I Won’t Go Back Again

On the day I visited Venice, the city was flooding—a precursor, I fear, of what is to come.  Some of the streets alongside the canals were underwater, deep enough that I couldn’t venture into them without rubber boots.

In the Piazza San Marco, the main square of the city, raised boardwalks had been erected to allow tourists to pass from one side to the other.  Outdoor cafes, their tables waiting for customers, were untended because they sat in several inches of water.  A few children romped and splashed in the accidental lake that covered much of the square, their squeals of delight piercing the general hubbub.

 

I wondered, sadly, how much longer tourists would be allowed to visit the legendary city.

I made a point of visiting the famed Rialto Bridge spanning the Grand Canal—to say I’d been there, of course, but also because my youngest daughter accepted a marriage proposal on that very spot several years ago.  I found it quite romantic, despite the crowds.

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Until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t!

I had stopped to take pictures at the top of a staircase from the bridge to the street below, when I was roughly jostled from behind.  I almost dropped my cellphone.

“Outta the way!” a voice growled.  “You’re blocking the way!”

The speaker, about my age, held the hand of a little girl, perhaps six or seven, and they started down the steps past me.

More out of surprise than belligerence, I said, “Yeah, I guess I am.  Too bad!”

The man stopped, turned, and came back towards me, the little girl drawn along.  Standing one or two stairs below, he had to look up as he spoke to me.  He appeared to be somewhat younger than I, but old enough that I assumed the child was his granddaughter.

“What did you say?” he demanded, his English accented but fluent.  And angry.

“I’m taking pictures,” I said.  “You should watch where you’re going.”

“You shouldn’t even be allowed to come here!” he exclaimed.  “You’re spoiling our city, all you people!”  He was quite excited by then.

“Why don’t you calm down?” I said, wondering where this was headed.  “Before you frighten your granddaughter.”  The little girl was clutching his hand tightly.

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“I’ll calm down when I punch you in the nose,” he said, still looking up at me.

“You won’t do that,” I said, slipping my phone into my pocket, bracing, wondering if he would.

There was a momentary pause.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I say momentary because an awful lot of thoughts were flashing through my mind at that precise moment.

Who is this guy?

Why’s he so mad?

What if he takes a swing?

If he does, I’ll push him, and he’ll fall down the stairs.

Yeah, but what about the little girl?  What if she gets hurt?

And what if the police come?

How do I get into these messes?

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The man apparently thought twice about it.  Turning away abruptly, he started down the stairs, the little girl in tow.  “We can’t even walk around our own city anymore,” he complained loudly, one arm gesticulating.  “All you people, you come here, you block the streets, you ruin everything.  You should stay home, stay wherever you come from…”

His voice faded away, and within seconds he and the little girl were swallowed up in the crowded street, lost to sight.  No one else seemed to have noticed the altercation.

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I was shaken, of course, although convinced I had done nothing wrong.  After a few minutes, I resumed my walking tour of the remarkable city.

Later that evening, reflecting over a glass of wine, I wondered if the man’s anger was not so much with me, as with the fact that I was but one of hordes of tourists overrunning his city, even as the marshy land it sits on sinks into the sea.  In fact, more than 30 million people visit Venice each year, a city with a population of approximately 50,000 souls.

In his anger, I heard echoes of complaints from people in nations all over the world—people opposed to the influx of immigrants and asylum-seekers to their countries, people afraid their jobs will be taken, their culture destroyed, their language lost.  Their fear is real and their resentment palpable.  Politicians cater to it.

And I wondered if those same fears had been voiced, in vain, by the indigenous peoples whose homelands had been invaded by the rapacious colonizers who appeared on their shores four centuries ago.  

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I’m awfully glad I visited Venice when I did, and I’m happy I stood where my daughter did almost twenty years ago when her beau proposed to her.  It is an indelible memory for us both.

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But I won’t go back again.

Odes of Joy

I would wager the family farm (if I owned one) that not one in ten of you, dear readers, will know the meaning of this acronym:  SPEBSQSA.

It stands for the original, and still official, name of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), founded eighty-one years ago, in 1938.  Since that time, loads of odes of joy have rung out across the world as men and women of all persuasions have come together in harmony.

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The acronym translates as: Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America.  Quartets still flourish, but barbershop singing has since expanded to include large choruses.

I mention this because a few years ago, a friend introduced me to the joys of singing in a men’s chorus—Harbourtown Sound, of Hamilton, Ontario.  Eighty-five men strong, HTS is a competition chorus that was ranked twenty-fourth in the world in 2018, out of more than a thousand barbershop choruses worldwide.

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The jubilant music the chorus produces can make the listener shiver with delight.

Just this past winter, that same friend invited me to join a second chorus—the Suncoast Statesmen, of Punta Gorda, Florida.  This great group, comprised almost equally of American stalwarts and Canadian snowbirds, is a performance chorus, eschewing the competitive experience in favour of a more relaxed approach.

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Nevertheless, the music the chorus creates is both joyous and memorable.

I’ve written before in these pages about Harbourtown Sound, and one of those posts may be found at this safe link—

If you missed it, or even if you’d like to enjoy a reprise, check it out.  You’ll hear some wonderful music selections within the post.

