In the summer of 2014, my Italian friend, Pina, invited me to visit her in Venice. My last trip to Italy was in 2003 when I took my son, Will, after his high school graduation. I always approach trips to Italy with reservation, or my heart does anyway, because it is difficult to go back to a place you thought you'd never leave. I assumed this upcoming trip would be the same as others—bittersweet memories and a longing for the past—but the unexpected was waiting for me.

My family and I lived in Vicenza, Italy, from 1962 to 1966. My father, Dr. Ekrem S. Turan, was the Chief Officer of the 45th Field Hospital at the Caserma Ederle, the army base. I was eight years old. We spent four years in a villa on top of Monte Berico, with a garden perfumed by magnolia grandiflora, geraniums, and fruit trees, surrounded by sprawling vineyards and Palladian landscapes, eating food we had never tasted before, traveling to points north and south, from the Alps to the Amalfi Coast. It was as if our life became an Old Master's painting, impossible to duplicate. It was more than an adventure in a foreign country: we were the place we lived; the colors, smells, tastes became imprinted on our souls.

In the following years we returned to Italy multiple times, but nothing was ever exactly the same as we remembered. Vicenza's famed pastry shop, Da Menangina, where we used to stop for a café and hazelnut tart, was a bar; St. Mark's Square was a frenzied mass of people; tons of new construction dwarfed ancient buildings everywhere; the restaurants we knew had closed; and friends and neighbors we loved were gone. We had changed too. I was no longer the wide-eyed little girl who loved Spaghetti Bolognese but an adult filled with the sad realization that no matter how hard we tried, there was no going back.

I had some reservations about the trip. For one, I was concerned about my husband, Bill. He had just retired from a 35-year career in health insurance. During the last twelve as CEO, he grew the company from 400 employees to 1,400 and saw it ranked as the number-one health insurance provider in Pennsylvania. Leaving his life's work behind, and also recovering from prostate cancer, had put him at odds with the world. He struggled to find his footing. We had been virtually side-by-side for months and now he'd be alone. Would he manage without me? I wondered. And then there was the fact that when we got to Bergamo, I'd be staying at Pina's house with her eight-year-old granddaughter, G. I like privacy and worried about the close quarters. And lastly, my timing meant the worst weather in Venice. July, as they say, is the devil's armpit.


And so, in the summer of 2014, I arrive at Marco Polo Airport Saturday, July 20, 9:45 a.m., welcomed by familiar sounds of busily-speaking Italians and am washed into a flow of nonstop tourists speaking all kinds of things. Improvements have been made to the Arrival area and the Ali Laguna docks. Instead of dragging suitcases down miles of hot sidewalk, there is a covered, cool hallway with mechanized walkways. I had already purchased my ticket for the Orange Line vaporetto to get me to Rialto, but even so, uniformed customer service agents are plentiful and courteous. I tell them grazie, I know the way.

The Ali Laguna takes off with a rumble of engines and backstop of churned waters as we enter the marked channels. It is a busy Saturday. There are many recreation seekers in boats large and small, navigating the same marked water "roads." I admire the pilots of these vessels, so adept at managing the deep, swirling water, so confident, as if they really are driving on well-paved streets and not the churning lagoon that is seventy-one feet deep. Their bows break through waves; passengers are delighted with expectations of picnics and swims on one of the many islands embracing Venice.

The passengers riding with me, however, are not so delighted and exhibit mixed expressions of awe and nausea. We are all packed below deck and it's hot and stuffy. The boat roils and tosses the newly arrived, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived. The ones who are not ill have unstoppable, spreading smiles of amazement like mine. I'm back in familiar waters.

I observe most of the passengers are well-dressed. Asians are plentiful with face masks, gloves, sunglasses, and hats covering most of their faces, like they are headed for a danger zone instead of one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Young ladies wear summer dresses, sandals; girls are in shorts; men wear shorts too and nice shirts. I only mention this because my mother, at this point, would have been critically commenting about their attire. I, on the other hand, am dressed exactly as she would have wanted, with Marni jacket, Hermes bag, and my mother's black-and-white Givenchy scarf. I would have been wearing a stylish black hat too, but I gave it away yesterday when I left Philadelphia. I had made a quick stop at a luggage store on my way to the airport. A woman in the store, also buying luggage, said she was headed out West to bury her mother and wished she had a hat like mine to wear to the funeral. Here, I said, take it. She told me she loved me, which I took as a much-needed blessing and good-luck charm for my journey.

