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It was Venice.

We had passed through a couple of weeks earlier, on our way to do the Hemingway thing in Pamplona. Which we did. In which I challenged the single bull that had gored someone to death minutes earlier in the centre of the Plaza Del Toros. Which I may write about sometime in the future. But that was a couple of weeks removed.

While we were in Pamplona, the three of us, New Englanders all, waxed nostalgic about the mere scent of the salt water in Venice. Never mind that we had been led down opium scented alleyways in Marseilles, with that same salt-water mitigating the sweet stench of dope (of one form or another) while we were there. The thing was that we were all rather cash-poor in western Europe, at least, and made a sort of pact that we'd all been so taken by Venice in the couple of hours we had spent there on our way to the bulls, that we'd blow our respective wads on hotels, food and booze. In Venice. City of romance. And Love. Split between three scumbag American boys, without a woman in our sights.

So we weathered Pamplona, Marseilles. We were escorted out of Nice by the GENDARMES, and not even allowed to get off the train in Cannes. Obviously, we didn't even consider taking the spur into Monte Carlo. But we weathered the dope dens and flan palaces of Marseilles, and reveled in the triumph of outwitting the delirious bulls of pamplona and decided that our last stand, as it was, would be in Venice.

Of course that wasn't where our last stand was. In fact there really never was any sort of last stand. One of us pussed out and went home to mommy, one of us eventually stayed in Czech, and I,...? I worked the gray market until I started to suffer from nostalgia for the sea. Honestly, I know I've written about my Czech exploits in the past, but readership has rotated and I can't expect you to go back to my early entries anymore than I read yours...We are all works in progress and shit. Anyway.

The point is this: We were just coming from the biggest party you could ever imagine. We believed that a waypoint in Venice would be almost like a decompression stop on our way back to the relatively sleepy nature of the heart of Moravia. But there was the money thing. I, had the most cash. My grandmother had given me my "inheritance" early. A gift that amounts to less than a week's pay for me now, but when you are like, nineteen, seems like a fortune. Fuck, back then, before the Euro, and the fall of the red curtain tangling my heels, it WAS a fortune. Anyway, not quite so much in Italy. This was the deal. I would pay for three nights in a hotel. Not a hostile, but an actual place with a private bath and sheets. The prince would pay for the food. Street side vendors and such, and Hugo, the one that really lived in the Czechoslovakia was obligated to take us out for ONE all-out feast at a top-rated restaurant. It all sounded pretty egalitarian to us. Fuck, I think it still sounds fair, if you don't know about the prince's behaviours and shit. Anyway. That's not what I'm talking about.

Have you been to Venice? Probably not. If you have, you will agree with me that the moment you step off the train, you immediately fall in love. Not with anything in particular, but; that feeling of falling in love permeates your soul, and if there isn't some Sophia Loren or Giulietta Masina walking by at THAT EXACT MOMENT, you tend to hold that feeling in the repository of your breast until your breast can't take it no more. And this is the story of how the three of us just couldn't take it no more...

The prince chose a hotel not too far off from the train station, but outside of his economical reach, being a skinflint and all, for me to pay for us to stay in. As is everything in Venice, it was in an alley and we were all in love with being in love. so I paid for the hotel arrangements, as outlined above, and we were really hungry, after being all but ejected from France. We set out to find a place to get some street food, but that really isn't how venice works. We ended up in this little dive across the alley-way from the hotel (after a couple of hours of looking for a place the Prince was cheap enough to under-wright)

And that bar/restaurant was separated by a wall. Bar on one side, booths on the other. We were seated in booths, and before we were done with our meals, we recognized that there was this amazing music coming from the other side, the bar side, of the room. While we waited for the check we became mesmerized by the singer. And the music, but mainly it was that singer's voice, for fiucksakke. That feeling of being in love that we carried beneath our skins started to seep through to the surface.

We paid the checque, and made our wat to the other side of the wall and saw what was really going on. Up until we crossed over to the bar, we had all been under the delusion that this was recorded music, but when we crossed over we discovered that all the neighborhood locals had concertinas, spoons, banjos, guitars, acoustic bass and etc etc...The place had officially closed about an hour before we were finished, and when we rounded that corner, they challenged us to join in.

