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Soul Identity - Dennis Batchelder's debut novel
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service with no smile
By Dennis Batchelder 20 February 2001


hi guys:

it's not easy driving in venice. for one thing, there's lots of traffic. and the areas of town called the "campos" are what you use to navigate - not the street names. but the main reason why it's difficult to drive in venice is that most of the roads are under water. venice is a city of canals.

not all the roads are under water. we found out that the way to get to venice is to drive over the ponte della liberta bridge to the first of the islands that venice is comprised of. we went to the piazzale roma, where we could park our car and either walk or take a boat ferry or gondola. since the piazzale roma is the only place that we could drive, it's quite busy.

we followed the signs to a parking garage, where we planned to leave the car overnight. the garage was very crowded, and we went up and up until there was some space on the fifth floor. since we didn't know where we were staying, we left our bags in the car and walked downstairs and outside. since none of us had been to venice before, we were a bit worried about how we were going to find a hotel for the night. but we got lucky: right outside the garage was a kiosk with a big "venice hotel information" sign.

we asked allesandrja for two rooms in a hotel within walking distance, since we didn't want to have to figure out how to load our luggage onto a gondola. so allesandrja, acting like she was doing us a huge favor, started calling hotels.

the first hotel only had a single room available, and allesandjra tried to convince us to take it. we weren't convinced. so after rolling her eyes a bit, she called a second hotel. this one had two rooms, but one of them didn't have a bathroom. again she tried to convince us, and again we weren't convinced. we began to think that maybe venetians and americans viewed service a bit differently. allesandjra said there were no more hotels within walking distance, but this didn't convince us either. so eventually she got back on the phone, and called the santa chiara hotel, which had rooms available. and even better yet: it was only one block away.

so we agreed to take the hotel, and allesandrja charged our credit cards, and even gave us a brochure to look at. then she asked for 4,000 lire cash as a "processing fee". the good news is that 4,000 lira is less than $2. the bad news was that we didn't have any lire - we had just driven down from austia, and hadn't exchanged any money. allesandrja wouldn't accept foreign money, and she wouldn't accept a credit card. she didn't have a solution for us, either. so we asked where we could find an atm, and she pointed one out to us (one block away), and she took back the brochure and map from us when we left to go there.

the smallest bill the atm gave was 50,000 lire, which was small for us, but too big for allesandrja. she said we needed smaller bills. and again, she didn't have a solution for us. eventually, when we asked how to get change, she recommended that we go back to the parking garage and get change from them.

that was an interesting suggestion: the guy in the change booth looked at the 50,000 lire note, and looked blankly back at us. i asked for change, and he just looked at me. finally, he asked what i wanted, and i said i needed smaller notes. then he got it. again, more eye rolling, and he gave me five 10,000 lire notes. i thanked him, and he muttered "basta!". such good service in venice!

so back to allesandrja. she was able to cash the 10,000 lire note, and gave us change. then she gave us back the brochure and receipt, and told us that the hotel offered parking for free, and that we didn't need to leave the car in the garage. then, as we were leaving, she told us that when she travelled, she reserved her hotel and got her money exchanged a month in advance, so that all was organized. it was our problem, and not hers, that we had difficulties. not that this made us feel bad: if we had no problems, she'd have no job. so we shrugged this off, and went back to the garage to rescue the car.

the guy who gave me change was not happy to see us again. when i gave him the ticket, i again got a blank look. finally, he asked what i wanted, and i said that i was leaving. more eye rolling and muttering under his breath, and then he stamped the ticket, and sent us up to the car.

since it was the fifth floor, we decided to take the lift. we got in, but as the doors were closing, somebody forced them open again, and a couple squeezed in with us. it was a very small elevator, and we were crammed in pretty tightly. this time the doors didn't close. so we stood there looking at each other, waiting, pushing the close door button again and again. still the doors stayed opened. finally i noticed a red light blinking on the button panel, and realized that there were too many people inside, and the elevator had a weight sensor. so i said "too many" to the couple, and showed them the light. they understood after a bit, and as soon as they got off, the doors closed, and we went up.

the car had been moved into a more longer-term itty-bitty spot, and the guy who had just moved it was not very happy to see us again so soon. we tried to explain that we were leaving, and after shrugging his shoulders and sighing, we gave us back the keys to the car. we drove down, and headed for the hotel. after circling the plaza three times and making 2 u-turns on the bridge, we finally noticed a little tiny sign "hotel santa chiara parking" underneath a huge "do not enter" sign.

and we drove in, and we arrived in venice. and we were the only ones who seemed happy about it.


btw: i've enclosed two pictures: the first one is from the hotel window. it's the grand canal: the biggest one in venice. there are all kinds of gondolas: whatever we have on land, they have on water. we saw ambulances, police, buses, taxis, cranes, couriers, and even grocers. the second picture is a market gondola - he was tied up on a side canal, selling fruit and vegetables.


service with no smile - italy