After Milan I travelled on to Venice.
I’ve been to Venice many times, including once at New Year and another time to give a software demonstration at Verona. The latter ended in my giving someone a tour of Venice in the dark. As he had left before first light in the morning, I suspect he’s one of the few people to have seen the city, but not in the light.
Venice to me though was the starting point of my life after the death of my late wife. Not this trip, as this was the second since she died.
This is what I wrote in March 2008 under the title, Friends in Funny Places.
It was probably in about 1975 and I’d perhaps had a bit too much to drink and I was getting a bit Bolshi. I couldn’t have been that bad though, as I remembered the tale and especially the bit about a lady from that city who called herself a Baltimoron. Her words not mine. This American was going on about how they had won the Second World War and if there’s anything that gets my goat it’s that. I can be a bit of a patriot, but I’m much more of a seeker after the truth. We didn’t win it alone, but the war was won on a collective effort, where a large number of countries, races and creeds all played their part.
My premise was that the war was effectively won by the Battle of Britain.
Does anybody other than me remember the French documentary on that battle, made perhaps for the 25th anniversary in 1965, where the French said we were selfish to call it the Battle of Britain? They believed it should have been called the Battle of Europe, as if the RAF and their ragbag collection of gallant aerial knights had lost, then everything would have been over for the continent.
So by winning the Battle of Britain, we held the line long enough for Hitler to make his fatal mistake of attacking Russia and for the Japanese to bring America into the war at Pearl Harbor.
My father, who had been some sort of advisor to Lord Beaverbrook in the War, had also told me that if we’d lost then the Americans would have washed their hands of Britain.
But in that bar in Baltimore, it was a forlorn argument against four or five Americans and I wasn’t doing well, although I can usually keep my end up in that sort of contest.
And then there was the dramatic intervention, by an elderly man at the end of the bar!
He looked very much like Colonel Sanders, with the certain sort of bearing that senior officers in the armed services often have. (They also clean their shoes better, than us riff-raff!) He introduced himself as a man, who had worked with Franklin Roosevelt before and in the early years of the Second World War.
He just said that the Englishman is right and wished us all a good night.
I slept well and from that day on a lonely trip turned into a very happy one.
Now that night in Venice, I was cold, but thankfully not wet, and missing my late wife terribly as I walked the streets. I was however looking forward to dinner in a fish restaurant by the Rialto Bridge.
The Ostaria Antico Dolo was small with perhaps ten tables and lots of pictures of the owner, his father and grandfather on the walls. You know the type of restaurant.
As I sat down to drink a complimentary glass of prosecco, the familiar tones of John Lennon’s harmonica quietly filled the room. It was Love Me Do. I thought for a moment, perhaps shed a small tear and then smiled. One by one the tunes came through in droves; She Loves You, Eleanor Rigby, I Want To Hold Your Hand…
They knew I was a celiachia and I had carpaccio of Saint Pietro followed by some exquisite tuna. The waitress asked if I was OK with the music after I had told her the story seeing the Beatles in 1964 at Hammersmith, meeting my wife in Liverpool in 1968 and her death a few months ago. I said yes and more songs followed.
Included was We Can Work It Out and it may sound trite, but I must.
Perhaps about ten, I’d finished the meal and was expecting to go, but somehow I got invited by the waitress and her friends from University to talk and share a few drinks.
I shall always be grateful to those four students, as we talked through the problems of the world and tried to put things to rights. I’m too old to have much effect now, but they just might.
Just like I smile when I think of Baltimore, I shall now always remember those students in that restaurant in Venice.
Venice will always be where I go, when I am in trouble.
Venice is a World Heritage Site.