When we visited Venice, we didn’t actually stay in the city. We camped just outside of it, at a campground in Punta Sabioni, from where we could reach Venice by ferry in about twenty minutes. The ferry ride was picturesque, passing as it did the Lido (where Mann’s Death in Venice takes place), with views of several of Venice’s churches.
The canals of Venice are wonderful, and so are the colorful gondoliers. Because we had seen gondoliers do it in too many movies, we tried to get our gondolier to sing. He absolutely refused, insisting that his job description did not include singing. Possibly, for some more money, he could be induced to sing, but he admitted that his voice was terrible, and so we declined his offer. It was wonderful visiting all the places about which I had read so much. The Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto, the pigeons on the Piazza San Marco and the Quay Riva Degli Schiavoni all exceeded our expectations. It was almost like living inside a movie, but with free will.
Linda and I were sitting at one of the outdoor tables of a coffee shop on the Quay when a group of about ten to fifteen men dressed in black velour, medieval costumes appeared, playing beribboned guitars and mandolins, singing as they strolled from one coffee shop to another, stopping only to pass a floppy hat for coins among the relaxing tourists. I don’t remember what it was they played, but the setting made it even more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. However, in the back of the group there was a tussle going on as an obviously drunk and combative tourist tried to join them by muscling his way into the group. His friends tried to pull him away, and the costumed musicians in the back tried to shoo him off, but he was not to be put off. He wanted to sing. Finally, the leader of our strolling musicians gave in and agreed to let him join them, and he began to sing.
He knew the songs in their repertory and sang them, but his voice, compared to theirs was extraordinary. He was a tenor with an obviously trained operatic voice who dominated the entire Quay, even in his inebriated state, and suddenly the audience of tourists sat up and began to notice, as did the leader of the musicians. Now, as the group moved from coffee shop to coffee shop, there was an audience that followed them wherever they went. For the strolling musicians this was an unexpected bonanza. Linda and I did as the others did, and we followed the group. Eventually, the party moved to where our ferry was waiting, and the singer waived goodbye to his new found friends and boarded the ferry to Punta Sabioni. While on the ship, he continued singing, and the passengers stayed with him and listened. Eventually, he ran out of steam, or possibly the booze he had consumed got to him, but he stopped singing, much to the relief of his friends and the disappointment of everyone else on the ferry. Not to worry, however.
No sooner had the tenor stopped singing, than a German tourist pulled out an accordion from its case and began to play some lively tunes, and before you knew it, almost everyone on the ship began to dance. It was the most joyous ferry ride I’ve ever taken, and one I will never forget.