An Italian love story

As you probably have realized by now my travel preferences usually take me to the Northern hemisphere like England, Ireland, the North Sea, USA, Canada … because usually the Mediterranean mentality is just not my thing … which distinguishes me clearly from probably 80% of the inhabitants I share this country with. Germans love, love, love Spain and the Balearic Islands. Together with cheap all-inclusive trips to Turkey and Greece. Which is one of the reasons I absolutely avoid going anywhere near there. Even though I’m sure there are very beautiful parts too … I’m just very reluctant to do what most people do and be a mainstream tourist.

Ah, now you wonder! What’s different about Italy? What Spain is for the Germans, Italy is for the Austrians. True, I guess! While the Germans flock to the Ballermann, Austrians head to the small Italian beach villages like Lignano, Bibione, Caorle … but this is not the Italy I’m talking about! My Italian Love Story is all about one of my favourite cities in the world: Venice! Famous for its canals, hundreds of bridges, beautiful palazzi … tourists and pigeons! Which both are, by far, the worst accessories Venice has to offer. Loud, obnoxious tourists trampling through the city day after day, snapping away with their cameras and smartphones, listening to their tour guides, standing in incredibly long lines to get into the Basilica di San Marco, overrun the Rialto Bridge-Piazza di San Marco route and nag about the ridiculously high prices of everything. And to make the horror complete, all those pigeons which either look like from a romantic movie or Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, depending on your mood and your personal experiences. Being crapped on from all directions or being lucky to escape unharmed. (My advice: Keep close to the buildings and beneath the arcades at all times! Let those other stupid tourists become the target of bird droppings, wondering how to get rid of the white stinking gunk again since public restrooms are basically non-existent!)

Doesn’t sound like a love story to you so far? It is! I love Venice! Some say Venice on rainy or foggy days depresses them, even makes them suicidal! That’s just nonsense! There’s nothing more beautiful than Venice in rain or fog! It’s so wonderfully mysterious you feel like Casanova himself, sneaking around the narrow “calli” (streets), escaping from bedroom windows and fleeing from the husband of one of his paramours. Or you’re transported back into the best film noir times! To sum it up, it’s as eerie as it’s beautiful, soothing … at least it is to me! I visited Venice at several stages in my life. As a kid with my parents, as a teenager on a school trip, as a young adult with friends for the carnival, alone and with one of my best friends. Summer as well as winter, spring and fall.

I love to wander around, away from the usual tourist treks, sit in small cafés or ristorantes and shop in even smaller Venetian shops or real Venetian products and not those ugly masks cheaply produced in China. I even found a genuine 20s theatre coat I couldn’t resist buying …

And of course, the “Café Florian”, the first and most expensive café on the Piazza di San Marco, is always on my schedule. I love the beautiful antique interior, the waiters with the white gloves, the feeling of the past … and I don’t mind paying 10€ minimum for a small pot of hot chocolate (real hot chocolate, by the way). And I really despise those tourists who basically know that having coffee there is more expensive than anywhere else and are still indignantly complaining. Which usually results in my desire to look at them from head to toe with disgust and tell them to just get out and not spoil my “Florian joy”.

Venice for me – especially in winter – is one of the few places on earth where I can really find inner peace. It’s not just the city and the delicious food (if you avoid the tourist traps), it’s also the real Venetians, those few who still live there and avoid the usual tourist places in summer, trying to get away at all or moving to another part of the city. That’s Venice to me! One of the loves of my life!

Mum …

IMG_1439Five years! It seems so long ago and on the other hand it seems as if it had happened yesterday. The last time I saw you. The day you decided you didn’t want to continue the treatments. The day you called your closest friends to visit you at the hospital to say goodbye. Because you were exhausted and we all had to accept that. With Dad gone much too early … he would have been so proud of you, Mum. Your strength, to hold on for me … and we all understood, as hard as it was. You had fought long enough, we granted you the peace, not to be in constant pain anymore.

I know we didn’t always have the best relationship. We were too different and you were overprotective, always wanting the best for me.

But no matter what, you were always there for me. Driving me to ballet lessons and wherever I needed to go in my elementary school days, picking me up from the train station in the middle of the night when I returned from my weekends in Styria during my high school years, being a stay-at-home mum which I treasured so much. Having a warm home cooked meal when I returned from school every day. The fun we always had as a family before you became sick and were in pain most of the time, struggling through the days, every step, every little thing an ordeal with you having to use those crutches because after three tries they couldn’t risk implanting another hip replacement. I don’t know how you did it after Dad died. We admired you so much for going on, day after day. And we all would have been lost without some close friends of yours and my aunt, your little sister, who – apart from my sister and cousin – is basically all I have left now.

I had a great childhood, Mum! So many happy memories. Like waiting in the kitchen, looking down on the street from the 8th floor, playing word games while waiting for Dad to return from one of his business trips. Or counting red cars and singing in the car on our occasional way to Styria. Or helping you make vanilla crescent cookies during Xmas time. Or …

It’s the little things I miss the most. Not having a home anymore. Not having a place to go. Not being spoilt and cooked for. Not being able to call to ask for advice. Not being hugged by you. No Christmas, no birthdays, no funny gifts. No one who puts some effort into anything. Like you and Dad did. I try to keep up our traditions, to keep the memories alive, but it’s so incredibly hard sometimes. Missing the fun we had at our holiday feasts in Styria and Carinthia, the warmth, the laughter, the silliness … and realizing that everyone is dead apart from my aunt, your sister.

I was lucky, Mum, to have parents like you and Dad, supporting me, making me feel loved all my life and that makes it even harder for me to not feel completely lost at times. Even though you set me free to start a new life, my life, as difficult as it was to move to another country and start new, alone, knowing no one.

Dad always said that one day we all will see each other again. And I imagine you all sitting around a huge table up there, enjoying a cold Gösser beer, laughing and partying the way we did, all of you looking healthy and not ravaged by the cancer that took nearly all of you, looking down on me, protecting me from beyond. And that’s giving me the strength to go on …