The Room in Venice

Friends since they were children, Monica and Russell were inseparable.  They went to the same schools and university and moved from Manchester to London after they graduated from university.  Whenever people saw them together, they always assumed that they were a couple and they would quickly inform them, “We’re just friends.”

They dated other people but the relationships never worked out and their respective exes always blamed their friendship.  Once, Monica’s ex-boyfriend accused her of sabotaging their relationship because she was secretly in love with Russell.  She had a run once in with Samantha, a model he was dating who informed her that she didn’t believe that they were just friends.  “A person would have to be blind not to see that there is something going on between you two,” she said.  “And which woman in her right mind could be just friends with a guy like Russell?”

Russell and Monica laughed about it but as time passed, they realized that there was some truth to what others were saying.  They stopped dating other people because they didn’t feel any connection with them and it was beginning to affect their friendship.  Russell found himself getting jealous of the men Monica dated and she hated seeing him with other women.  So, to safeguard their friendship, they remained unattached.   Instead of going to dinner with other people they went each other.  They went to the theatre, concerts and now, here they were in Italy for a three week vacation.

Monica stood now on the Spanish Steps as Russell snapped photos of her.  He looked so handsome in the white shirt and light blue jeans.  She noticed women walking by and casting admiring glances his way.  Jealousy gnawed at her although he seemed oblivious to them.  She knew she was being ridiculous but she couldn’t help it.  She always worried that one day he would meet someone else and fall in love with her.  Not wanting to spoil the moment, she smiled and posed for the photos.

The day went pleasantly as they visited the Pantheon and had lunch at a trattoria near the Piazza Navona.  After sharing a pizza, she went to the washroom.  On her way back to the table, a local looked up at her and said, “Ciao Bella ragazza.”  She glanced at him and then continued to where Russell was.

He stood up when she reached him.  “What did that man say to you?” he asked.  His expression was guarded.

“It sounded like, ‘Ciao bella ragazza,’” she told him.

Russell didn’t answer.  Instead, he put on his sunglasses and preceded her out of the trattoria.  They went for a walk along Castel Sant’Angelo before they went back to the hotel.  They went to their respective rooms until it was time for dinner.  The following day, they left Rome and went to Florence where they spent their second week.  The highlight for her was Michelangelo’s David.  She stood there for a long time just studying it.  Afterwards, they visited the Uffizi Gallery.  The following day, they took a trip to Milan and after visiting the Santa Maria delle Grazie where Da Vinci’s Last Supper hung, they stopped by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  Russell took a photo of Monica outside of Prada.  From Florence, they went on a day tour to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano.  They had dinner in Siena in a trattoria in Piazza del Campo.

The week went by very quickly and Monica was sorry when they left Florence but looked forward to seeing Venice.  They took the train early in the morning and while Russell read a magazine, she took a nap.  When they arrived in Venice, they found out that they had to share a room because the hotel was fully booked.  That made Monica very nervous but she was relieved when she saw that there were two separate beds.

They spent their first day in Venice at Piazza San Marco, reputed to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world.   They visited the Basilica of San Marco.  Before going inside, they took photos of its architecture which was a mixture of Byzantine, Roman and Venetian, the impressive work of artists and craftsmen who came from all over.  Monica was enthralled by the dome and could have stood there all day just staring up at it.

When they came out of the basilica, Russell pointed to the one of the arches above the entrance where there was a marble statue of an old man biting his hand.  “The legend says that he was relieved of his duties when he said that he would be able to build it even more beautiful.” They had lunch at a restaurant in the square, enjoying the sunshine and watching other tourists.  They finished their sightseeing for the day climbing the Campanile for the breathtaking view of the city and the lagoon.   They stayed there for a while.

It was late afternoon when they returned to the hotel.  They relaxed on the terrace and then it was time to get ready for dinner.  It felt strange getting in the bathroom while Russell got dressed in the bedroom.  She had to make sure it was safe to come out once she was finished.  He looked handsome as usual.  And she saw his gaze travel over her.  “You look great,” he remarked before turning away.  “I was thinking that after dinner, we can go to a church concert.”

She smiled.  “That sounds great.”  Venice was beautiful at night so it was nice walking to the square.  How she longed to hold Russell’s hand, especially when they passed other couples who were holding hands.  They had dinner at an elegant restaurant.  As they enjoyed the Chicken and Mushrooms and Pasta & Oca respectively, they talked about the places they had visited that day and where they planned on going the next day.  For dessert, they had Rosada cream with orange.  Afterwards, they walked to the church where they spent the next hour or so listening to uplifting music in a lovely atmosphere.

