Grand Tour Diary


Left Maine on 28 December. 7 days since the end of finals, 3 since Christmas. Grandmother dead about 16 hours – body still at home. Two or three feet of snow on the ground. 3 hours to airport: Amtrak to Boston – North Station. Orange line to Park Street, red line to Downtown Crossing, silver line to the Delta terminal.

45 minutes waiting in line because my passport wouldn’t scan at the self-service kiosk. Through security in 5. Two hours until boarding. Wrap at Fresh City that turned out to be about 90% white rice. So glad I got the whole wheat wrap. Strip off overcoat, jacket, sweater, button-down shirt – to fight the Maine cold, to keep from needing to overstuff a suitcase – hang out in jeans and tee. Read Wikipedia articles about the history of La Serenissima.

Pre-boarding; I take two Tylenol PM. Need to sleep on the plane, as I will be landing at 1AM Daxel Biological Time – but 7AM Amsterdam Local. 747 means “F,” usualy a window seat, is a middle. Lights do not dim until we are in the air. Sleep fitfully, maybe 4 hours. Wake 3 times as the drink cart is passing, Deep Magic. Order a glass of water and a glass of white wine each time. Part to help me sleep. Part as desperation for liquid. Part for the thrill of free booze – of wine treated as any other beverage. It is a European flight.

Touch down in Amsterdam 7:00. My baggage will go righ to Venice. Through customs in perhaps sixty seconds. Arrive in Amsterdam: 12 hours until my flight boards.

Just dawnbreak as I leave the station. Amsterdam! Feels a homecoming. Within 100 feet of station I pick up 3 American boys – none traveling together – who are utterly overwhelmed. Take them to the nearest Red Light district. They want to look for girls – who knows, mabe a few ugly old ladies are out at 8AM on a Sunday. Go into a coffeeshop, ignore the hash and order a coffee. Then another and another. Lots of milk, lots of honey. Breakfast. Or dinner, or something.

Wander the Singelstraat red light. Terrifying women. Like a Quentin Matsys cautionary gone to seed. Walk through the city. Visit the Lutheran roundkirk, the Oude and Nieu, the Zuiderkerk and the Rembrandtpleinhotel where I stayed in March. The city is empty.

Ten thirty. Go into the Bulldog Cafe Mack, another coffeeshop. Order the Spanish Breakfast, which turns out to be the same as an English breakfast except with french fries instead of baked beans. They pile it on lavishly as I am the only one there. The waiter does not speak English, making him the first person in Amsterdam I’ve met who doesn’t. He is old, and drinking whiskey well before noon. But he keeps my coffee filled.

Noon. Wanderjahr. Girls start to show. A little long in the tooth, chesty, professional. Twins, short, brunette, heavy bangs. Skinny and tan – several. Pale white skin, heavy tattoos in color, curvy. Making ridiculous faces like a teeny-bopper at a party. Lounging back, doing her nails. Perfect ass in black thong, walking away, red curtain drawn. Tiny blond in black bikini bouncing up and down, waving her arms. The big black girls who carry it well, the big latinas who don’t. A cabaretta with smart eyes. Busty Brazilian under a blacklight. Tapping the glass as you walk past, fish in their tank tapping at you. A Czech, 5’10, nothing but black suspenders and a garterbelt. Another Czech, maybe 5’2, blonde, kohl, same outfit. Apparently I have a type.

Trade a glance with a tiny little thing in a heavy parka, carrying a shopping bag. She smiles, then looks down, demure. See her a minute later entering a kammer. Pass by three times, but always the red curtain drawn – must be popular. Must be beautiful.

2PM. Drink red bull. 3PM, again. 4PM. Been walking for 7 of the last 8 hours. Can’t do it any more. Train to airport. At gate by 5. Write a little, sleep an hour or so on the floor. So cold. Eat a sandwich, apple and farmer’s cheese on rye and whole wheat. Sleep a little on the plane. Not enough.

Touchdown at 10:05. Get my bag 10:32. Run down concourse for the 10:40 vaporetto – next one at midnight. Internet said it’s a 10 minute walk to the docks. Make it in 6. Get in line.

It’s a little speedboat, room for maybe 12 in a cabin – perhaps a private taxi moonlighting for Aliliguna. Four couples: German, French, Italian, Serbian (?). All dressed like Gucci models. I stretch out in my flannel and jeans and try to sleep.

Pitch black outside. First stop, I press my eyes to the glass and shield them with my hands to block the cabin light. All I can see is a tower, straight sides, flat top. Towering above us, black against the night. Cyclopean. Truly frightening. The most puritain architectural conceit I have ever encountered, the campanile of the venetian gothic. But at that moment: just awe and fear in the night.

Venice at 11:30 is darker than Boston in a blackout. The only lit building is the Casino which is lit up by projector, blue snowflakes falling over white marble. From this I realize, later, that I entered Venice by a midnight ride down the Grand Canal. May as well have been through the open sea.

Aiming for the San Zaccaria stop. Realize that this is about a 5 minute walk from San Marco. Get off there – last one off the boat. San Marco at midnight. Maybe a dozen people. This great open space – and lit! Hard white lines, after the shifting dark flow of the sea.

The campanile against the stars. The doge’s palace, white against the night.

I have exact directions to my hotel. I have directions from 3 different sources. I have 2 maps. It is less than 100 yards from a clearly-labeled taxi stop. As a result it only takes me 15 minutes and 3 attempts to find it. 

Check-in. Shower in the communal shower. A quiet room, floral linen wallpaper, scarlet sheets. Draw the curtains. Open the glass doors. Throw open the green shutters, and –

a courtyard

stories below

stories above

columned balconies

arched windows

rooftop and rooftope


And, having been awake for about 24 of the last 28 hours, I go to sleep




~ by davekov on 31 December 2013.

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