There is a restaurant called Avanti's that we frequented when I was little. They had paper placemats that were printed with maps of Italy and tiny illustrations of the various cities. I vividly remember the leaning tower and the funny-looking boat.
"Those are gondolas," Grandma said. "Not like the sandwich they serve here, but these long boats they use in a place called Venice. They have canals instead of streets - like sidewalks filled with water - and people ride the boats instead of using cars."
I found that to be quite intriguing, though I've never been a big fan of boats. But I smiled when I realized I had a weekend in Italy - easily forsaking Rome or Florence for this city with water for streets.
It was meant to be hard to get here - I had planned to leave my hotel no later than 4:30AM to catch the first of 2 flights south. We'd then get a car, drive for an hour, take 3 hours of meetings and begin to repeat the process in order for me to reach Venice around midnight. And that was fine because I am here to work and I like my job, even apart from the fact that it sends me to Italy.
But when plans changed, I was shamefully thrilled that I could sleep late. I awakened feeling rested, showered and dressed, and climbed the stairs to the rooftop garden so I could overlook Bologna as I caught up on some work.
I shook my head between typing emails and taking pictures because who does that? Sits in rooftop gardens overlooking an ancient Italian city? It's just too wonderful.
My colleagues came to fetch me and I trotted out to the car, all packed and ready to complimented on how little luggage I needed. They obliged and we covered a couple of topics that required discussion before pausing to purchase a train ticket since the flight I'd booked from Rome wasn't going to do me much good.
"Now our priority is the lunch," one announced and I was pleased to agree as I'd not had breakfast. So we went to the countryside - over a one-lane bridge - to this little, old cottage that was now a trattoria.
It was at Avanti's where I took my first bite of tortellini smothered in meat sauce with a layer of melted mozzarella on top. I felt very adult that I didn't order pizza bread or a gondola. Today, I had fresh, homemade tortellini in broth - apparently a Bolognese specialty. And I felt like a child as I focused on nothing but tastes and textures and scents of this simply amazing food.
She then brought bread shaped like small pancakes which we cut open to place ham or salami or motadella inside. "We call this bologna," I smiled and nibbled again. "I've not had it since I was little, but it's delicious." And then I had one more.
"She likes the sweets," my colleague told the waitress in Italian and I nodded. I do like the sweets. So we had mascarpone with chocolate. And I drank a cappuccino. And I was full and happy and wishing for a nap.
Instead, I took a phone call at the office before catching a train and racing east. I followed my fellow passengers through the station and emerged at the top of some steps and caught my breath at the canal sparkling before me.
I just stood for a moment before reaching for my camera, thinking the life twists and turns a good deal. I wished fervently that I could take Grandma's hand and stare at the darkening sky and shimmering lights. Listen to the water lapping at the structures it bordered. And breathe in the smell of the sea.