The two cities I know best are New York and Venice. New York from birth. Venice by adoption.
Forty years ago I adopted Venice, falling in love with the city upon arriving late one summer afternoon. The sunlight was soft and golden as I traveled past palaces by gondola down the Grand Canal.
New York and Venice are island cities. I have a fondness for island cities. In Venice I feel as if I am on a ship, released from terrestrial concerns.
This November the ship encountered heavy seas. Rain and wind caused the sea to spill over the city's embankments. Venetians call this acqua alta - high water.
At my pensione, the lobby and dining room were under a half- foot of water. In the kitchen, the cook, wearing high black-rubber boots, managed to produce breakfast for us to take on trays to the upper floors. By midday, the waters had receded.
New York and Venice are walking cities. How well I have come to know the ruler-straight streets and avenues of New York and the twists and turns of Venice's narrow passageways. In neither city do I require a map.
In New York I enjoy taking people to offbeat places, like the spot near City Hall where, on July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read in the presence of Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army.
Or the East River Drive at 23rd Street, built upon bomb rubble from Bristol, England, brought to the city as ballast by returning ships that had carried Lend-Lease supplies to Britain prior to America's entry into World War ll. The poor people of Bristol had nothing else to send.
From my windows overlooking the Giudecca Canal in Venice, I note the names of the majestic tugboats as they assist arriving and departing cruise ships. My favorite Venetian tugs are Hippos, Strenuus, and Squalus.
So possessive have I become about Venice that when Palladio's magnificent church, II Redentore, stopped being illuminated at night, I wrote an indignant letter to a Venice newspaper.
The letter began: "In New York City we illuminate our landmarks at night, like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and Brooklyn Bridge (il Ponte di Brooklyn). A darkened Empire State would cause an uproar (una rivoluzione) among New Yorkers. A darkened Redentore is like concealing a work of art beneath a blanket!"
The letter appeared, accompanied by interviews on the subject with city and church officials. Soon after, the lighting resumed. I felt as if I'd made a civic contribution to the life of my adopted city.
To know a city well is a far cry from knowing all about a city. Each day I am in New York or Venice I learn new things - an appeal for me of both cities.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society