80th Birthday on a gondola
Some entrepreneur, with an eye to making money while making fun, imported three bona fide Venetian gondolas, complete with brass griffons, tritons and pom-poms and rented them to be polled around Oakland’s Lake Merritt as if it were the Grand Canal in Venice. . The gondolas have varied uses: wedding parties, birthday parties, champagne floats and one gondola with an partially enclosed nest especially for lovers. For my 80th birthday my daughter Lucia treated me to a full moon Venetian evening.
Lake Merritt is a U-shaped estuary of San Francisco Bay, a haven for Canada geese, teal, gulls and an occasional pelican. It is the crown jewel of Oakland and treated appropriately. Around its entire three mile perimeter rise are strings of fairy lights.
To the West are new high condos, to the South, the city itself – its varied architecture having survived many earthquakes. To the East are older elegant mansions from the thirties nestled beneath the Oakland hills fronting on the lake shore.
We embarked at about 8:30 — there were still a few pink streaks of sunset in the sky, the moon was not yet up. “Guseppi”, our gondolier, stood behind us on a platform, poling around the lake, appropriately singing Venetian songs; at one point he sang Happy Birthday to me in Italian and Santa Lucia for Lucia. As we glided around the lake, enveloped by the slight spray of salt air, we watched each high rise building, one by one, come alive with lighted windows, growing tall and straight into the sky and growing deep and wiggly in the dark waters of the Lake.
Guiseppi began to sing “La Bella Luna”, turned the gondola Eastward as we watched the moon large, golden orange, a huge saucer, slowly rising through the branches of the trees on the Eastern shore. I sang “Au Clair de la Lune” tho’ Lucia told me my French was awful, which is what my daughter Gail says about my Spanish and which I what I know about my Hebrew.
Guiseppe led us on a silver moon path back to the dock where another Gondolier, with a guitar and a much better tenor, serenaded us with a series of Italian love songs.
I told Lucia, that’s was the nicest kind of present. It can’t be put in on a shelf,, it doesn’t have to be dusted, it doesn’t wear out. It’s just there in the corner of one’s memory whenever you want to retrieve it.