It was late when they got back to the hotel and she was tired.  On the way up to their room, she kept yawning and as soon as they got in she, took out a nightgown from her suitcase and headed straight for the bathroom.  She quickly changed out of her dress and into her nightgown and brushed her teeth.

She walked into the room and stopped short when she saw Russell standing there half-naked, holding his pajama shirt.  She turned away, flustered but not before her gaze swept irresistibly over the broad shoulders and wide chest.  He watched her, his expression tense and a muscle throbbed alongside his jawline.  It took every ounce of willpower on his part not to go over there and take her in his arms.  Instead, he went into the bathroom and closed the door quietly behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Monica hurried over to her bed and climbed in, pulling the cover up to her throat.

A few moments later, the door to the bathroom opened and Russell stepped into the room.  She watched as he walked past her bed to his.

“Goodnight, Russell,” she said, looking over at him as he pulled back the cover and got in.  His back was turned to her.

“Goodnight.”  He closed his eyes as his body reacted to the memory of her in the champagne colored silk nightgown.  He didn’t know how much longer he could continue being just friends with her when he wanted her.

She lay there on her back, staring up at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep.  She couldn’t get the image of him out of her mind.  When she saw his bare torso, her mouth went dry and what felt like a bolt of electricity surged through her.  She had turned away because she was afraid that her feelings would betray her.  She wished she had the courage to tell him how she really felt about him but she didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship.

Sometime later, she heard him stir and then get up.  In the faint light, she watched him tiptoe over to the chair where his shirt and pants were draped.   As he started to get dressed, she sat up, alarmed.  “Where’re you going?” she asked, turning on the lamp beside her.

He didn’t turn around.  “I thought you were asleep.  I can’t sleep so, I’m going out for a bit.”

After he pulled on his shirt and tucked it in his pants, he turned to face her, his eyes wary.  “I’ll try not to disturb you when I come back.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied shortly.

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll go to Piazzale Roma or the Rialto or San Marco.”  He was about to walk past her when she quickly climbed out of the bed and stood in front of him.

“What’s wrong, Russell?” she asked.  “You seem upset.”

He kept his eyes on her face, not daring to let them go lower.  “I’m not upset.”

“I think you are, “she insisted.   “Please tell me what’s wrong.  We’re supposed to be friends—”

His expression darkened.   “I know we’re supposed to be friends,” he snapped.  “But right now, I don’t feel like a friend.”

She looked nonplussed.  “What do you mean?”

This is what I mean,” he muttered before he grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His head swooped down and his mouth closed hungrily over hers.

Monica clung to him, kissing him back eagerly, feverishly.  As they exchanged kisses, he picked her up and carried her over to her bed.  He put her gently down on it and then drew back to remove his shirt.  She reached for him, pulling him down to her, her fingers digging into his back as he pressed his lips hotly against her neck.

They made mad, passionate love and the next morning when she woke up, she was alone in the bed.  She lay there for a moment thinking it had all been a dream.  Then she sat up and realized that she wasn’t wearing anything under the cover.  She looked over and saw Russell standing by the window.  He was wearing a robe.   He turned when he heard her.

He left the window and came and sat down on the bed beside her.  His expression was serious when he met her gaze.  “Do you regret what happened between us?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No,” she murmured huskily, reaching out and brushing the hair back from his forehead.

He leaned over and kissed her on the shoulder, making her shiver.  “Me neither,” he said.  “I wanted to make love to you for a very, very long time but you insisted on us being just friends—”

“I thought that was what you wanted,” she said.  “You never came out and said otherwise.”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a friend to you when I want to be more?  That’s why I couldn’t sleep last night.  When I saw you in that nightgown, I wanted you so much.  I had to get out of here before I lost my mind.”

“I couldn’t sleep either because I kept thinking about how sexy you look without a shirt…”

His eyes darkened and cupping her face between his hands he lowered his head and kissed her.  “I love you, Monica,” he whispered, raising his head to look into her face.  “I wanted to tell you that so many times but my courage failed me.”

“I love you too.”

“I just wish we hadn’t wasted so much time dating other people when we should have been dating each other.”

“Let’s not waste any more time having regrets.  Things are different between us now.”

“Yes, they are.”

“You know, if anyone were to ask me what the most memorable part of my vacation is, I would tell them that it was the room in Venice.”

