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Lunch at Harry’s Bar in Venice (06/10/2007)
By John Edstrom

Venice is, of course, one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world. The earliest memory I have in life is standing in my crib, supposedly napping, instead staring at an old print of a Venetian waterway with the Bridge of Sighs crossing overhead. Such pictures furnish many a room all over the world.

However, there is another icon of Venice well-known to at least college English majors of the ‘60s, Harry's Bar. Like so many places in northeastern Italy, it appears in Hemingway's fiction " some of his very best, and also worst " for instance, parts of the novel in which he writes about it, "Across the river and into the trees." It is the story of an American army colonel, living on borrowed time with a bad heart, who is in love with a beautiful young Italian countess.

He meets her at Harry's early in the novel:

"Then he was pulling open the door of Harry's bar and was inside and he made it again, and was at home. At the bar a tall, very tall man, with a ravaged face of great breeding, merry blue eyes, and the long, loose-coupled body of a buffalo wolf, said, ‘My ancient and depraved colonel.'

‘My wicked Andrea.'....

Then she came into the room, shining in her youth and tall striding beauty, and the carelessness the wind had made of her hair."

Reading this, the dream of one day visiting Harry's Bar in Venice was born in many a college sophomore's deepest heart. So when Fran and I decided to take the train down to Venice from Udine, (our companions had already been there once, which was enough, they assured us), she looked up Harry's in the guide book, and discovered that it was located right off the piazza San Marco, practically in the shadow of the enormous Byzantine Cathedral that could almost be mistaken for a mosque. Why not go there (the bar, not the cathedral) and have a beer and one of the famous martinis that figure so prominently in Hemingway's fiction ?

In Venice, the train station leaves off right at the foot of the Grand Canal, where the hordes of tourists are herded down the steps into giant water buses, to be ferried off to their pluckings. It is hard to describe the scene. There is the world famous canal, lined with the medieval palazzi, gondolas plying back and forth; the water is filthy and a villainous greenish color, the boats all look as if they were part of a decayed movie set. It is like a theme park built long ago, now managed from somewhere far away. Above all, it is choked with humanity " hordes of Japanese and German tourists in tightly organized blobs, group after group of school children under the scarcest semblance of control before the summer holiday, totally exasperated Americans from the Midwest, unable to fathom where they are or how to get somewhere else, and us.

But we arrived at Harry's without a hitch, walked through the fabled door, and were greeted by a distinguished looking waiter (although not with a face of any great breeding) who asked us, "Just drinks, or lunch also?"

I said, "Lunch," and we were seated at one of not many tables, the place being rather smaller than I imagined it. The patrons were extremely well-dressed, sophisticates, I gathered. We ordered our drinks and then I looked at the menu. The first thing I looked at was a soup, a clear soup " 30 euros, which is about $40 these days. Yeow! What with the dollar being so cheap vis-à-vis the euro, Europe is rarely a bargain, but this was unheard of. I could not think immediately of a graceful way to cut back our order to just drinks " no wonder the waiter had asked " and there appeared an enormous plate of bread, olives, cheese, crackers. Too late now.

The chicly dressed ladies next to us got up and one said, in what sounded like a Kansas accent, "30 euros for a beer, let's get out of here." They walked out in a screech of chairs. At the top and the bottom of the menu was printed, in bold face, "GRATUITY NOT INCLUDED." This is not the usual practice in Europe. After our lunch, our extremely expensive light lunch, the waiter brought us the check and informed us that it did not include any gratuity. When he brought back the credit card slip, he pointed out that there was no printed line for a tip, that we would have to write it in by hand, pointing with his finger.

I wish I could report that I did not meekly add on a tip and skedaddle.




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