A Venetian Breakfast by Laura Zarougian

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A Venetian Breakfast
By Laura Zarougian

Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth,
the masque of Italy.
George Gordon, Lord Byron · 1788–1824

This past August, I left Boston for Bologna, Italy for my year abroad. Upon arrival I was faced with the daunting task of finding an apartment with other Italian (not American) students. After fifteen apartment interviews, I finally found one that clicked. Now settled in Bologna, I spend my time studying art history and learning Italian.

I also write a blog for Cornell University of my experiences abroad. I wrote this post after an impromptu visit to Venice.

Laura Zarougian


Venice waterwayVenice alleywayWe turn the corner: another narrow street, pitch dark, leads to a footbridge. There are no sounds around us, and yet the silence is far from harsh. The calm feels padded and brimming with stories. I swear I can hear the humming of the ghosts of gondoliers and the smack of their paddles against the water. I expect to see ripples from their boats in the canal below, but the surface is still and glossy. All I see are our reflections: whiskers painted on our cheeks with eyeliner, pink noses, mice ears, an array of scarves and sunglasses. We have lost our way in the maze of streets of Venice and there is not a soul in sight.

Venice at 5 am is mystical and unsettling. In the hours before sunrise the city belongs to another time. In my mind I pictured the dawn: merchants decked in velvet brocade selling the exotic spices of Constantinople, artists’ apprentices rushing to the market to buy linseed oil for the great masters. I wanted the city to stay locked in the hazy hours before sunlight. I couldn’t bear to think of the 21st century, or the hoards of tourists who would soon descend upon the soulful streets.

How did I end up here, you may ask? In Venice at 5 am with a pink felt tail and whiskers on my cheeks?

Masks in shoppeWell it all began at around 2:00 am at my friend Susan’s Halloween party, when a small group of us (Italian and American students) decided to walk to the Bologna train station and hop on the first train possible. We wanted to eat breakfast in a different city and then make our way back to Bologna. It so happened that we were just in time for the 3:30 am train to Venice. Our costumes drew some stares on the train, but I didn’t mind. I wasn’t even perturbed when I stepped off the train and realized that my costume was far from a great choice to battle the bitter cold. I was too busy lost in my memories.

jester maskVenice was the first city I visited in Europe. When I was five years old my parents bought me three audio cassettes geared towards introducing children to classical music. They included: “Mr. Bach comes to Call,” “Beethoven Lives Upstairs,” and “Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery.”

“Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery” was my favorite. It told the story of a young Italian girl who was taken into Antonio Vivaldi’s school of music for orphaned girls.

Bridge over river in VeniceThe girl, Caterina, was swept up into a mysterious adventure through the darkest canals, the liveliest masquerades and the golden melodies of Vivaldi.

As a child, I was completely enthralled by this tape; I listened to it countless times. I became convinced that Venice was the most enchanting place on earth, and I begged my parents to take me.

They agreed. To this day some of my most vivid childhood memories are from that trip: my first bite of prosciutto (salty, sweet and disintegrating ever so slowly on my tongue), my first glimpse of a Titian (The Assumption of the Virgin Mary — I can still recall the fiery red of the Madonna’s dress), my first gelato (the flavor was panna cotta). I can still remember our trip to San Lazzaro, the island in the Venetian lagoon, home to Armenian monks who have inhabited the island for three hundred years.

I can make out the star-patterned frescoes from the Armenian monastery outlined in the cacao powder on the top of my cappuccino. The steam from the coffee slowly melted my face paint. Carnival was over. No longer a small child; I glanced at the window as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. It was 7:30 am; we needed to catch the train.

Armenian frescoes

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2 thoughts on “A Venetian Breakfast by Laura Zarougian”

  1. Hi Meg,

    I met you and your husband at the book signing in Osterville. I am on holiday in Florida, near Naples, staying with friends who ‘adopted’ me when I was in college. A rare thing to be away from my teenage sons, but all good. Thank you for the beauty, love, artistry, and inspritation you bring to us each day. You have found your calling!

    Donna Smiley

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