“Why this room?” he asked.

“It’s where you and I first made love and declared our feelings for each other.  I will always remember this room for those two reasons.”

His eyes darkened.  “Let’s have a late breakfast,” he suggested as he removed his robe.

“Or we can order room service,” she said, settling back against the pillows.

“Room service, then,” he agreed before his mouth found hers.

 

 

Sources:  Cabragadin Hotel; Ciao Florence; Italy Guides; Veneto Inside; Bistrot de Venise; Classic Tic; Rick Steves

 

Advertisements

The Photo Shoot

She had photographed many men but this one took the cake.  This was her first trip to Scotland for a photo shoot for the fashion magazine she worked for.  She had never seen a man in a kilt before but this guy looked incredible in the traditional garb.  He wore it extremely well.  And those smoldering eyes and rugged looks didn’t hurt.

She willed herself to remain professional and just do the job at hand.  However, she couldn’t help wishing that she could exchange places with the glamorous woman standing beside him.  Perhaps, she could ask the woman to take a photo of her with him after the shoot and…

Don’t be silly, she chided herself.  You are here to do a job.  Just do it.  

She continued clicking away and was relieved when it was over.  She was packing up her gear when he joined her.  She tried not to give away the fact that she was as nervous as a schoolgirl with a crush and smiled sedately.

“Callum,” he said with that Scottish lilt that was as disarming as his smile.

She held out her hand.  “Holly.”  He clasped it in firm but warm handshake.  She felt a bolt of electricity course through her body.  Their eyes met and held for what seemed like eternity.  He was holding her hand a lot longer than was necessary, not that she minded, of course, but she could feel her face grow hot.  He seemed to realize it too and released her hand, almost apologetically.

“Is this your first time in Edinburgh?” he asked, after clearing his throat.

“It’s my first time in Scotland.”

“How long are you here for?”

“I’m here for another two weeks.  I’m here for the International Fashion Festival and after that I’m off to Glasgow to check out the boutiques.  Then it’s back to London.”

“If you’re not busy tomorrow, I’d like to take you out for lunch and then on a tour around the city.”

She couldn’t believe it.  He wanted to take her out to lunch and show her around Edinburgh.  “I’d like that,” she said.  “I’ll get a chance to try your national dish.”

He laughed.   “I’ll take you to best place where they serve Haggis,” he promised.

“It’s a deal.”  Not only was he handsome but he was really friendly and easygoing.  She felt very relaxed with him and was looking forward to seeing him the next day.  She wrote down the name of the hotel where she was staying and handed it to him.  “Bye.”

“See you tomorrow, Holly.”  Oh, how good her name sounded in the Scottish accent, she thought as she walked away.  She made a mental note to thank Margo for assigning her to the photo shoot here in Scotland instead to the one in Paris.

Slide1

Sources:  Culture Trip; Edinburgh International Fashion Festival

The Move to Paris

It took a lot of moxie to get her here to Paris

but it is her faith in God that keeps her going.

Leaving Toronto with its familiar

haunts, a job she loved, family and friends

to settle in a city she had only visited once

wasn`t an easy thing to do at all.  She didn`t

think she had it in her.  Her friends rooted for her,

and already made plans to visit her in the

summer but her family was a different

story.

 

Her mother didn`t like the idea of her being in

Europe all by herself and was fearful of terrorist

attacks.  Mia had to remind her that she was old

enough to take herself.  And she assured her that

God would protect her.

 

Her father warned her to be careful of the

French men.  And her sister, well, she was glad

to see her go because it meant that she didn`t

have to share the bath-room with her anymore.

And she could move into Mia`s room which

was much bigger and nicer than hers.

 

Mia paused to look at the Eifle Tower.  She was

here to begin a new life, on her own.  It had

always been a dream of hers to live in Europe.

She had considered London, Rome, Barcelona

and Lisbon but she decided on Paris.  She could

speak French fluently and she loved the food.

And besides, she could always take the train or

the Hovercraft to London any time.

 

Upon her arrival in Paris, she applied for a

job to teach English and was accepted.  Her first

day on the job was tomorrow.  Her heart did

a little somersault.  The thought of standing

in front of a classroom was daunting.  Then she

heard the words, “Fear not: for I am with thee.

Peace filled her heart and she offered a silent

prayer of thanksgiving.

 

She asked one of the people standing nearby to

take a photo of her.  Her first Sunday afternoon in

Paris.  She smiled broadly into the camera.  Paris

is a beautiful city and she had all the time she

needed to enjoy it.  For now she was content to

stay here a little longer and just soak up the

atmosphere and admire the view.

