
    Thanks for transporting me back to these places. Last time I‘ve been there was some 5 years ago. Tourism has gone through the roof, especially in Venice. While it’s still a great place to visit, those masses are taking off a good bite off the enjoyment. But I guess that’s everywhere around the globe since the 2000s.

    • July 6, 2022 10:49 am

      Italy was having a heat wave when we were there, and after living in cool, rainy Ohio for so long I had a little bit of trouble dealing with the heat, especially because in Europe the air conditioning is less aggressive and ice in drinks is more rare.
      It was fairly crowded everywhere we went, but I understand that cruise ships aren’t being allowed to dock as often or as near Venice as they were, and our tour guides said that it’s noticeable that Russians aren’t abroad as much this summer.

      • July 6, 2022 10:54 am

        „Russians not there“, yes, that’s visible everywhere in the Mediterranean. The hotels aren’t crowded with that folk.
        As for ice in drinks: I sincerely hate that 😎 When visiting the US, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of it.

  5. Rohan Maitzen permalink
    July 4, 2022 7:15 am

    This sounds (and looks) like a fabulous trip: I’m so happy for you.

    I was in Italy many years ago and still remember how surreal Venice seemed: I arrived assuming it couldn’t possibly be as beautiful as it was alleged to be but every scene was magical.

    • July 6, 2022 10:50 am

      It is a magical and improbable place; it was everything I hoped, and I had a lot of built-up hopes!

  6. July 4, 2022 10:59 am

    It sounds to have been a wonderful break, Jeanne, though I don’t envy you taking it as the Italian summer heats up (we’ve tended to travel there in spring or autumn, apart from Lake Garda in August when there were cooling breezes off the lake itself). Glad you got so much from it, hopefully enough to sustain you for many weeks!

    I enjoyed the Funke many years ago, and curiously I was only recently considering whether to find a copy and read it again for review.

    • July 6, 2022 10:52 am

      One of the advantages of retiring is that maybe I’ll be able to travel in the spring or fall. Academics are usually too busy to get away during the cooler seasons!
      I am rereading The Thief Lord, for about the twelfth time, and it’s as good as ever.

  7. July 5, 2022 6:58 am

    Oh Jeanne, this sounds like such a wonderful trip. I would love to go to Venice, and the Sistine Chapel too. I’m glad you had such a good time and came back COVID-free.

    • July 6, 2022 10:53 am

      It was a great time, and a great group to travel with. We were all careful about wearing masks, but probably we were also just lucky.

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