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Saturday, December 7, 2013

As good as it gets

Of all the lines from films I have seen, the one I quote to myself most often--pretty much every morning when I get in to work--is from Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets. Nicholson's character walks into a waiting room of patients like himself, and asks aloud, "What if this is as good as it gets?"

It's a threat, but it's also a promise. This life that we have right now is as good as it gets. For me, travel is one way of making the most of it. I never thought, for example, that I would ever board a cruise ship; it seemed as far away as I could imagine from my style of independent traveling. But, after twelve days of everyone making me feel wonderful, all my fellow passengers being relaxed and friendly, and exploring wonderful new ports every day, I would do it again!

If you ever find, as I did, that there is a cruise going to a whole bunch of places you've always wanted to visit, there is probably no better way to visit them all. You will spend money on the trip but I've never gotten such value for money--there was not one thing I didn't enjoy. The one practical tip I have is to steer clear of the all-inclusive drinks packages (soft or otherwise)--waste of money. No one could, or should, drink enough to make them cost-effective, and cruise ships are cashless anyway, so where's the convenience?

I am not trying to convert, though. I am under no illusion of being on a missionary journey, like the apostle Paul. My attempts to shoehorn Paul into every stop of a pleasure cruise continued: I asked a gentleman I met on this trip, whose voice reminded me uncannily of my Grandpa's, if Paul had been to Rhodes, and Grandpa must have been up all night looking for the answer because the next day he told me: Acts 21:1. "Remember that!"

Happiness is sitting in the breezy shade of one's own back deck, sailing up the Ionian Sea. I have watched some spectacular sunsets in my life, but never before actually captured that elusive instant when the sun disappears behind the horizon. That night, I saw the red ball "drop" into the Adriatic. The next morning we sailed into Venice and began to explore.

The island of Murano is known for glassmaking, Burano for lace, but hardly any Burano women make lace anymore. In a generation even the one we saw (cameras snapping all around her; how can she work?) will probably not be there. The real beauty of that island is its wonderful little houses painted in bright primary colors. It was a contrast to Piazza San Marco and the famous basilica, not to mention the Palazzo Ducale (Doges' Palace), whose balcony looks out over the Grand Canal. This stunning view was roped off for some kind of special event, but we climbed over and pleaded ignorance long enough to see it for ourselves. It was Italy, after all, not the land of rule enforcement.

I had wanted to see the Ponte dei Sospiri for more than twenty years, ever since seeing Oxford's own Bridge of Sighs, which is over a road. Walking through it kind of defeats the point, though. Venice is a place I could spend a lot more time, a lot less rushed. The obligatory ripoff gondola ride barely shows you a bit of one canal, and there are so many.

Fireworks over the harbor of Venezia--what for? Who knows! It would have been the perfect end to the trip, except, of course, we had to get to Marco Polo Airport the next day. We went by way of Padova and its Basilica di Sant'Antonio. Having experienced Venice and Padua in summertime, I don't think people should be so put off by the climate of Canada in winter...

One more limone gelato for the road, or the sky. How I wished we were going by ship! Marco Polo Airport is not recommended, not least because one can't check in early and there is really nowhere indoors to wait at all, or anything to do. Not much of a complaint perhaps, but this after an entire trip of which I enjoyed every moment, on which absolutely nothing went wrong. I did get a kick out of the airplane pilot. Not only was "Captain Tracy" a woman--still unusual in my flying experience--but she made announcements in Italian as well as English. I was impressed.

Moments like these make up a journey, and, if we are blessed, a life too. I plead now, as I do every year, for us all not to miss these moments, the free ones as well as those that are money well spent. I am absolutely confident that we will not get to the end of our lives and care about our appraisals at work. What the people who loved us will share, then, will be pictures, memories of good times we spent together. And things that made them laugh.

I am not sure I am becoming a "hedonist," as T. would have it, but as Anne of Green Gables said, "I withheld not my heart from any joy" is biblical too. Don't miss a sunset; you never know when you'll get another one like it. Happy Holidays--every one of them!

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