Hugh had accordion skills, the prince could play guitar and bass. I, well, I got the spoons and a healthy dose of "SSSSHHHH!" when I'd try and "sing".

The singer's name, the girl with the smokey voice and the blue eyes and black hair, well, her name was SELENA. The burbling love of each three of us congealed around SELENA.

We spent the rest of he night there, drinking pitchers of free vino singing Cat Stevens songs and CSNY and other hippy BS until everyone had to go home and catch sleep for their real jobs on the morning.

all three of us left reluctantly, all three of us hoping to steal a kiss from SELENA.

For whatever reason, the place was closed the next night and we went to that big plaza where they always show all the pigeons and I think we shot off bottle rockets at the Gondolas while a prospective landpilot told us about that island out there, the one we were looking at, that was "very important for glass".

And then we get to the third night, and I'm actually going to censor myself because so much shit went down that night that isn't germane to what I'm actually trying to say here...

So on the third night, according to our agreement and needs, Hugo was to take us out to an expensive restaurant. Which he did. It was the three of us and a Bar-Mitzva party at the end of a canal. I ate my first Langostas, which I thought were really just shrimp. But now we all know better, now, right?

It may be shocking, but I involved myself in this Italian bar-mitzva, and engendered some good will and we all drank and ate and drank until we were completely DONE. I can't speak for those other two assholes, but I was finished with red wine for the rest of my life. If not that evening. Anyway.

Anyway, so..after carrying the new Jew around on our shoulders, we slowly bounced off of alleyway walls and made it back to the hotel. Only thing was that someone, probably not me, but someone, could hear SELENA singing Cat Stevens tunes and we all pounded in the door until they let us in.


Almost immediately, Hugo and the prince were given acoustic guitars. I got a couple of spoons and a tall glass of wine.

I didn't really pay too much attention to the spoons, and the later tambourine that I was handed. Believe it or not, I focused on the tumblers of free wine that were being poured for me.

Now, there is etiquette and then there is etiquette. Both of which I subscribe to. You know real and booze etiquette. In many cultures there is the command of "NA EX" (this is the czech version that I know well enough to write about) which roughly translated means: "to the bottom". Of course, 999999.9% of the time when you are confronted with a "na ex" situatioution, you are looking down the barrel of a shot or so of hard booze. But here, I was stuffed to the gills with those langostas and matzoh or whatever. I was, quite literally "stuffed" before all the wine even came into play. But there I was, happily drinking the Vino and half-heatedly trying to find some sort of rhythm with the spoons while I was all moon-eyed at Selena. And so it went. Our currency with this group was the fact that the Prince and Hugo had musical skills. I was under the impression that I was being merely tolerated as a side-effect of their abilities.

I drank and spooned. And then...

And then, Selena, with her indescribable voice (who was it that said writing about music is like dancing about architecture?) eventually made her way around the bar and sat down on the bench exactly next to me. Of all people.

The prince and Hugo were both at different opposite ends of the space from me, but I can't say that they didn't notice that my hands started trembling when one song ended and she put a hand on my knee and started in:

It's not time to make the change,
Just relax
and take it easy...

She had her hand on my knee and I finished my tall tumbler of vino and she was staring right into my eyes for the entire song.

It was perhaps one of the most perfect moments of my life.

And then? And then the pitcher was passed and she filled my glass and she filled her glass. The eyes of the entire room were on us, as they all took their cues from Selena for what to play next. She filled my glass and filled her glass and I was STUFFED and she had just sang an entire song to me and then she clinked our glasses and said the Italian for "na ex" and jesusfuck, she drank the whole thing down and everybody was watching me and I was in love and under pressure and hoisted my glass and chugged, no, choked it all down.

What happened next, well the prince and Hugo had better perspective than I. The prince still says that it was the single moment of his life in which he wished he could have filmed. Selena got up and I think they started singing a Bob Marley song or something Italian or who knows. All I know is that as fast as all that wine went down, it came right back up. Into my mouth. I literally put my hand over my mouth to keep it in, and then I swallowed all of it AGAIN. It came back triple fast. That NA EX wine just didn't want to be ion my gut.

