The drive to the airport gave Pippa ample time to reminisce. The memories came in discrete sequences.
Irresistibly, they drew her back to earlier happier times, to the honeymoon in Venice, Alex leading her through the Edwardian marbled splendour of the hotel foyer to the jetty beyond, where a young gondolier doffed his cap and waved her on board.
The gondola was filled with flowers; mounds of cushions were piled high; a small package rested on a stool. Alex handed it to Pippa. She unwrapped a box containing a necklace, once his grandmother’s, a dazzling string of diamonds and sapphires.
The gondolier pushed his craft away from the jetty and, with huge tugs on his oar, steered them into the narrow channel beside the Doge’s Palace. He cleared his throat and the glorious notes of a Puccini aria from Turandot filled the air and echoed between the towering walls. Pippa fell back on the cushions and watched the Bridge of Sighs glide slowly overhead.
Other images of that day passed through her mind like snapshots in a slide show. A deserted square, patterned with gleaming puddles trapped by the uneven flagstones; in the middle, a trickling fountain. Then the stealthy entrance from stage left of three cats on the prowl, trailing long shadows in the hazy early morning sunshine.
A venerable palazzo rising sheer from the waters of the canal, its facade savagely scarred where the plaster had flaked away to expose the uneven brickwork. Then a glimpse inside an upper window to a ceiling burnished with the rich, dull yellow of gold leaf, the hint of a fresco in one corner.
A burst of masculine laughter overhead, a voice raised in protest, no one to be seen, but tumbling from the highest balcony an aged vine, still in bud, its many threads sleek and straight as if a Rapunzel above had truly let down her hair for her lover below.
A sudden clatter of wings as the pigeons of San Marco, startled by the clamorous tolling of ten o’clock, took to the sky. Immediately a cacophony of bells peeled from innumerable, unseen campaniles fracturing the air with reckless discord. Knots of students, uniform in their jeans, tee shirts and rucksacks, strolled aimlessly around the square or posed in ranks on the various steps that offered themselves to the weary.
Later the cafes had spilled into the square, the bands had begun the daily repetition of their battle for musical pre-eminence, most audibly a Strauss waltz, wildly inappropriate and failing in the transition from stuffy Vienna to limpid Venice. Pippa had sipped a Campari and soda that had never tasted as wonderful before and never would again. Mysteriously it had brought the Strauss into closer harmony with the pale blue sky above, the lilt of the Italian waiters yelling their orders, even the early chords of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony swelling from the next cafe along between the softer passages of the waltz.
Alex’s mood had been in perfect harmony with their surroundings. From beneath the veneer of nonchalance had bubbled great waves of enthusiasm, boyish, even naive in their expression. He knew the history of Venice intimately, was a fund of extraordinary tales of Marco Polo, the Doges, of the artists and the sculptors who had adorned or recorded the city, of the decadent lives of European royalty who had graced the Lido.
He swapped badinage in three languages with the occupants of other tables, he thought he spotted an old friend, dashed off into the crowd and returned ten minutes later with a charming watercolour of the Rialto Bridge. Did any other place so easily evoke such vivid memories, she wondered?
Now get the live view from the bridge! Hold on for the gondola. It's worth the wait.
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