Whatever floats your boat in Venice.

Earlier this month, my family and I went to Venice. We had never been there before, but we had heard that the streets were flooded and underwater and so it would be like we had never left Vermont this spring.

Actually, Venice was nothing like Vermont.

First of all, the door to the bathroom in my wife’s and my hotel room was glass and the toilet faced it directly. This was seriously disturbing. We’ve been married a long time and part of the way we keep the romance alive in our marriage is by only going to the bathroom at the nearby Lincoln General Store. (Vaneasa Stearns, the store’s owner, doesn’t mind. I’m not even sure she knows. Cer tainly I haven’t told her.) In other words, we are very private people.

But Venice is a romantic city, and so we solved the problem by only going to the bathroom in museums. Fortunately, Venice has a lot of museums with a lot of bathrooms. Granted, many of those museum bathrooms could have used soap and a sink, but at least none had glass doors.

Moreover, when we were in Venice the city was hosting the massive, biennial international art exhibition, “Illuminations.” Many of the mansions and warehouses along the Grand Canal — the largest of the Venetian canals and a sort of serpentine NAS CAR waterway — had been transformed into galleries. In hindsight, it is possible that our hotel was participating in what insiders simply call the “biennial,” and the bathroom door was made of glass so guests, too, could create some performance art.

Now, we hadn’t known about the art show when we made our travel plans, but it was a real bonus: Parts of the city felt a bit like Greenwich Village and Soho will feel when the ice caps have finished melting. We also saw even more bathrooms and some were very artistic.

Among our favorite exhibitions was a gallery filled with work created by young Middle Eastern artists. Hours before we wandered into the exhibit, my 17-year-old daughter had wrapped a scarf around her head because she was afraid her scalp was burning where she parts her hair. (Just for the record, our daughter spends a lot of time fretting on Web MD.) So, she walked into the exhibit and was sort of the belle of the ball. Before we under stood why, at least one European journalist had photographed her as she stood pensively before an installation of Middle Eastern flags.

In any case, the work was poignant and powerful.

We also climbed a six-story bamboo skyscraper, because Venice is known for bamboo sculpture.

Okay, it’s not. It’s known for carnival masks and Murano glass. Every store in the city sells masks and glass, even lingerie stores, men’s clothing stores and — I have to assume — stores that sell oceanic oil rigs. Clearly there is a civil ordinance: All stores must sell masks and glass. (Maybe that explains our bathroom door.) We liked the bamboo sculpture because it was terrifying and a bit like being inside a giant spider’s web. I’ll bet we felt just like the actors in the Spider-man musical on Broadway: We told ourselves this had to be per fectly safe because they were letting us climb it, but still were convinced that we were about to fall into Orchestra Row M.

Finally, we made a pilgrimage to Harry’s Bar.  The restaurant is known for two things: First, Ernest Hemingway, a very macho writer, used to get hammered here; second, the bar claims to have in vented the Bellini cocktail, a Prosecco and peach juice confection that seems far more appropriate in an episode of “Sex and the City” than anywhere in the Hemingway canon.

Nevertheless, as much as we loved Venice, it was still great to return home to Vermont — where the streets are only sometimes underwater and the bathroom doors are always made of wood.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on June 26, 2011. Chris’s next novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4, 2011.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

Leave a Reply