Follow the Signs

on July 4, 2014

Photo of the street and apartment we stay in Venezia from the 1890s

We talked about moving to Italy off and on, since that first trip in February 2012, always casually referring to the idea as hypothetical.  Each time, the same question would arise, “What would we do for a living there?”  We asked each other relentlessly, trying to be the devil’s advocate (reluctantly, of course).

We both love travelling — the act of, the discussion of, the planning of — Maya, in fact, becomes a bit depressed if a trip — to anywhere — is not planned for the future.

One of our favorite shows is House Hunters International.  While watching it together one day, we saw a young couple relocate back to the wife’s home country of the Czech Republic, settling in the city of Prague.  Though she had a job waiting for her, he did not.  With no experience and little knowledge of his new environment, much less the language, the husband started a walking tour.  Then it hit.  We can become tour guides.

So, this idea became the main subject of our conversations for a few months.

One day, Maya said, “If we’re going to do this, I think we should make another trip back there to be sure.  We’ll go for two weeks, but instead of being on vacation, we’ll live like locals, adhering to a budget, doing grocery shopping, eating at home…”

So, the trip was planned.  It happened to be exactly one year after our last visit. Two weeks before we were due to leave, after having had an unusually stressful week at work, Maya sent me a text, “How would you feel about extending our trip to a month?  I’m quitting my job.”  Maya said that she felt again that she was being guided by a divine hand, a sign that we are on the right path.  I was shocked, but in a jubilant, excited way.  “Yes,” I said, “absolutely!”  And so, our trip was planned for an entire month — mid-February to mid-March 2014.

For the first few days after we arrived, for me at least, it was euphoric.  I’m back here, in this magical, beautiful place, taking the trip of a lifetime… again.  Only this time, I recognized where I was.  There was a strange familiarity, almost as if I had never left.  We walked into our favorite wine shop, Dai do Cancari, and were greeted with open arms and called by name.  I was humbled.  Maya had been coming to Venice for 20 years, and had many friends, but this man had met me once, a year ago, and he remembered my name.   In fact, that happened many times as we frequented the places that Maya had grown to know and love.  They remembered not only her, of course, but me.  I love this place.

After that, realizing that we had a full month, we began to do what we set out to do.  Develop contacts, but more importantly, get some honest opinions from the business locals if we could really do this.  Venice is known for being clannish, meaning simply that if you are not a local, you are considered stranieri, or “strangers.” For most, it takes a long time from “lei” to “tu” — from formale to informale.  We needed to know, honestly, if we would not only be accepted as ex-pat American business owners, but welcomed.  Could we become “tu?”  Every person we spoke to, without exception, gave us the same answer, each more enthusiastic than the last:  “Accept you?!  How can we help?”  Our second sign.

Our third sign, albeit a bit whimsical, happened while hanging out in Piazza San Marco, enjoying the celebration of Carnevale.  We were excited.  “Did you hear them?” I exclaimed.  They said, “How can we help?”  After letting that soak in, we looked at each other, and with tears forming in our eyes, we agreed, “Yes, we can do this.”  “In fact,” I added, “I think we can hold to the original timeline we had mentioned after our first trip, December 1, 2014 we will be Venet–”  Just then, a pigeon landed squarely on the top of my head, as if to put an exclamation point to my statement.  Maya burst out laughing and screamed, “It’s another sign!!!”

The fourth sign:  We happened upon a store straight out of Harry Potter.  It was literally down an alley we never would have noticed, but is rightly named “The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World.”  It is filled, all the way to the rafters with oddities of books, rare Venetian out-of-prints, and even a staircase made of old books, water-soaked from the high tides, called Acqua Alta, Venice is famous for.  Evidently, the proprietor of this wonderful place, not only doesn’t mind, but freely allows the high tides in to soak the first 18-inches of books sitting on the floor, making them absolutely unsellable but quite a novelty.

While walking down the first aisle, eagerly exploring the piles upon piles of written treasures, I noticed an open book.  I stopped to take a closer look, because something about seemed eerily familiar.  Upon realizing what my eyes were seeing, I called Maya over right away.  She took one look and gasped.  Eyes wide, she said, “Oh my God, what are the odds?!”  The photo on the left in the book — Calli e Canali in Venezia, containing 416 pages, just happened to be opened to the exact same photo at the top of blog, which hangs in our home.  The reason we own it, is because it is an authentic photo from 1890, of the exact street, with the apartment that Maya has been staying in for the last five years.  Of all the stores in Venice, we stumble into this place, and of the tens of thousands of books here, one of the first that we see, happens to be open to the page containing the exact picture of our beloved apartment.

Maya with photo in book of our exact print we have at home.

And here is the street as it is today, as it was over 100 years ago.  Our apartment, is the top floor with triangular roof on the right hand side.  If you look at the picture, nothing, except some fruit sellers, is missing.

Our first apartment in Venezia, as it stands today, on Salizzada San Samuele.

But there were even more signs to come. – Adam