This is the second in a series of monthly stories by travel writers from EPIC Group Writers, an Edmonds non-profit organization whose mission is to support those who create, communicate and connect through cultural and artistic endeavors, especially the literary arts.
On my first visit to Venice, I stayed in Cannaregio, one of six historic districts. Exploring, I found the simple Santa Maria dei Miracoli, known as the “marble church,” which sits prettily next to the Campo dei Miracoli (a plaza). I had just met my future son-in-law’s parents and learned they married in this church, and Cannaregio is where their children were born and raised.
The next day, I leaned out my hotel window and shot photographs of delivery guys in high galoshes slosh through “aqua alta” (high water) while forcing flatbed carts piled high with packages. Two hours later, the water levels finally subsided and I could walk back to see inside the church.
Midway to the altar, I sat immersed in peace, quiet and streams of dust motes colored by reflections from stained glass. All of a sudden, I was disturbed by loud crinkling noises and talking; it was a gaggle of chattering tourists who walked in wearing black garbage bags over their shoes and tied at their kneecaps.
Outside the 15th century church, two shops flanked one side. After peering into the pristine stationery shop window, I headed to the bookshop next door. The tinkle of a bell was triggered as I opened a heavy glass-inset wooden door. I immediately noted little semblance of order. It was my dream come true and a librarian’s nightmare. Wooden tables and bookcases held stacks of books ascending several feet while postcard racks were pushed up against the little bit of wall space.
A weathered yet dapper-looking elderly gentleman appeared from the back while chirpily announcing “Buongiorno!” He wore a business suit, with a sweater vest and tie, from a much earlier decade. We hand gestured, due to language barriers, miming my wish to browse and his delight to have a customer. Soon, a children’s book, legal-sized with a water-color cover, caught my eye. The artwork included Basilica San Marco, Venice’s iconic image.
The title “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” was loosely translated to “Water-Nymph and Catfish from Paris to Venice” by Claude Morhange and Cassandra Wainhouse. As I picked the book up, the gentleman became animated. “Molto bene!” he exclaimed. Pointing to the English words, he said, “You speak!” With a twinkle in his eye and a gentle smile, it made him too endearing to refuse. I read the book aloud and 10 minutes later while closing the magical book, I noticed a wistful look as he said, “Grazie mille.” If I had small children in my family, I would have bought it. Back into the chilly November sunshine, postcards in hand, I felt as if I had been in a time warp sprinkled with stardust.
Two years later I returned to Venice and ventured to Campo dei Miracoli. After I purchased a hand-blown glass wax seal from the stationery shop, I strolled over to the bookshop. A man helped me find “Ondina e Pesce Gatto” on a table outside and I bought it, while I also inquired about the older gentleman. The man told me “papa” was home that day.
Both items I bought were treasures for my six-month-old grandson whose baptism would be the following day near Venice. Happily, there was a child in my family once again.
— By Vivian C. Murray
As an offshoot of EPIC’s Monday morning writing sessions held at the Edmonds library, the EPIC Group Travel Writers meet at Savvy Traveler once a month. Participants of this fluid group love to travel and write stories about their journeys. You are invited to attend on the second Wednesday of the month from 3:30-5 p.m. Free to members and non-members of EPIC Group Writers.