Pina is waiting for me at the Rialto station with G in tow. The sun is rising, on its way to hold court in the blue sky over our heads, accompanied by ever-increasing temperatures. As many visitors to Venice will tell you, probably the most difficult part is access, the getting there and getting around. By water there is the vaporetto, a quick, easy ride (most of the time) from one stazione to the next, but terra firma is a warren of alleyways and millions of bridges. Climbing endless stairs, the weary traveler hauls heavy luggage with legs that are slowly turning to mush. Up and over, up and over we go. Pina is not taking us home right away but to the fish market near Rialto to buy dinner. She keeps one eye on the fish displays and one eye on G. My suitcase and I dutifully follow, like we are kids too. Most of the fish and shellfish I recognize but some I don't, like the canocchie, or mantis shrimp. Similar to crawfish, they are more bug-like than shrimp. She buys a kilo and will cook them with pasta, a well-known Venetian dish. Our shopping is done and off we go to the Hotel La Fenice et Des Artistes near Camp S. Fantin, where I am staying. I will unpack and nap. Pina's timeshare is conveniently right around the corner.


The next four days are a combination of extreme heat, cold showers, sightseeing, and fantastic food. The next day Pina takes us on a boat trip to Lazzaretto. She has been there before and says it is remarkable, an ancient walled town and archaeological site with amazing views of Venice. Remote but worth the trip. The vaporetto drops us off at a lonely pier, at the end of which is a closed gate. There is not a soul in sight, and the only sounds are crickets and the engines of the quickly departing vaporetto. A small billboard next to the closed gate confirms our suspicions: the site is closed. There are no signs of activity or any means of return. We ring a bell on the gate, and after a long wait a young woman comes out and explains what we already know: we got the dates and times wrong. Thankfully, she flags down another vaporetto, which reluctantly agrees to make the unscheduled stop and take us back. Since we are already on the water, we decide to go to Murano, where we shop for glass and have a wonderful lunch. After another great dinner prepared by Pina, we make our plans for the rest of the week: more sightseeing for me, Dorsoduro, Guggenheim, Biennale; food shopping for Pina and G; a celebration dinner at Al Graspo De Ua; and a day at the beach.

A day at the beach? I question the wisdom of taking precious time away from my stay in Venice to go to the Lido. The Lido is an island on the other side of the lagoon, home to famous hotels and beaches. But I understand poor little G needs something fun to do, and we all need to escape the ferocious heat. So we pack up our beach things, board the vaporetto, cross the lagoon, and pull into the Lido. Pina selects one of the many private clubs dotting the long stretch of sand. They are public, but you have to pay a fee to use them. The clubs distinguish themselves by the color of their umbrellas, turning the long stretch of sand into confetti. Ours has orange umbrellas, nice showers and bathrooms, and a covered terrace with a restaurant. Very simple and very Italian, I laugh to myself.

After we get settled with chairs and things, we take a dip. The ocean water is nearly as hot as the air temperature and offers little respite from heat. G and Pina stay in the water, and I retreat to the umbrella, where I make a remarkable, unexpected discovery: time travel is real. Someone has picked me up by the shoulders and plunked me down in 1964.

There is not a tourist in sight. Only Italians speaking Italian. Families, mothers with many children, little girls running around topless, boys of assorted sizes playing soccer in the sand; men and women lounging beneath umbrellas or sitting beneath the covered terrace, talking and smoking, talking and smoking. A tanned bathing attendant, il bagnino, his round stomach pushing against a white, sleeveless T-shirt, puts up chairs and umbrellas as if nothing has ever changed and he is still the stunning, slick-haired boy of his youth.

Tanned women in bikinis bask in the sun, soft pop music plays from the bar and terrace, children run in and out buying ice cream and drinks, little wet feet slapping on the stone pavement. Men wear the typical bathing suit, small triangles of cloth barely covering anatomy, in the same comfortable and carefree fashion as the topless little girls and babies.

I stay in the shade, and G gets stung by a jellyfish. There are popsicles, more cold showers, more swimming, and then there is lunch. Sitting at a table on the covered terrace, I am surrounded by Italians eating, smoking, drinking, talking, looking absolutely the same as I remember. We order bigoli in salsa and insalata mista. It's too hot for wine, so we drink a nice cold bottle of Pellegrino. Bigoli is a fat, whole-wheat pasta and is served with a sauce of onions and anchovies. In Venice it is as important to eat this dish as going to Santa Maria della Salute. One bite and I'm totally convinced the past, which has eluded us on prior occasions, is right here, on this day, and I have walked into it. I don't want to leave but it's time to go. Be happy, I tell myself. This was a rare gift, and I shouldn't expect any more surprises, but there are more to come.

