We were in Venice.
We had no idea where to go for lunch.
The “we” in this case was my best friend from medical school and I. I was just completing my intern year of residency, and to celebrate the end of that torturous experience of institutionalized hazing we had planned a trip to Italy together. And there we were in beautiful, beautiful Venice.
During our travels (it was a bus tour), the two of us befriended this delightful lesbian couple of a certain age. I will call them Ruth and Nancy. They were just great, and made our trip so much more enjoyable. As ended up being our common practice, we decided we’d all have lunch together that day.
But we didn’t know where to go.
I don’t recall at all why this seemed like a difficult decision to make. One of the preposterously unfair things I learned about Italy is that all the food everywhere is more delicious than it has any right to be. Like, seriously… everywhere. We grabbed food in convenience stores that was utterly delectable. So finding a place for a good lunch in Venice should have been a snap.
However, for some reason we weren’t sure where to eat. And thus we were happy to take a suggestion from someone else on our tour who said they were going to eat at Harry’s Bar. After deciding that a place called “Harry’s Bar” was probably a reasonable place to get a decent meal, off we went to find it.
Find it we did. We were escorted to our table, waving politely to the people who’d mentioned it as we went, and we sat down. And then they handed us the menus.
Perhaps you, like me at the time, have never heard of Harry’s Bar. Perhaps you, like me at the time, do not know it was a very famous place. Perhaps you, like me at the time, don’t know that Hemingway and Aristotle Onassis and Baron Phillipe de Rothschild were notable patrons, or that it is the birthplace of carpaccio.
Perhaps you, like me at the time, would have stared in mute horror at the prices.
It was the most expensive restaurant I had ever been to. Keep in mind, I had lived in Manhattan for a year at this point, and a very generous friend (you know who you are) had treated me to the occasional meal at an upscale joint or two. I knew from expensive restaurants.
This place blew them all out of the water. I was traveling on a resident’s budget, and the cheapest thing on the menu for lunch (a bowl of soup) was more than I could afford. It was more than any of us could afford.
I don’t remember exactly how we began talking about how expensive the place was. But I know what Nancy said. She said “We can sit here and order a meal that will cost more than we can pay, ruin our budgets and regret it, all because we’re too embarrassed to get up. Or we can get up, excuse ourselves and leave, and go find a place we can afford.”
And that is what we did.
As my friend and I agreed later that night, we are so lucky to have been with such a wise and confident person. Because we both acknowledged that, left to our own devices, we would have sat there and paid, just so we wouldn’t lose face. (For my part, I went on to do just such a silly thing later on in life, having sadly not learned my lesson.)
I don’t know where Nancy is now. In the manner of such traveling companions, we intended to stay in touch and then didn’t. I hope she is well. Because she will always live in my memory as an example of the kind of person I’d like to be someday. Someone with the poise and self-assurance to care more about being sensible than the opinions of other people.
So that’s this week’s Question — tell us about someone who showed you a little bit of who you’d like to be. Who in your own life served as an example of something admirable? What little snapshot of grace or goodwill or self-assurance do you carry with you?