This One Has Several Endings

When my son H and daughter-in-law V suggested I accompany them to Italy, Greece, and Turkey, I was stunned. I’d just said to the Sisterhood, “We’ve lived more years than we have left. What are we going to do with what remains?” I was thinking a move to Mexico. I knew Laura and Erma wouldn’t be interested though. Knew it was safe to talk adventure to them.

On Sept. 16th, H, V, and I boarded a plane for Milan. They organized every detail, reserving apartments through Airbnb.

I’m sitting at the dining table of a lovely flat in Venice. This is peak tourist season, when thousands of travelers arrive daily, many on titanic cruise liners, a test of my body’s emergency broadcasting system. I’m thinking norovirus, and trying to conquer germaphobia.

Venice’s architecture is breathtaking, seemingly uncorrupted by the present. Narrow alleys thread a maze of mysteries.

Midmorning, we queued up to see the Basilica di San Marcos whose lavish mosaics are embellished with gold. The four copper horses purportedly were looted from Constantinople. Drawn to the confessional booths, I imagined “forgive me for I have sinned”. Thinking of absolution I don’t understand. Not asking forgiveness of the person offended or harmed, the unaccountability for pain and, of course, all those priests who’ve committed violent acts against children.

I’m not religious. Good thing, since I’m wretchedly judgmental, tempted to chastise: “It’s a sacrilege to enter a majestic place of worship wearing a ‘Hard Rock Café Venice’ t-shirt and a ‘Corona Light” sun visor.’”

Then there’s the gauche consumerism during peak tourist season. It’s kiosk paradise along the Grand Canal where booths are blooming with made-in-China souvenirs: key chains, toys, and magnets. Other venders hawk knockoff designer handbags and selfie sticks.

Yes, I’m aware of our consumption, that we’ve carbon footprint-d across the Atlantic.

H researched info to avoid what we, ourselves, are: tourists. He found the restaurants where the locals dine. Where old men enter and stand at the bar, their glasses of wine poured within seconds of their arrival. They’ve patronized the same place for years—no need for waiters to ask what they’d like.

In a few days we leave for Florence and then Rome. Eventually we fly to Greece. Next, we make our way to Istanbul where H and V will teach English. I have an image of myself as their protector. Laughable, I know, but it’s parental/devotional love. I can’t imagine saying goodbye to them, but there’s that grandbaby in NYC I want to snuggle.

Meanwhile, I’m reading “establishment media” to see what’s reported to scare us shitless. ISIS, ISIS, ISIS and now meet the Khorasan network (more threatening to the US than ISIS), with its “Qaeda operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa”, plotting attacks on the West. Another beheading.

Obama’s speechwriters wrote that the world is at a crossroads “between war and peace, between disorder and integration, between fear and hope.” The president with a Kill List delivered this at the UN, saying, “Innocent children have been gunned down” and that “no God condones this terror.”

I’m shaking my head at the hypocrisy. Shaking my head that Bush, Cheney, and Blair created this conflagration, and that Obama’s continuing it.

I check my dependable sites, like this one, for analysis of the mayhem—that the US created ISIS. Then I think of acquaintances I’ve heard say, “We can’t allow the roll back of what the US accomplished.” Despite Obama’s saying no boots on the ground, there are plenty of those, regardless of what the administration calls the men and women who wear them.

My children think I’m negative—you know, my attitude that our ecosystem’s doomed.

Mid-afternoon H, V, and I found an interesting juxtaposition to the antiquities in the basilica. With no line to enter and no admission fee, the Biennale features top architects from all over the world, their ideas, installations, inspirations for cooperation and community—and a statement of the challenge faced by architectural practices to “commit to the betterment of the extremely deteriorated world we live in.” So many brilliantly talented people are working to advance humanity.

More than twenty-five years ago, Charles and I visited Paris. On the bedside table of our room, there was a brochure, describing Villa Rigacci Hotel. I still have it among treasured memorabilia.

First day here as we negotiated the labyrinthine alleys, I took V’s arm and wove a story about a widow: “She and her husband intended to travel to Italy, but he died. She goes alone. To Venice. Suddenly, she recognizes, or thinks she does, her first lover. She follows him.”

V and I giggled. Like most tales, this one has several endings.

Anyway, I’m going to think about exquisite ancient art, the divine, transience, what we leave behind, what moves us forward, and contemporary visions of a better world—the possibilities. Arrivederci.

Missy Beattie can be reached at

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: