A Budding Street Fight, a Woman and Her Watermelon,
and the Solidarity Between Strangers.
Let me begin this adventure by saying what I’ve said for years, in writing, never go to Venice, Italy, in August, period. Ever. It’s overcrowded, and there’s a consistent “unpredictable, who-could-have-imagined heatwave” that hits every August and every rental is caught with no fans or AC.
It’s a crowded, sweltering sea of tourists.
As it turns out, my absolute lack of planning one summer landed me smack DAB in the middle of Venice in August. I shook my head as we got off the train, literally bracing myself for shoulder-to-shoulder contact.
But you know that moment when you first look around Venice and you catch your breath just a little bit because you realize that you have now stepped into the postcard that you’ve seen for decades? It’s more surreal than you could have imagined, and while not an original destination, it still has the magic to transport you, and it does exactly that.
But this is not that article.
This is a piece about a woman and her melon, using her voice, and getting a crowd to heckle a guy punting a boat. It would be a tale of female solidarity, but the strangers on the bridge that joined later made it more of a fully communal event. Perhaps this is a tale of caution, or competency. I’m not sure yet.
Americans generally make a lot more money than Europeans and they have less vacation time, so when they do holiday, they usually spend money in a way that would make many Europeans like my French husband absolutely scoff.
I get it, it’s Venice, you want the postcard and you want to ride in the gondola (those Venetian canal boats) and have the experience, totally get it. It costs about $100 for a 25-minute ride, and to most Europeans it seems more than a bit outrageous. It’s a real racket they run like a conveyor belt. What I found day after day that was more outrageous was the difference in quality that you found between the gondoliers. One played an accordion serenade, provided shade and a song, but most rowed with a lack of respect that was palatable.
August sun is brutal, relentless, daunting even, and some boats provided small parasols/umbrellas as shade and bottles of water because with 90-degree heat in the direct sun for 25 minutes, it’s the least they can do at that price. Maybe this is a story about my contempt for apathy or people who don’t care about their artistry. Or maybe I’m just an angry woman. Probably all three.
My husband was fascinated with the beauty and the history of this town, but I was more fascinated by this pricey gondola and the inescapable barrage of suffering of overheated tourists being swindled by this ride with absolutely no sun covering. You could see the pain on their faces, hands on their heads trying to shield themselves, when a simple $10 mini umbrella would’ve fixed it (we did see a few).
OK, now back to my story.
There’s that point in your travels when you just need the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables after eating in restaurants for weeks on end, so we went to a local grocery store and I purchased half of a watermelon. Yes, yes, I did. I wanted to sit on the steps along the canal and relax and enjoy my melon. My sweet French husband indulged me.
And then it happened, a gondolier went by us right before a bridge and his cell phone rang. People are paying for this magical-postcard-transporting experience, once in a lifetime, and this guy's cell phone starts ringing on full volume and the people turn around to look at him.
The guy ANSWERS HIS PHONE and starts a full conversation while he's rowing the boat with the family in front of him. They seem very confused. I should mention that I struggle with myself and lack a filter. I struggle with the world, and in that moment, I shouted, “You should hang up the phone. These people are paying good money for this experience!”
Now we’re all in a Wes Anderson film.
There were two young women sitting across the canal on the other side also enjoying a nice break. At first they looked at me in solidarity and shook their heads like yeah that was pretty outrageous. Then their faces changed and they started waving their hands at me like there’s danger coming.
The guy is now under the bridge and he starts to back his boat up and proceeds to reverse the boat all the way back to me and starts yelling, with his passengers still in the boat. He starts shouting “Why are you sitting in piss-soaked steps eating a watermelon?” his hands were waving, almost losing his balance, and then—I swear you can’t make it up—he is ready to fight me and he tries to pull his boat to the edge of the steps and he can’t figure out a way to get his foot firmly on the step and hit me without losing his boat, but he does try.
I am sitting there still eating my watermelon.
He’s waving his hands, he almost drops his boat paddle, the girls across the canal are now waving their arms frantically and screaming at him to move on and do his job. He starts yelling so loudly and making such a scene that people on top of the small bridge start shouting at him too that he should keep rowing.
Now there’s a symphony of voices and a small community in all directions now screaming at the rower.
My husband looks at me with the face that I have to admit that I have seen before, like this is gonna end in a streetfight for us, isn’t it? But he’s a Gemini and thoroughly amused at the spectacle with one foot ready to run. I looked at him reassuringly with that I can handle this, I was raised in Texas, I can handle an Italian man look, thinking, if this man makes me drop my melon, it’s gonna get ugly. Eyes wide open, staring in confusion, the boat clients still have said nothing.
It was a spectacle. Period.
It was probably the most glorious memory you could create in the magical city of Venice. It’s something that we laugh about every single year. It’s about finding a partner who will support you in your strong opinions, and let you have your own battles, and doesn’t expect you only to live in a world of pleasantries.
After he finally left us, I felt the connection with the two Italian women across the canal as they looked at me and they held their fists up in solidarity, and nothing was lost in translation.