Of young boys and rare gentlemen

In the summer 2010 I went to Italy for my birthday sojourn, a tradition I’ve started when I moved to the Netherlands. Wanting to escape crowded Venice, I stayed at Lido Island, about 15 minutes away by vaporetto (water bus). Much as I wanted to stay at the Grand Hotel de Bains, the famous setting of Death in Venice, my budget settled me instead in a rather dingy hotel called Vime Byron, located few meters away from the beach.

In the afternoons, I’d take long walks along the boulevard and around the island. The sunset in Lido island is breathtaking, made even more special by the silhouette of medieval building dotting the horizon all the way to San Marco. There are also a few interesting buildings, like an old mansion said to be maintained only as a residence for a very lucky cat.

This was my first time in Venice so instead of lounging on Lido’s beach, I spent most of my time visiting the must-see’s  and shopping for my first set of Murano. On my last morning, I finally went swimming.

I arrived when the first sunlight broke. There was no one on the beach giving me the opportunity to soak in the calmness of the surrounding and the gentle crashing of waves. At around seven, the beach started waking up and young boys began setting up cabins and  parasols.

While busy making selfies, a boy of about 17 asked me if I want him to take my picture. I gave him my camera and posed for the mandatory souvenir shots in my two-piece  bikini. His English was just as good as my French so our conversation was mostly in sign language. But we had a nice short chat. He was staying with is friends on the island for two weeks, he’s studying arts in college and he recommended that I visit some beautiful beaches in Tunisia.

When it was time to say goodbye, he gave me his email address and asked, “The disco in town, you know?”

“Not really,” I said.

“I’ll wait for you there tonight, 8PM,” he smiled charmingly, apparently misunderstanding me. It sounded like a scene from a romance flick. He did not notice the wedding ring around my finger.

Not knowing how to explain to him that I am leaving that very afternoon, I nodded. I didn’t email him either. Up to this day, I still wonder if he actually waited for me.

Rare gentlemen
An hour  passed and the beach started getting busy with joggers for their morning run, some elderly couples taking their dogs out for a walk and few brave souls who went swimming in the cold water.

Wanting to enjoy the water myself, I asked a naive-looking young girl of about 25 if she could look after my camera. She was with a stunning middle-age Italian woman and an even older one. They all attend the  same dance class.

“Where are you from?” asked the lovely middle-age woman. She must have been in her late 30’s or early 40’s, with a perfectly sculptured face and thin lips. Her brown hair was tied up in a bun with a stylish maroon clip. “Are you alone?” she prodded, not waiting for me to answer her first question.

“I’m from the Philippines but I am living in Holland with my husband,” I shyly answered, overpowered by her aura.

“And your husband lets you come here alone?” she asked amused.

“He actually warned me about charming Italian men. Are they really that romantic? In the Netherlands, it’s common that women pay half of the bill on dates. They call it gender equality,” I said.

“Really?” she answered in  disbelief. She looks at the older woman who shook her head but didn’t say a thing. Instead, she took her top off and spread her body on the orange towel

“There aren’t many gentlemen anymore. A gentleman is a rare kind these days.” she said shrugging her shoulders. Judging from her beauty, she must be speaking from experience.

“But I don’t mind,” I said, trying to make answer sound convincing. “Dutch men are very loyal, that’s what I love about my husband. And he lets me travel alone.”

“Good for you,” she said and smiled. “Women should know how to enjoy themselves without their husbands.”

I wanted to continue the conversation because she seemed like a very interesting woman. But I have to check out and catch the ferry to Venice airport. After saying goodbye, I left them with their exposed torsos on the beach, oblivious to the people around them.

I wondered if I will ever have the courage to do the same in broad daylight or when I reached their age I would also look back to the good old days of young boys and rare gentlemen.