September 2014

Travel romance

by Rebecca Bricker on September 28, 2014

I was at Caffè Florian this week in Venice, on Piazza San Marco, feeling a bit like Katharine Hepburn’s character in the 1955 David Lean film Summertime. Or at least, the 2014 version of her.

Of course, I wasn’t wearing a Hollywood-designer frock. But I had all the same props at the table – handbag, journal, guidebook, camera.

I was alone, sipping a pinot grigio, listening to the cafe’s orchestra. If I squinted I could almost see Kate at the next table…

Hepburn plays a middle-aged unmarried woman named Jane Hudson, from Akron, Ohio, who comes to Venice on a dream trip – alone. She’s beside herself with excitement when she first arrives, but the joy of the adventure is soon clouded by culture shock and loneliness.

On her first visit to Piazza San Marco, Jane takes a table at Caffè Florian, and notices a man at a table nearby – the gorgeous Rossano Brazzi, whose character (Renato) will eventually, but not easily (drama requires conflict, as we know), provide the salve for Jane’s aching heart.

I won’t give away the ending, but the film has classic David Lean moments. Fireworks burst over Venice as Jane and Renato finally succumb to passion on his apartment terrace. The camera doesn’t follow them to the bedroom – instead it zooms in on Jane’s red shoe that poetically has slipped off her foot on the terrace.

What intrigues me about this film is the setup – an American woman traveling alone in Italy in the early 1950s. (I can’t imagine this was common, but apparently it wasn’t unheard of.) Jane isn’t a wide-eyed ingenue (Hepburn was 48 when she made this movie) and travels with some heavy emotional baggage (not to mention the many suitcases she hands off to porters at the Venice train station). And adding to the pathos of her predicament: Renato, as it turns out, is married (though living separately from his wife).

Travel romances are often bittersweet because they’re fleeting – a chance encounter that gives life to a short-lived fantasy. But there’s something exhilarating about living a fantasy for a few days or weeks. It changes you – in a really good way, if you let it.

Every time I walk through the Venice train station, I think of Jane Hudson’s Venice transformation and smile. Her Renato makes me smile, too. 😉




p.s. In case you’re wondering, all of my red shoes are accounted for.

But I must admit, I fell in love – sight unseen – with a tenor on a gondola whose beautiful voice floated in through my hotel window each morning.