Celtic Illumination, part 136, O sole mio
As the Illuminati, the refined group of people who follow the Celtic Illumination blog, are the most fantastic people in the ether, we occasionally give a ‘shout out’ to various individuals. Today is no different and I would like you all to turn towards Liverpool and give a warm wave and hello to Ken Clare. Ken, an avid reader, follower and believer in this blog, is not a very happy bunny at the moment. He has a cerebral aneurysm which, as you all know, means there’s something wrong with his head.
It’s important that we wave hello to Ken because Ken saved my life once and I owe him a lot. So hello Ken and get well soon from all us Illuminati. By the way, to try and thank him for what he did I’d actually tried to motivate a committee he works with to get him recognised for his work with a reward on either the New Year’s honours or birthday honours list. As I have had no indication that this has successfully happened, I take it that they have failed him. Fecking civvies. But no worries, when I take the throne of Ireland I shall put Ken on my very own honours list, and right at the very top too. Get well soon old boy.
So where was I? Ah yes, Venice. We managed to find our way to Lido di Jesolo, and as this was way before the days of the internet and mobile telephones, the way you found a hotel was to walk along the street. Well; it’s how I did it. Lido was certainly geared up for tourists. It was lively and colourful, in a wipe clean plastic sort of way. I opted for the Hotel Derby as I feared other, grander sounding; hotels might adapt their charges accordingly. Again the hotel, like the name, was plain and simple and sufficient for what we wanted; well, what I wanted. That evening I spent hours researching local information from the barman. I even managed to remember some of it.
The following morning I was off, Karen’s job was to keep up. Venice was an hour away and I needed to see it all and to see it all now! I knew we had to get a bus somewhere and from there we would catch a boat into Venice. I think it all went smoothly; at least I had no complaints. I had a sort of map which allowed me to navigate from the train station across the Rialto Bridge and then through the tourist packed streets to Saint Marks Square. I have to say that I was disappointed with the Rialto Bridge as I hadn’t expected to find it covered with shops selling the most horrendous tack. So I didn’t dwell there, although, God forgive me, I did take the obligatory photographs. I think I had it in my head that Saint Marks square was the centre of Venice and all tours should start from there. I was of course lost and way out of my depth.
I went over to the gondolas and enquired as to how much it would cost for a trip along the Grand Canal. At that time Lira were still used throughout Italy and the exchange rate was approximately fifteen hundred Lira to the Pound Stirling. Of course I was a wizard with mathematics so just to confuse me the Italians stated their prices in American Dollars, which came in at four Dollars to the Pound. The gondoliers wanted fifty dollars American for half an hour in a gondola. It didn’t matter what way I converted the dollars into Stirling I still came up with the same answer, which involved the words, ‘Off’ and ‘Feck.’ A sort of Irish quadratic equation.
Karen wasn’t amused. She wanted to go on a gondola and wouldn’t accept my reasoning that it was too fecking expensive. This is where I learned that Karen expected me to pay for everything on the holiday. I realised that extreme diplomatic language would have to be used for this situation, but I was most certainly a little disappointed. I managed to find a tourist map, in English, and began to plan my day. Karen wanted to know where the shops were. One of the things I knew I had to do in Saint Marks square was to sit at one of the café’s and enjoy a coffee while watching the world pass me by. But with the pigeons and the tourists I knew that I wouldn’t be able to feel comfortable.
I would describe it as combat tourism. Groups of tourists followed a tour leader who held up a sign, or an umbrella, and they zoomed all over the place, like human dodgems on acid. It certainly was not the pace at which somewhere like Venice should be enjoyed. I wasn’t appreciating it as much as I should have been. Occasionally I would tag on to a group and listen to the tour guide, trying to get my cultural fix, but they had an extra sense and would recognise stragglers and would make it very clear that you were not welcome unless you parted with some Lira, in their direction.
Somehow or other I was able to now imagine the fervour of Shylock and his lust for his pound of flesh, but when you are as crazy as me, all I could now see was Shylock wandering around demanding fifty dollars of each and every person he met, like a Hong Kong whore on a time loop. Everything was overpriced and I was finding it most difficult to make any sort of connection with Venice. I didn’t want to be a standard tourist who had seen the sights, I need to understand them, I needed to feel Venice.
I returned to Lido that evening with Karen warning me that the following day she was going shopping. We settled in for our evening meal. Karen was still complaining about her sore feet and what shops she simply had to visit, when I began to think that an evening’s heavy drinking might be the order of the day. But you know when you think that things cannot get any worse, yep, that’s right, they always do, my sister appeared. Stop it. I know this was Italy and it would be very easy to make the old Catholic connection of spiritual visitations but Carol, my sister, turned up and plonked herself at our table.
Carol and I never got on. In fact perhaps that would be an unfair thing to say. We didn’t really know each other. You could count the number of times we met each other every year on one hand, and yes, for some of us that is six. Carol was five years older than me. She too had been adopted, but from a different family. I really don’t know what her story was, as I said, we hardly knew each other. The strangest thing about Carol and myself was that our birthdays were on the same day, and this happened every year. How weird was that? I know, I know, everybody’s birthday is on the same day, every year. But both of our birthdays were on the exact same day, the nineteenth of May. It was so strange that we never gave each other present or cards.
Carol listened to Karen, with her complaints and desires, and the two of them seemed to get on famously. I of course was in the dog house and the parents would be hearing about my fantastic cock up. Then the strangest thing of all happened. My sister turned in to a human being. She announced that we would be leaving the hotel the following day. She had arranged for us to stay with some friends of hers in Venice.
I knew Carol, well; sort of knew her and from what I knew of her I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. It was no surprise the following morning to be told that as she was doing me a favour, I should pay her hotel bill. The threat of telling the parents was always there but I was way beyond anything they could threaten me with. Carol always got on better with them than I ever did. The year that I wanted a thirty six pound bike for my birthday and instead got a five pound note was the same year that she stood in front of dad and said, “I need five hundred pounds to go to France for the summer,” at which point the cheque book was produced.
Carol had the same upbringing as me and although the nuns at her boarding school were not as violent as the thuggish priests at Violent Hell they certainly had a reputation for engaging in rough treatment of the girls. We left the Hotel Derby and made our way to the bus stop. I was warned to be on my best behaviour and allowed to carry the bags. I felt like a fecking flunkie as the two women sauntered ahead of me chatting about shopping and shite. I was pleased and excited that I was getting into the heart of Venice but the one thing I knew was that I was going to have to be, was on my guard.