Tonight we are going to the Graspo D'Ua for dinner, one of my parents' favorite restaurants from the time we lived in Vicenza. The name, in Venetian dialect, translates as "bunch of grapes." I am armed with wonderful images of many dinners past and a well-preserved menu from 1964, which I intend to show the owner/chef as proof of my family's dedication. Pina is very excited to see what happens.

The signs telling us we have arrived at the restaurant are the same: a blown-glass bunch of amber and violet grapes and a small black lantern hang next to the door. The interior is modern and sparse, not as I remember, all shiny brass and glass and waiters in impeccable white jackets, a center table with fresh fish displayed among piles of crushed ice, studded with lemons. A waitress, not so neatly dressed, guides us to a table of Pina's choice, one near the back. Pina is a very take-charge kind of lady and immediately asks to see "il propertario." A young man appears, wearing a T-shirt. We explain the reason for our visit, and I show him the menu.




The 1964 menu from Graspo D'Ua that my parents saved for forty-six years.

He holds it in his hands, pulls it close to his face, reading closely, turning it over and then back again, nonplussed. I tell him the story: how I used to come as a little girl with my mother, father, and sister, how my father was always greeted at the door with great reverence, "Buona sera, Colonello." He looks at me, Pina, smiles, and says he will be back "subito." When he returns he is in chef whites and has combed his hair. He then tells us his story, how the Graspo D'Ua used to be famous, and brings us a photo of Ronald Reagan at a table. But he is more surprised by the menu and treats it like pure gold, telling us that none exist to this day, and we have given him a tremendous gift. The next thing we know, we are eating platters of raw scampi served on ice, drinking a Venetian Amarone, eating two courses of pasta, then sologlie al burro and contorni. We are offered dessert but cannot manage another bite. In tears, I write in his visitors' book, and we take lots of pictures. As we say goodbye, he promises to frame and hang the menu next to our pictures. We have been treated like royalty and honored guests. The restaurant, going to the Lido, all unexpected delights, and I can't imagine my trip can get any better, but there is one more thing on my list. I want to have a drink with my parents.




My sister and I, on our way to dinner at Graspo D'Ua in 1963. It was right next to the Rialto.


It's my last day and I'm due at Pina's at nine, so I have time to execute my plan. My hotel sits on a small piazza; next door is a restaurant and bar with tables outside. It is not a grand piazza as others are in Venice. This one has stone walls on three sides with outlets to small alleys where people, mostly locals, come and go with speed and determined pace. I take a seat at one of the small tables and order an Aperol Spritz.

I'm dressed like I'm going to a séance instead of a bar. I wear my mother's gold bracelet she bought in Vicenza, the gold chain with the medallion engraved with Piazza Signori, and my mother's Givenchy scarf. Are these talismans enough to conjure up their spirits? Will a doorway open long enough to send me a sign?

Actually, I had a sign the day I arrived. Making my way to the Rialto, I heard her voice in my head telling me she wanted her scarf back. The message came through so loud and clear I had no doubt these were her words. I was upset at first, thinking I had displeased her somehow and that she was angry with me. How to give the scarf back? I wondered. How could something corporeal find its way to the Otherworld? Throw it in the Grand Canal? Lose it somewhere, leave it in a store, in an alleyway? In the end I could not part with it and kept wearing it, like I was doing now in the piazza, because I figured out what she meant. She was trying to tell me how much she wanted to be back here too. My Aperol Spritz arrives, sparkling, with its customary slice of orange, looking like a sunset over the Lido.

I imagine my parents are sitting there with me, raise my glass, and make a silent toast. Italy gave my child's eyes a view of the world, a unique perspective of landscapes, people, ruins, history, and language that I would not have known or understood otherwise, enriching and enlivening my being, my life. I hope you know how I feel, how much I wish you were here. Thank you. With all my heart.

I look up into the darkening patch of sky. There, swinging on a long cord connecting the opposing wall to the restaurant's awning, is a topaz-colored, glass-and-brass Venetian lamp, the exact one my parents had purchased in Venice years ago, packed and repacked in moves from one house to the next for thirty-plus years. I could explain away the appearance of the lamp as a mere coincidence—these glass lanterns are ubiquitous here—but it seemed too prescient, too purposeful, too meaningful, as if it's not a lamp at all but my parents' arms reaching out to embrace me with equal love, saying, You're welcome.




My mother and I, on our way to lunch at Locanda Cipriani on Torcello Island. Note the famous scarf in her lap and I have one too, tied to my purse. No doubt at her instruction.


Images provided courtesy of Louise Turan. Title image: Beach umbrellas on the Lido.