I put my hand over my mouth, but more wine was coming up and I was spurting strams of red wine from angles formed by my fingers. I got wine puke all over just about everybody as I tried to shove my way through all the people to get to the head. And I'm not exaggerating one bit here. I got wine puke on just about everyone, and I got it the worst.

I made my way to the bathroom and puked until I was dry-heaving. One look in the mirror, one thought of how bad my breath might stink disabused me of the idea of ever being seen in front of all those people ever again. Much less Selena, of all people. Jesus fuck, I had it bad for that girl.

The front of my shirt looked like I had just completed surgery on a gut-shot. I washed my face as best I could and slipped out the back door. I went back to the room, took a bath and probably cried from the abject humiliation of the entire thing for a while before falling asleep around midnight.

Three hours later Hugo and the prince were slapping me and asking why I hadn't come back. They were never drinkers of my caliber, but they were pretty loaded and because my stomach had been emptied, I was sober as a judge.

Hugo was the one who broke the news. He said that after two songs, Selena stopped everything to ask the room "Where is Max?" The prince, reportedly said to her: well, he probably left out of embarrassment because he puked all over everyone..."

Hugo said that she stood up tall and Tsk'd and said something to the effect of "but for why? On Friday night everybody does that here!".

Hugo also said that she asked the prince to go get me and bring me back, but those two jealous fucks couldn't be bothered. I'm not saying that at that tender age I would have had the fortitude to walk back into that room after literally puking on all those people, but still. I don't think the word "cockblock" had even been coined yet, but still...Selena kept asking after me and we were supposed to leave the next day.

Of course we didn't, but we wandered, stumbled and napped in the streets that fourth night, and Selena's cafe was closed. That was the festival of the dead or somesuch plague-related BS. And even though it wasn't Selena, I kissed my very first Italian girl. Mere hours before we got on a train back to Wien and then, eventually, Zlin.

Months later, in land-locked Zlin I started to go stir-crazy. I longed for the scent of the sea and the feeling of being in love again. I hopped a train back to venice and stayed one night. As soon as the salt-water filled my nostrils, I knew it was time to go home. To the states. To the sea. I don't even know why, but I couldn't even find Selena's cafe...almost as if it had been a mirage. but even still, even if it had been a group delusion,
I still count her as one of the ones that got away....

Date: 2010-12-27 02:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thepuddingcook.livejournal.com
Bravo! Loved this story! :-)

Date: 2010-12-27 02:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saltdawg.livejournal.com
stop jacking ,me off if i was soberererererer it would have made sense. especially the inconclusive "Last stand" allusion.

still, thanks.

You're still young, that's your fault.

Date: 2010-12-27 02:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thepuddingcook.livejournal.com
LOL you're too hard on yourself! That was compelling stuff! Visceral.

Date: 2010-12-27 02:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mercyorbemoaned.livejournal.com
On the one hand yes.

One the other hand now I have that song in my head.

Date: 2010-12-27 04:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saltdawg.livejournal.com
I miss the rains down in africa...

Date: 2010-12-27 04:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saltdawg.livejournal.com
I'm just mad about Safron...

*damn*

Date: 2010-12-27 05:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saltdawg.livejournal.com
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway

Date: 2010-12-27 06:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mercyorbemoaned.livejournal.com
hush hush, keep it down now

Date: 2010-12-27 04:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zyzyly.livejournal.com
the thing is, you're not the old guy yet.

Date: 2010-12-27 04:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saltdawg.livejournal.com
Har! I don't remember us being that far apart...

Date: 2010-12-27 07:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zeldakitty.livejournal.com
Such a great story. Thanks so much for tucking me in tonight, Max.

Date: 2010-12-28 01:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saltdawg.livejournal.com
it was my pleasure. After this debacle of a "vacation?" I am currently on, I may go someplace in February. NOLA is on the short list.

Date: 2010-12-30 05:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zeldakitty.livejournal.com
You know how we roll down here but if you stand on northern formality still, the invitation is, as I hope you know, open.

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