 

Asian woman in Paris

Paul’s Example

Upon his arrival at Rome, Paul was placed in a gloomy dungeon, there to remain until his course should be finished. Accused of instigating one of the basest and most terrible of crimes against the city and the nation, he was the object of universal execration – Acts of the Apostles, p.490

Day 4 of the Great Controversy Tour.  She had decided to come on it with her friend.

A lover of Christian history and travel, it was an opportunity she could not pass up. Today’s focus was on The Early Christian Persecutions.  After a buffet breakfast, they visited the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, Titus’ Arch, the Roman Forum and Mamertine Prison.  The ancient prison is located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill in Rome.  According to the travel guide, the Mamertine Prison had two gloomy underground cells where Rome’s conquered enemies were imprisoned and died, of starvation or strangulation.  It was where the apostle Paul was confined.  She paused to take some photos before going inside.  She took a photo of the sign which read the “prison of the Saints and Apostles Peter and Paul.”

As she began to descend into the dark coldness, she thought of Paul being a sick, old man, cruelly thrown in there and friendless, except for Luke and Onesiphorus whose frequent visits cheered him up.  Luke was a great comfort to him because he enabled him to communicate with fellow believers and the outside world.

It was indeed a very gloomy place.  She shivered.  It was from there that Paul was taken to Nero’s vast judgment hall where he pleaded not for himself but for all the people who could still be reached by the Gospel.  From there he was taken to his execution.  It is believed that Peter also spent his final hours in the prison before he was taken to his execution.

As she listened to the tour guide, she tried to imagine what it would have been like for her to be in prison for her faith.  Would she languish and lose hope or would she be like Paul who wrote such encouraging letters from the prison here in Rome to the different churches.  In his letter to the Philippians, he was rejoicing as he shared his experience. He wrote, “But I want you to know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have resulted in advancing the gospel,  so that my imprisonments in Christ have become known throughout the entire palace guard and to all the rest.  And a great many of the brothers in the Lord, having become confident because of my incarcerations, have dared to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14).   He seeing the positive side to all of this.  His adversity brought more people to Christ and his attitude encouraged others.

Could she be like Paul who, although he was in chains, was not chained to his circumstances?  Would her faith hold up?  Then she remembered his words to Timothy: “At my first defense no one stood with me, but everyone forsook me. May it not be charged against them.  But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Timothy 2:16, 17).  Paul was never alone.  God was always present.  

Would God be there for her as He was for Paul?  As if in response to her lingering doubts, Isaiah 43:2 came to her mind, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.  When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Peace and comfort filled her heart. She had the assurance that no matter what she will face, God will be there with her just as He was with Paul.

 

Carcere Mamertino-2

Sources:  Sacred Destinations; Bible Hub; Blue Letter Bible; Bible Gateway; Roma Today

Florence

She sat at a small table outside of the local cafe set in the maze of

streets near Piazza Antinori.  One could get lost in Florence but won’t

mind at all.  It was a beautiful, bustling and exciting place.  There was

so much to see.

Around her mingled the sound of dishes cutlery, the clink of

glasses as people toasted each other and the voices and laughter

of tourists and locals alike.  She heard French, Spanish, English, Italian.

Whiffs of cappuccino, hot bread and pasta filled the air.  It was early

afternoon.  She had spent the morning visiting the Duomo and the

Antinori palace.  Now she was at this little cafe buzzing with locals,

and enjoying a glass of wine after having delicious Ravioli, drinking

in the friendly ambiance around her as she watched couples, friends,

students on summer break and the locals walk by.

This was her first time in Florence.  She loved it.  She loved the

cobbled streets, the history, the people and of course, the food.

She will definitely stop by this delightful cafe again and try their

Beef tagliata.  Hopefully, she would get a table inside.  Not that

she minded eating on the sidewalk.

This was her first trip alone.  Usually she traveled with her

Sister, June.  June got married a couple years ago and her life

was not wrapped up in her husband and their two children.

No plans for Travel any time soon.

She signed.  Being alone in a city like Florence wasn’t so bad.

She could get used to it.  She could just lose herself in the maze

of streets that now seemed to be beckoning her.

She finished her wine and grabbing her handbag, she

got up and headed to the nearest street.

