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You're trying to get yourself good and lost in Castello where you're sure to come across a neighborhood square filled with small dogs barking and children kicking balls, a murmuring fountain, and a simple café with a scatter of tables outside. That’s where you'll sit to watch the old ladies of Venice.
You'll order a caffé, and with fear and awe, watch them pass by. They are tiny and tough and with no words, no shift in facial expression or body language, able to part the tourist sea, figments of someone’s poor taste. Oh, to wield such power.
The old ladies of Trieste, of Udine and of Padova fold themselves neatly into their families, walk arm in arm with their old men, and look you in the eye. But not the old ladies of Venice. They own this place; they run it. And you'd better believe they defend it.
In the market they throw elbows, but only if you deserve it. They stare you out of the way if they want this pesce that salumi those carciofi that treviso this pecorino. You do not exist.
Just look at them: perfectly coiffed and clad in tidy suits and neat loafers. As put together as the fierce sparrows that land between your feet. And yet they carry loads worthy of a Sherpa up and down steps, over bridges, along the meandering canals.
The old ladies of Venice walk briskly, even with a cane. You're not sure you can keep up with them. You're not sure you would try.
But when they enter the square where you've found that café, and they spot a child from the neighborhood, the ladies of Venice drop everything—packages and defenses--to pat a head, to pinch a cheek, to press a child up against the beating heart.
Then, then the old ladies of Venice crack open softly and nod, even smile, at you where you sit as though they’ve known all along that you are looking for guidance, and they offer you the most important lesson of all.