Couple days ago I made a post with my jaw still dropped open on the floor about how for 10 years of meritorious and loyal service above and beyond the call of duty my wife Susan’s boss is sending her and I on a cruise vacation this May that begins with Venice and ends with Paris.

My jaw still hasn’t fully ratcheted back up into the closed and locked position and I’ve picked up and stared at the cruise brochure Susan brought home with her a dozen hundred times expecting to wake up any minute. I’ve googled the other ports the ship will be sailing to and I’ve tried to wrap my head around the reality that in less than four months I’ll have the opportunity to see places and landmarks like the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik, Rome’s Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel and Coliseum and Pantheon and Forum and Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, and Sorrento and Positano and Pompeii along the Amalfi Coast, and Napoleon’s birthplace on Corsica, and Monte Carlo, and Paris’ Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees and the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre…

And I’m just blown away by all that. But above all that it’s the cruise’s point of embarkation — Venice — that I keep coming back to, and here’s why. I’ve been to Italy twice. Back in my “stone age” (aka back when I was editor of Dimensional Stone magazine) I covered several tile and stone industry trade shows — a huge ceramic tile one that occurs annually in Bologna; one stone show in Carrara (home of the Carrara white marble that Michelangelo used in his sculptures), and back-to-back years at another big stone show that happens in Verona — and Verona’s a wonderful place, by the way.

It was the second time ’round in 1996 at the Verona show that I looked at a map and figured out that Venice, a place that has always called to me, was very close — only a two-hour train trip away. And so I started plotting about playing tradeshow hooky. Nothing outrageous, just a half-day away that could be accomplished by getting up extra special early to catch a pre-dawn train that would put me in Venice around sunrise, allowing me a few hours to wander the fabled city before boarding the train back to the business at hand.

The trouble was, I was sharing a room with the boss’ stepson. A late-40s-something Ritalin-popping manboy oaftard who was sooooo the two-faced bastard that though he would find regular opportunities to flake on his duties and responsibilities he would not hesitate to snitch out anyone to mommy and stepdaddy who dared deviate from the tasks at hand (and who snored in his sleep like he was getting paid for it, by the way).

As such I considered my options, which were:

  1. Going to the show and ditching him
  2. Pretending to be to ill to attend
  3. Being totally upfront and telling him what I was going to do and that I didn’t care if he tattled on me like the septum-deviated narcobitch I knew him to be

None of which I ended up doing because the night before the big sneak I reluctantly made the decision not to go. Instead of getting on a train that following morning I suited up for the trade show having chosen not to see Venice at all rather than sneak a compressed visit into a few pressured hours where I’d be watching the clock almost as much as seeing the sights. Later on that day I made a vow in the vast acreage of Verona’s exhibition center amidst massive fabrication equipment and football fields worth of fabricated marble and granite that some day I would come see that remarkable city on the water on my own terms.

In the years that have passed I’ve been prone to doubting that decision…. not the principle of it but the fears from which it stemmed. Maybe I should’ve cried carpe diem and said to hell with what might’ve happened. But while I’ve second-guessed that a few hours in Venice might have been worth whatever stress and aggravation could have followed, I’ve never doubted that such a narrow timeframe wouldn’t have been enough and I probably would’ve come away from such a tiny taste of the place feeling even more frustrated than I was when I decided not to go at all.

And now, thanks to my wonderful wife’s hard and good work and the recognition of it by her generous employer, I finally do get to go back and do all I wanted to do so long ago: ride a gondola on the grand canal, sip espresso at the Piazza San Marco and marvel upon the Doges Palace and just wander away a couple days there with no place to be but by my baby’s side.