La Dolce Vita
By Lynn Schnurnberger
Couples face many challenges when they're on vacation. In this monthly column, Two For The Road, best-selling author Lynn Schnurnberger reveals how she and her husband cope with these inevitable conflicts.
On a recent trip to Italy it occurred to me that if you asked my husband and me about how often, on vacation, I go rummaging around design shops and linger over cappuccinos in a cafe, we’d sound like the characters from Annie Hall discussing their sex lives. (Except in our version, I’m Woody.)
“Hardly ever,” Woody Allen’s character laments. “Maybe three times a week.”
“Constantly,” Diane Keaton’s Annie says, annoyed. “I’d say three times a week.”
At least we can laugh about it, most of the time. Still although I was an art major and I’ve worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in other words, I know a thing or two about paintings, mister), Martin, an architect, thinks he’s a superior human being for wanting to spend countless hours in churches and museums, while I’d rather immerse myself in the daily culture and go roaming around to soak in the city.
Don’t get me wrong—I know, I see, I understand the grandeur of the Duomos (both of them, in Milan and Florence—and thanks to Martin, I can extrapolate on their differences); I loved our four-hour private tour of the Vatican; and the Bernini sculptures at the Borghese Galleries in Rome never fail to amaze me.
But it’s the people-watching (especially in Italy, where the people are so well turned out); haggling in Florence’s leather market over a pair of hand-crafted boots; and the whimsy of walking down just about any winding street and discovering a quirky arched passageway decorated with quatrefoils, that really excites me.
So while I joined Martin for a group tour of the Roman Forum and, in Florence, the spectacular Uffizi, in Milan, he indulged me a leisurely afternoon stroll through the city’s restored canal-side Navigli neighborhood, to explore curio shops and contemporary art galleries. In Florence’s two best vintage stores—Nadine and DesignVintage—I had a high-old-time trying on Versace jackets and Chanel jewelry. When I picked the museums, I went for the less obvious—on a trip to the Boboli Gardens I eschewed the main galleries and spent so much time at the museum’s costume exhibit that the guards literally, escorted us out.
And although Martin doesn’t like to dawdle around hotels, we stayed in two where you could sightsee without ever leaving the building: In Florence, the art-filled lobby of the Hotel Lungarno sits on the Arno River and offered a spectacular view of the lights on the river and the Ponte Vecchio; and our room (and the restaurant) of Rome’s Palazzo Manfredi were so close to the Colosseum that we felt like we were practically sitting inside the ancient monument. Then too, in Milan’s luxurious Principe di Savoia, I even got my Museum Man to relax with a nighttime swim and sauna after a long day of pounding cobble-stoned streets. (I believe that if you truly want to live La Dolce Vita you have to stay in nice hotels—and happily, in off season, they’re better-priced.)
Still, to give credit where credit is due—a worthwhile ideal for maintaining a good marriage—let me say that Martin doesn’t lack a sense of adventure. It’s thanks to him that we sussed out the “secret bakeries” of Florence (ask your concierge, but be prepared to set your alarm for 2am). And, when he dragged me into “just one more church” (Rome’s Basilica St. Maria Trastevere), we were in for a treat. The highly entertaining and energetic church’s docent, Greek and Roman scholar Guiseppe Vito Vitetti, made a beeline in our direction and for the next thirty minutes, he regaled us with an animated history of the gorgeous chapel. Vitetti directed our attention to a marble statue. “Look into the eyes, the rest of the sculpture is white, but the eyes sparkle with semi-precious stones. They are the soul” Vitetti tells us. And he’s absolutely right, I think, nodding in agreement. Of course at that moment, I was casting my gaze on my adorable husband.
Photo: Lynn and her husband, Martin Semjen, in front of St. Peter's.