The Real World: Italy

I know we’re no longer partying like it’s 1999 here, but I still cringe every time I catch myself saying the words “We met online.”

Others try to assure me that there’s no stigma to this anymore, that everybody and his uncle these days have a tribe of friends they’ve never seen in person. Even the fact that we now say “in person” instead of “in real life” should be a comfort. But whether it’s because I’ve never been to a bloggers conference or because I have truly cringe-worthy memories of defending my chat room “ministry” 15 years ago, I feel the need to hem and haw and issue disclaimers in triplicate before I admit that any of my friends started out as a URL to me.

The fact is that I have connected with some dear, dear people online, soul-siblings whose words and photos have integrated themselves into my own story. I count every one of these connections as a treasure, and I wouldn’t take it well if anyone implied that they were less valid for having been forged over screens instead of tabletops. (I owe it to humanity to admit here that no one has ever implied such a thing since… well, 1999. Clearly my defense tactics are aimed at the wrong decade.)

The most wonderful outcome, of course, is when screen-friendship becomes table-friendship. I live on the wrong continent to take advantage of that very often, but this last weekend came with a triple dose of magic, beginning with the arrival of this pair:

Erika and Austin on the gondola 1

Erika is one of my favorite people on God’s green interwebs, and now I can confirm that she really is that rad in person too. She and Austin made an otherwise ordinary day in Venice (said with tongue firmly in cheek) a feast, a party, and a pilgrimage all at once. Dan dusted off his tour guide badge, and the four of us wandered some of the most mesmerizing architecture on earth with no agenda except to be there—reverently, giddily, exuberantly there. If you’ll forgive my deviating into photoblog format for a while, I’d love to show you some of the trillion (give or take a few) pictures we snapped on Saturday. Because, Venice:

Canals of Venice 3

Erika watching the canal life

Rich Venetian's boat entrance

Dan and Bethany on the Rialto Bridge

St. Mark's Basilica 2

Dan the tour guide 2

Londra Palace from the water

Our feet were starting to drag by mid-afternoon, so we got waterbus passes and putted over to Murano, a tiny island famous for its glass. When we arrived, we found out that all of the glass-blowing exhibitions had just closed for the day. This is where it comes in handy to have a general air of serendipity hanging over your weekend though, because we just so happened to inquire at a shop whose owner “knew a guy,” and after following his directions through a maze of twig-sized alleys, we ended up at a glass workshop that just so happened to be starting a special late-afternoon show. Magic is real, folks; Maestro Giuliano (below) can mold a perfectly detailed glass horse in 20 seconds flat… and we were there to see it.

Austin and Erika on the waterbus

Maestro Giuliano at work 2

From Murano, we headed over to Burano, a tiny canal-laced community so alive with color that Erika and I would have happily stayed a week just to soak up every vivid nuance. The sun began to set, reflecting great splashes of light back to us in fuchsia and persimmon and turquoise, and I remembered how the forecast had called for rain. Thunderstorms, the whole weekend through. Instead, we were basking in the most perfect first-day-of-summer light we could have wished up. What a gift.

Canals of Burano 4


The evening might just have been my favorite part of the day though. We were all so filled up with beauty that there was nothing to do but sit back and let it settle in on the waterbus back to Venice—45 minutes of murmured conversation and tranquility as the sun finished setting over mainland Italy. That sense of peace lingered like a soundtrack underscoring the rest of our evening, but our second wind was waiting for us when we stepped off the boat… and then came dinner. Dan “knew a guy,” which resulted in some of the best bites of risotto and calamari and prosciutto and melon ever to grace my fork, the kind of good that relaxes tongues and recharges tired bodies and infuses the surroundings with laughter. We needed that boost too, because catching the last ride back to our apartment that night required us to sprint across 500 yards of slick bridges and cobblestoned stairs to get from the bus station to the train station—not once, not twice, but three times in an athletic comedy of errors.

Across the canal from St. Mark's after dark


VictoriousVictory is ours. As is full-body sweat.

The following day, we met up with a larger group of blogger friends in a tiny Tuscan town, and if I’d had any qualms left about the term “We met online,” they would have dissipated in the warm company of Seth & Amber, Tsh, and Nish. Getting to put voices and mannerisms to people whose words I’ve interacted with for years reminded me a little of seeing my babies for the first time after they were born. Well of course! There you are. We talked about blogging and church and family and the thousand daily challenges of a writing life, and the juxtaposition of online friends on my geographical home only seemed surreal for about two minutes. The rest of the time, it was just… well, real.

Tuscan countryside

I know that there’s street cred or Parmigiano points or something in being able to say that you met a friend in Italy, but if you ever see Erika and I or any of the other fine folks from this weekend walking down the street together, I’ll be proud to tell you that we met right here, online. (And then I might just bust out a little Will2K.)

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  1. Confess. This was a clandestine move to betroth all the children. 😛

  2. Absolutely MARVELOUS!! I smiled the entire way through this post, cheering for you all having such a marvelous, life-affirming, hilarious time. 🙂

  3. A Facebook ‘friend’ (Maurizio Dabala, whom I’ve never met face to face), sent me the link to your blog. I’m glad he did. I have met so many wonderful people through online contacts. Thank goodness for this technology.


    • So nice to meet you, Yvonne! And yes, I’m incredibly grateful for this technology too… especially with so many people I care about across the globe from me!

  4. Glorious, wonderful, amazing, SPECTACULAR!!! So, so glad you had this adventure!! (Also delighted to welcome you to ADS, my friend. What fun to have you there. And you met all the cool kids in one fell swoop. Pretty nifty.

    • I’m so glad to be part of this too, Diana! But I do have to argue that not ALL the cool kids were here. 🙂 Any chance of you coming through Italy again soon?

      • I wish! My son and his family return tonight from two weeks there – my DIL’s sister chose Tuscany for their destination wedding – and I’m anxious to see all their pictures. Where exactly do you live?

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