As a very special 80th birthday present to myself, I’d signed up for a ten-day tour of Italy. I knew it would be physically demanding. The organizers had been clear about the number of miles we’d walk each day. We needed to be prepared for cobblestones and long, steep stairs everywhere we went. Could I do it at age 80? Yes, darn it, I was determined to. And so I started serious training with Sammy the Poodle. At least three times a week I walked for a brisk hour up and down the paths along Lake Ontario’s shores while Sammy chased squirrels, chipmunks and the occasional rabbit. When the time came, I was as fit as anyone.
My aging brain was a different story. The first time I screwed up, we’d just arrived at our hotel in Venice. Our tour captain assembled all of us in the lobby to announce that we would be heading out for an Italian dinner at six o’clock. It was to be one of those Italian dinners with multiple courses lasting until about 11 o’clock. Somehow I heard “7.” There was a knock at my door a little after six. A fellow traveller had been sent to find me. Fortunately I was dressed and ready to go. As I descended the stairs to the lobby, I looked down into a dozen upturned faces. Everyone else was there for six. I was the holdup, the one who was keeping everybody waiting. I could just imagine what they were thinking: maybe she has dementia. Maybe we’ll have to wait for her every time we go anywhere.
The following morning I did it again. We were to gather at 6 a.m. for a ride in a gondola, before the crowds appeared on the gondola docks. My aging brain conveniently turned the “6” into “7.” Once more I had to face the upturned faces as I made my way down to the lobby level.
The gondola is a wondrous craft. The job of a gondolier is usually passed on from father to son. These amazingly skilled men stand on a platform on one side of the craft’s stern, deftly steering through crowded canals with just a long pole and the positioning of their bodies.
This was not my last ride in a gondola. My next gondola ride happened when I was out on my own and suddenly realized I had no idea how to get back to our hotel. This is not a new problem for me. I am one of those people who lacks a sense of direction. As an experienced traveller, I’ve worked out a system for getting to my destination. I don’t get upset. I simply call a taxi and hire someone who knows how to get to my destination.
I inquired about taxis and was met with a blank stare. Most of Venice is closed to vehicle traffic. People travel by canals. I’d have to hire a gondola. How much would that cost? “80 Euros,” came the answer. That was ridiculous: far too much money. I tried once more to spot a familiar landmark. I still had no idea of how to return to the hotel. I’d left my i-phone with its GPS in the hotel room. As well, attempts to ask directions in Italian were useless. At last, discouraged, I returned to hire a gondola. “20” Euros was the new price.
And so, I returned to my hotel in splendid style, carried along in a shiny black gondola with gold carvings. I tried my best to really enjoy it. After all, there wasn’t a darned thing I could do about it.