This is a chapter from the book, THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CONSTIPATED CAT! (a book on prayer and God’s provision).
An Angel in Venice
Suddenly – he was there. He showed us the way. And suddenly – he was gone!
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Which is your favourite city? As a boy, Norwich, in the east of the UK was my favourite city. Well, it was my only city as I had not been anywhere else. We lived seven miles to the north of what is probably the only city in East Anglia, and if anyone had any doubt about the quality of the place, there were signs to inform us we were entering Norwich, A Fine City. And indeed it is, with its iconic Norman castle dominating the city since the eleventh century, the elegant Romanesque architecture of the cathedral, likewise dating from Norman times, and the quaint, cobbled streets lined with picturesque Tudor buildings. Also, of course, there are the Canaries, the city’s football team. Later I trained in London, and stared with a sense of awe at Tower Bridge – it was just like I’d seen it on television.
Many years later, I had the opportunity to travel abroad, and coming from the backwaters of rural Norfolk, I felt rather like Marco Polo. I marvelled at the Parthenon atop the acropolis in Athens, and drooled at the Eastern romance of Istanbul astride the Bosphorus; I was mesmerised by the mysterious medinas of the ancient Moorish cities of north Africa, alive with colour, fragrance and movement, and lived the dream in a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, the city of God; from Prague to Peking, from Bangkok to Buenos Aires, from Moscow to Marrakech, every city had unique charm, beautiful architecture and style, and a history to match. But my favourite?
For many years Prague was my top city, with five very different, but enchanting quarters, each exuding a wealth of beauty and history, and all within walking distance of one another. Until I really discovered Venice. I had first visited there many years ago, and having somewhat modest finances at that time, stayed in Lido di Jesolo, some distance away from the city itself, traversing the Venetian lagoon on a water bus through dense clouds of mosquitos. A modest income? – I romanced the love of my life with a gondola ride through the stinking backwaters of the city, passing floating bottles and dead rats while the gondolier occasionally broke out into the Cornetto song, and we dined several blocks distant from the delights of St. Marks square.
Years later I met and married Wendy, who had never been to Venice. Wendy would tell people that we did not really have holidays – we had adventures. The Arctic, the Antarctic, deserts and jungles and rivers and mountains were the destinations that attracted and enthralled us. But we had to see Venice, and this time I could just about stretch to a hotel on the Grand Canal.
OK, it was a budget airline, but I did fork out for a limousine to meet us at the airport. There would be waterbuses servicing the canals once we arrived in the city itself, most Italians spoke English (didn’t they?) and certainly the operators on the waterbuses spoke English (didn’t they?), and we would be arriving in reasonable time during the evening.
We drove to Gatwick airport and checked in. On time, we were invited to board the plane. But we sat there, and sat there, and sat there. The pilot announced that there was a problem with the navigation equipment, but engineers had arrived to fix it. And we waited. The pilot announced that the problem was being fixed – and we waited. A little later, we were informed that a replacement navigation system was being fitted, and somewhat over two hours later, we took off.
Our limousine driver had followed the flight’s progress, or lack of it, on his computer, and was waiting. We were whisked along the road that runs along the promontory from the airport to the city, and were informed that though few waterbuses were running at this time (well past midnight), we would not have to wait too long.
The waterbus duly arrived, and we told the ‘conductor’ the stop at which we needed to alight. But he did not speak English. Absolutely none! We gesticulated – and so did he! So we set off, and counted the stops we made until we estimated that we were at the one we needed. I produced euros, and shrugged my shoulders in a manner that said, “How much money do you want?” and the conductor shooed us away, obviously glad to see the back of the foreigners who could not speak his language.
So we stood at the waterbus stop, alone in the dark with the occasional lamp lighting up its little patch of territory and creating shadows for most others. And somewhere, somewhere within walking distance, with four cases, somewhere in the dark beyond, through gloomy passages, over little bridges and along narrow paths between towering buildings, was the hotel. But where?
We felt very vulnerable and very lonely standing by the canal and surveying the various possible routes open to us. And then, turning round to consider the options, there was a man. Just standing there. Going nowhere. Doing nothing.
We approached him, vaguely silhouetted in the Venetian night and unable to see his face in the dark.
“San Cassiano”, I said, naming our hotel.
“Along that path, then turn left at the end. Soon, a right turn and keep looking on your left. There is a sign.” The directions were given in a very comprehensible Italian accent – but it was very comprehensible. (I am not sure precisely of the ‘lefts’ and ‘rights’, but you get the picture).
We started pulling our luggage along the path the man had directed, when I realised I had not thanked him. I turned round, but there was no-one there. The place where he had been standing was empty – and we had hardly started walking. Where had he gone? There was no-one in sight.
We thought no more of it, and following his directions, quickly found our hotel and felt greatly relieved.
What an excellent few days. A gondola ride along the more salubrious canals, tea in St. Mark’s Square, a cruise around the lagoon, and a night at the opera enjoying La Traviata at a palazzo on the Grand Canal.
But who was the stranger? Suddenly – he was there. He showed us the way. And suddenly – he was gone.
Wendy and I believe it was an angel sent by God. Of course, some would call it a coincidence, that when we really needed help in a strange city in the middle of the night, there was a man who knew the way, and who spoke English, and was in the right place at the right time….. But they would, wouldn’t they.
Suddenly – he was there. He showed us the way. And suddenly – he was gone. An angel in Venice.
This, and all my books, are available from www.amazon.co.uk (UK), www.amazon.com (North America) and all good book shops.