 

This trip could be her own personal adventure.  Who knows….what

could happen in the city of love…

woman in Florence

Sources:  Tripadvisor; Antinori Palace

Women Beggars in India

The Bible has told us that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  In fact, Jesus said that one day He will say to those who helped those in need, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me’ (Matthew 25:34-36).

It is hard to go to a place like India and see a woman on the streets, begging with a child in tow and not do something about it.   She is dressed shabbily, perhaps bare feet, her face dirty and in her arms is a sleeping infant or a toddler with a dirty face, runny nose and big eyes looking at you as his mother holds out a thin, dirty hand for money.  Your heart melts and you reach into your handbag or your money belt to take out some money to give her.  It’s impossible for you not to help this mother and her child.  You give her the money and she takes it and goes way.  Your heart feels light.  You have done a great thing.

 

It’s a common sight in India to see a dirty looking woman carrying a child in her arms.  If you are driving, you see them at the traffic light and when you stop, they come to your car and bang on the window. Sometimes it’s a little boy with a runny nose.   You will find them in the railway stations, metro stations, tourist attractions, in temples and in areas where there are crowds.  People who see them are moved to give them money.  Sometimes they shoo them away.

 

It is perfectly normal for people to beg in a country where there is so much poverty.  In fact, begging has become one of the most serious social issues in India in spite of rapid economic growth.  This has led to the growth of beggars in the country.  Most of them come from Bangladesh and some are from India. The problem is that not all of the beggars are legitimate.  The few who are real are those who are handicapped because they are unable to work, they are old or blind or they need money for basic needs.  Many live far below the poverty line and have been forced to beg in order to survive.

 

There are entire families who are begging on the streets and in temples because their income is not enough.  The children are unable to go to school.  Poverty is very real in India and begging is the only way the people can earn their livelihood.  Unfortunately, begging has become a big scam in India. Travel India Smart warns people who plan to visit India that if they are approached by a women carrying a baby and begging for money not to give her any money.  These women make the babies look pathetic to appeal to the public’s sympathy.

 

In an article, Travel India Smart says that when one woman takes a rest, she hands the baby over to other women who continue to walk the streets in the hot sun, carrying the baby.  Babies are rented out from beggar to beggar.  As a mother, I can’t imagine how a mother could allow her baby to be used like this.  Maps of India says that sometimes the babies are drugged for the entire day so that they look sick and can be easily carried from one area to another by the young women beggars.

 

These beggars want money.  One beggar said that the baby she was carrying had just been fed and she would prefer money.  In Mumbai, a child or a woman beggar approaches a visitor, wanting some powdered milk to feed a baby.  The woman would take the visitor to a nearby stall or shop which happens to sell tins or boxes of the milk.  The milk is pricey and if the tourist hands over the money for it, the shopkeeper and the beggar split the proceeds between them.  The beggars rent babies from their mothers to make them look credible and they carry these sedated babies who are draped limply in their arms and claim that they don’t have any money to feed them.

 

When confronted by a woman beggar and a child, what do we do?  In an article written in Go India, Sharell Cook, suggests that it is best to ignore the beggars.  It may sound harsh but by not giving them what they want, you are taking the necessary step toward abolishing beggary.  It is something that has become a menace to society.  It is exploiting the compassion of those who want to help those in need.  It is making it difficult for the real beggars.  Babies and children are being exploited.  And gangs are profitting from begging.  Some beggars have gone as far as deliberately maiming and disfiguring themselves just to get more money.

 

Something has to be done to stop this epidemic.  One suggestion is that charitable organizations use their clout with governments to ban beggars from using babies.  Another suggestion is that the Indian government continues with its measures to alleviate poverty.  For our part, people can help to stop this problem by not giving money to these beggars.  Instead, they are encouraged to visit a temple and give alms to the beggars there.

 

Tips for giving to Beggars are:

  • If you really want to give to beggars, give only 10-20 rupees at a time and give them when leaving a place not when you arrive or you will be mobbed.
    • Try to give to those who perform a service, such as small children who dance or sing
    • Give to those who are elderly or crippled.

 

God wants us to show compassion to those who are in need but He doesn’t expect us to help those who would take advantage of our charity and exploit others for their greedy gains.

 

Avoid giving to women with babies because the babies are usually not theirs.  The best thing you can do is to not give anything to the beggars.  If everyone were to stop giving, then these gangs and all those who are profitting from begging will be put out of business.  They will have no choice to work and earn an honest living.  And visitors can enjoy a hassle free vacation.

 

indian_beggar_woman

Sources:  Map of IndiaTravel India SmartGo India