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and subject of this painting.
As you'll read in this story, crossing paths with this beautiful woman was a catalyst that shifted my life towards great love and light. The impact of which inspired my return to painting and still impacts my life and creative spirit daily.
My first trip to Venice started as magical as one could hope. An Italian I’d been introduced to a few days prior in Trento was traveling to Venice and offered to meet up and show me around. I mean, who gets a local tour guide to pal around with for the first few hours in this convoluted maze of beauty? I was thrilled.
He met me at the train station, helped me find my apartment, and introduced me to his Venetian friend. I tried not to skip with giddiness as he guided me through the grandeur. There’s an intricate nature to this city of tiny islands scattered like stepping stones through the lagoons. Joined by arched bridges and built up with grand palazzos with lofty ambitions and delicate features, all of it is being perfectly eaten away by time, the surfaces becoming even more picturesque in their crumbling surrender.
My companions invited me to join them at, where else, but the Venice Film Festival. We took a short ferry ride to the nearby island of Lago where all the festivities happen. The boat docked in a canal lined with lush oleander, cascading vines, and stately cedars of Lebanon. And although the height of the festival had ended a couple of days earlier, it didn’t matter. Residual glamour hung in the air as we explored the grounds, lounged with snacks under tents, and walked out onto a dock overlooking the beach of a slightly dated posh hotel. It was a wonderful way to ease into this world of islands floating on water’s endless lap and the brush of centuries’ shoulders.
After a while, the three of us took a ferry back, and they dropped me off near Piazza San Marco, ground zero for tourists. Giant cruise ships dock nearby to unload masses of people with, I’m sure, good intentions, but all I wanted was to get away. Away from the crowds and diluted views. So I headed inland and east. Every street and bridge I crossed took me further from the noise and closer to the unobstructed beauty. I then spent the rest of the day wandering around on my own, happy to bounce off countless dead-end corridors like a drunk bumble bee stumbling from one bloom to the next.
It was a nearly perfect first day in Venice, so I had high hopes for day two. I woke bright and early and went for a run. Up on the northern edge of the islands I found long stretches and wider walkways. The early morning light served up boats unloading daily supplies, a few other runners, and long shadows on the stone paths. Crusty Venetians were on their daily commute, and I was cutting a quiet course through it all.
Afterwards, I showered and cleaned up, deciding further orientation called for a ferry ride to other nearby islands. There are many islands in the surrounding lagoon, three of which are the main destinations for sightseers. I chose to skip Murano (of glass fame and tourist trap, I suspected), went to Burano (of lace fame and tourist trap, I discovered), and then landed on Torcello (of little fame but with solitude, I’d hoped). The ferry had been packed even though it was early, and I felt trapped like in a cattle chute. When we reached the little island, I again focused on getting away as soon as possible. Torcello was the first island to be settled in the fifth century and would grow into what would become Venice. It was home to the area’s oldest church and, I hoped, a little peace and quiet.
Well, it didn’t work out that way. There was little path unbeaten. The old church was rewarding enough with gold mosaics giving me a ghostly view of Saint Michael whom I had been told by a healer was one of my spirit guides. But overall it didn’t quite satisfy. I had the sense I was missing out on something while being swept up in a current of what seemed like aimless tourists with glazed looks in their eyes.
After the church, I felt defeated. I had become one of them. Uninspired. In search of something, anything other than what was in front of me. I had lost sight of the moment while on the lookout for more. I decided to make my way back toward the dock. Maybe I could return to the mainland and find something there. Surely things would get better when I left this little island.
That’s when I saw them. Coming up the path toward me was a bevy of wedding goers. A party of beautiful Italians on their way to a reception, all so festive and stylish. The women wore exotic dresses and costume jewelry strands of flower headbands reminiscent of the white clover blooms you would tie together as a kid to make necklaces. The men wore perfectly fitting suits, sunglasses, and easy smiles. Hand in hand or shoulder to shoulder, they all filed past me like an impossibly beautiful television commercial for a designer fragrance.
I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be included in their commercial and go laugh loudly and be beautiful and have good clothes and speak Italian. That wasn’t going to happen, but they had sparked something in me. A reminder was beginning to tap on my shoulder.
I soon reached the dock and noticed more of their lovely friends and the bride. She wore her hair down. Her dress was white with a wide, sky blue ribbon tied at the waist. Her ivory lace veil was casual and absolutely perfect. She was at ease and comfortable as she visited with friends while smoking a cigarette. Her new husband was quiet and proud. I’m guessing he shines brightest at small dinner parties. There was a handsome guy tending to the flowers and other details. The icing on the cake, though, was a tall woman with auburn hair wearing a colorful Pucci-patterned dress. She was stunning.
They took my breath away. With great joy in my heart I started taking photos of them, and they were gracious to nod their acknowledgement and approval. I followed them at a distance for a few minutes, but my ferry had arrived, and I had to leave.
I filed in behind tourists who weren’t dressed in white lace or orange Pucci. There were no strands of flowers in women’s hair, and the men weren’t wearing well-fitting suits. The boat was filled to the gills, many left standing, and I started to feel myself sink. The standing and the crowd and the waiting and the nothingness. I had to steady myself.
I don’t know if I can fully convey how this moment changed my life. It seems overly dramatic to say so, but it did. Or, rather, every moment of my life met up with me on that ferry, crawled into my head, and created a shift by whispering what I needed to hear.
I’d come on this trip following a two-year journey of trying to heal from a somewhat self-inflicted wound and an effort to find peace in myself. In being alone. Without a partner to carry the load or feed a thirst for love. I come from a place of knowing great love. I’ve experienced conditional love and unconditional love. Lustful love, ocean’s full of friends’ love, familial love, and even those magical fleeting moments of passing strangers’ love. I’ve had to find love hidden behind fear, and I’ve had it thrown
over me like an unwelcome heavy blanket. But I wanted to know I had love in my own heart to sustain
me with or without all the others. I wanted to know I had what I needed to feel whole on my own.
And there on that boat surrounded by the waiting room of boredom and biding time, it hit me. There, after leaving the island letdown and the wedding lift, I felt it. A wholeness. A fullness. An energy that reminded me I had everything I needed to have the most extraordinary day of my life. I could go look for the light that resonated the same energy I felt from within. My mission was to go enjoy what I had while I had it. Because I had breath. And I had love.