Finding Vittorio

by Rebecca Bricker on October 12, 2014

I knew it was a long shot. But I had to try.

During my recent visit to Venice, I went looking for a gondolier named Vittorio, who took me on my first gondola ride (back in 2008). He was so gracious to me that day – not many gondoliers are interested in solo passengers – that I wrote about him and that memorable ride in my new book Not a True Story. I wanted to give him a copy of the book and thank him, in person, for his kindness to me.

There are a lot of gondoliers in Venice – finding Vittorio wasn’t going to be easy. But what if…? Sometimes, especially when I’m traveling, I experience an almost-magnetic pull to a person or place I’m meant to find.

So off I went, trusting my internal compass. I had a photo of Vittorio – taken on his gondola on that October day six years ago – tucked in the back of my journal. I hoped, if I didn’t find him, that I’d find someone who knew him.

It was a good half-hour walk from my hotel to the gondola station where I last saw him, at Campo San Barnaba, famous for the church where a scene in an Indian Jones movie was filmed.

As soon as I walked into the piazza, I saw him. He was in his gondola, as if getting ready to push off. I hurried toward him.

I couldn’t see his face, hidden by the brim of his straw boater’s hat. He looked up at me in surprise when I said, “Vittorio?”

“Si.” Vittorio has a great smile and looks enough like Bill Clinton to be an Italian cousin.

“I don’t believe this!” The story tumbled out of me as I pulled the book out of my bag.

“Lady, you wrote about me? No one ever has written in a book about me.”

I opened the book to “his” page and pointed to his name.

We sat on a bench together by the gondola station, as I told him about the book and wrote a note of thanks to him on the title page.

“I don’t read English so well – but my son can help me,” he said.

Vittorio showed the book to a friend who was passing by and pointed to his name, on page 54. The disbelieving friend laughed and asked Vittorio, in Italian, if he was on “Candid Camera.” Vittorio gave him a playful shove.

Vittorio hopped into his gondola, to pose for a photo with his book. The boat wobbled as he got his balance.

“Be careful. Don’t get that book wet,” I teased him.

“Don’t worry, signora, I do this for a living.” Ah, that smile.

We posed for a couple of photos together, before I said good-bye.

“What a happy day this is for me,” I told him.

“No, signora, this is my happy day.” He looked down at the book in his hands. “Incredibile.

Life truly can be incredible.

Here we are – then and now…










Victoria Noe October 12, 2014 at 2:36 pm

I love your story so much!

I’ve had this kind of serendipity, but I wasn’t looking for anyone.

My second book, about losing friends to AIDS, was rooted in my fundraising work in the community in the late 80s/early 90s. I was not an activist – didn’t have time, frankly – I just raised money. When I began writing the book, I was reminded of the people in ACT UP, whose activism paved the way for so many victories, not just for the AIDS community, but for anyone advocating for health care and equality. I didn’t always agree with their tactics, but I admired the hell out of them.

Since my book came out in the spring of 2013, I have met several of the men who were my heroes. I met the first one when I walked into my first ACT UP meeting, about that same time. He invited me to a benefit screening of How To Survive A Plague, and introduced me to another one. A few months later, I met a third at a panel discussion, and in February, met that documentary’s filmmaker. We’re not just Facebook friends – we’re now colleagues and friends. I am amazed, because I never sought them out – they were just in the same room I was in. In a separate case, I found out that one guy’s life and mine dovetailed many times – but it wasn’t until this year that we finally met.

Those experiences are in the back of my mind as I begin to sketch out my next book, because it will give me an excuse to meet others – deliberately, this time. It’s not why I’m doing it, but I consider it a huge benefit.

Sometimes serendipity is the way we are able to close the circle, sometimes it opens a door, sometimes it does both. I think that’s what happened to you. Congrats!


Rebecca Bricker October 12, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Thanks for sharing this, Viki. It’s amazing when paths (finally) cross, especially when you realize how much depends on being at the right place at the right moment. I’m convinced ‘chance’ encounters have nothing to do with chance. All the best with your next book – you have done such a wonderful job of extending a healing hand to those of us who have lost friends way too soon.

Jackie Lamothe October 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm

What a great story for a Sunday morning!

Rebecca Bricker October 12, 2014 at 5:57 pm

It’s always nice to be part of your Sunday morning, Jackie! :)

alyce October 12, 2014 at 8:29 pm

No writing of books but love to hear of these wonderful experiences that enrich peoples’s lives….just love it….and YES, he does look like an Italian Bill Clinton!!!! Mi fai ridere….

Rebecca Bricker October 13, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Grazie mille, Alyce! So happy I can share these experiences with you. 😀

Naomi October 14, 2014 at 1:46 am

Hi, Rebecca! Great story! It’s been quite some time…but I still get your blogs and keep track of your travels. Hope all is well. Planning my next trip for a friend’s birthday in a few years. Too long to be away from Italy, I’m afraid, but life demands it. Take good care and enjoy! Ciao!

Rebecca Bricker October 14, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Nice to hear from you, Naomi. Glad you’re feeling the pull of Italy again. Where will you go next time?

Naomi October 20, 2014 at 10:11 am

Next time will start somewhere in Tuscany, but I will also travel the roads from Venice to Milan…through Padua, Verona, Brescia, Bergamo…and I need to see those Alps! So sorry we never met up in Florence…hopefully next time!

Monica October 16, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Just wonderful!

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