My husband and I spent a New Year's Eve in Venice several years ago. Deciding to forgo the wildly expensive set menus promoted by most restaurants (starting at 100 euros per person and ranging up to 315!), we dressed up, put on our coats and scarves, and walked out into the night to mingle with the festive crowds. We walked over to the Rialto Bridge area and found a little bar that had a few seats empty. We ordered glasses of prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, and several tramezzina, or triangular, crustless sandwichesthe array was dazzling, with at least thirty kinds to choose from, for one euro thirty cents apiece! A youngish American couple came in and sat next to us, and eventually the man said, "So, you're from the States?" We then talked to them for about half an hour, of travel, politics, whether there would be fireworks on the Piazza San Marco this year, how they missed their two-year-old, staying in Florida with the grandparents, and how they had lost their luggage on the way over. The woman's had arrived a day later, but her husband grimaced as he said he'd been wearing the same clothes for three days. We told him about COIN, the reasonable department store just down the street where my husband had just purchased a wool sweater. With seemingly few Americans in Venice that year, it was nice to have a conversation in English with fellow citizens. As they finished their drinks and paid their bill, we all wished each other a happy new year, and they left the bar. We finished our second glasses of prosecco, summoned the waiter for the bill, and were astonished when he said "All four. Paid." We looked both ways down the canal outside, but they were gone, leaving us the grateful recipients of an act of pure generosity. It was a wonderful way to begin the new year. I hope they saw the fireworks.
On a cold but sunny New Year's Day in Venice, my husband and I set out for the old Jewish Ghetto in the Cannareggio district, having plotted a route from our hotel on the Campo Santa Maria Formosa in the Castello district. We came around a corner into a little campo with a church and, as most people end up doing frequently when visiting Venice, stopped to consult our map. An older man in a coat standing outside the church smiled and gestured to us to come closer, to come in. "Italiani?" he asked. "No, Americani," I replied. "Ah, Americani, good, Americani," he said, smiling. "Come in, come in." How could we not? Inside, the church was a tiny jewel box. If Faberge had designed churches, this is what they would have looked like. The church was Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which I remembered reading about in our guidebook; with its highly decorated interior, it is very popular for weddings. The man was the custodian of the church, he told us. "Your . . . daughter?" he asked my husband. "Marito," I said. Husband. Embarrassed smiles all around. This happens to us occasionally. "Dieciotto ani," I said. Eighteen years’ difference in our age. "Ah," said the man, perhaps seventy himself. "My wife died one year ago. She was fifty-five." "Too young," I said. "Difficult." He nodded, his eyes filling with tears, and then he leaned forward and hugged me, kissing me on the cheek. He motioned for me to look around the church, and when we had finished and were leaving, he asked whether we had a camera. He was getting ready to take our picture when some men walked by, and he asked them to take a picture of the three of us. When we got home, I mailed the photo to him in Venice, care of the church, but after several weeks it came back, looking as though it had gone around the world on a tramp steamer. I kept the little package, crinkled all over and soft at the corners, my memento rather than his, knowing that the true connection had already occurred.