The chorus, which this year is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary, will present its annual spring show, Making Great Music and Great Friends, on 12 May at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

The Suncoast Statesmen recently performed their annual spring show, Harmony Showcase, held in a large church in the area, before a sell-out crowd.  The chorus sang nine songs altogether, five in the first act, four in the second.  Between sets, a number of quartets and local high school student ensembles performed.

If you’re in the mood to hear some brilliant harmony, have a listen to these five songs, which may be found at this safe link—

Much has been written about the joys and benefits of singing, either alone or in an ensemble.  For me, it’s a little bit like rainfall—once it starts, it’s hard to stop.

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Making Babies

“Gramps,” says she, almost absently, “you and Nana made babies, right?”

“Ahh, that’s right,” says I, a tad taken aback by her question—out of the blue from an early-teen granddaughter.  “Two of them, beautiful sisters.”

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We’ve been sitting on a swing-chair in the lanai, each of us tapping on our phones, together yet apart.  I turn my attention from mine, but she is still engrossed in hers.

“Like Mum and Dad did with us, right?”

“Exactly,” I reply, wondering where this is going.  “Like they did for you and your sister.  But we did it first.”

She smiles to herself.  “Did you ever make babies with anybody else?”

I shake my head.  “No, the only one we made babies with was each other.  Your mum and aunt are the only babies we ever had.”

“Did you ever try with anybody else?”

Another shake of the head, this one to clear the surprise I’m feeling.  “Nope.  I didn’t want babies before I met Nana.”  I’m trying hard to answer the questions as asked, without offering anything extraneous.

“Was she your first girlfriend?”

“No, I went out with other girls before we met.  But she was my last girlfriend,” I say with a chuckle.

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Eyes and thumbs still on her phone, she smiles at that.  “How did you guys know you were the ones you wanted to make babies with?”

I pause, gazing skyward, taking myself more than fifty years back.  “Well, I guess it was because we sort of clicked right off the bat.  After going out with her a couple of times, I didn’t really want to date anyone else.  Lucky for me, she felt the same way.”

“Yeah, but how did you know that?”

I laugh quietly again, buying time.  “I’m not sure we really did know, not right away.  I think it was something that grew slowly, the more time we spent together.”

“And that didn’t happen with any other girlfriends?”

I shake my head yet again.  “It was different with Nana.  She had a wonderful smile, and I guess she liked mine.”  I flash her a Cheshire grin for effect.  “We both loved sports and played a lot of them, so that helped.  Plus, we knew a lot of the same friends.  After a while, we just didn’t want to be with anyone else.  And before we knew it, we figured out we were in love.”

 “But you didn’t try to make babies?”

“Okay,” I say, screwing up my courage, “you know how babies are made, right?  Sort of?”  I pray that she does.

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She nods and blushes slightly, looking at me now.

“Well, Nana and I both wanted to graduate from university, meaning we wouldn’t be able to get married for a few years.  Back in those days, most people didn’t have babies before they were married, and birth control—you know what that is, right?—wasn’t available the way it is today.”

“Lots of people have babies today without being married,” she says.

“They do,” I acknowledge.  “But think of the enormous responsibility that can be, being a mother or father of a baby.  It’s like a full-time job, so any plans you have for school or a working career could be delayed a long time.”

“You think it’s wrong to do that before you’re married?”

I pause again, thrust without warning into the role of a reluctant life-coach, caught unprepared for this conversation.  But not disposed to dodge it.

“So-o-o,” I venture, “I wouldn’t call it wrong or right in a moral sense, like a sin or anything.  Not if two people are sure they love each other.  But I do think making babies could be an unwise decision for them, depending upon the circumstances.  If two people consciously want to be parents, if they know what that will entail, and if they believe they’re equipped to raise a child, then at least they’re going into it with their eyes open.  But even then, I think there’s a problem with that logic.”

“Which is?” she says, all in now.

“In my limited experience,” I say, smiling self-deprecatingly, “making love with someone is an emotional act—as it should be probably.  But emotions can often push common-sense aside in those situations, so people might end up doing something that seems exactly right in the moment, only to realize in retrospect that it was exactly the wrong thing to have done.  And if their actions result in a baby coming along, the consequences of that one mistake can be life-altering.  Especially if they’re young.”

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She nods, brows furrowed.  “How many girlfriends did you have before Nana?”

I’m tempted to reply, jokingly, that the number was in the dozens, but her manner is quite intent now.  “Boy, that’s a long time ago,” I say.  “I think there were probably three or four girls I really liked before Nana.  We’d tell everybody we were going steady, meaning we couldn’t date anybody else.”

“But you did, though, right?”

“Yeah, eventually,” I concede.  “With all of them except Nana.  She’s the last girl I went steady with.”

“And the only one you made babies with,” she affirms.

“Yup.”

She leans close to plant a kiss on my whiskery cheek.  “Okay, Gramps.  Thanks for telling me about you and Nana.”

And off she goes, phone in hand—curiosity apparently satisfied—leaving me alone on the swing-chair in the lanai, wondering if I’d answered her questions wisely, thinking I might know the reason for them, and hoping her innate common-sense would prevail.

It’s all so long-ago for me, and so achingly right-now for her.