Contributing editor Alyssa Shelasky, a New Yorker living in Rome, heads to Venice for her birthday and has her best day ever.
VENICE – I am dangling out of an oversized window with Diana Ross on the record player and my boyfriend's hand on my ass. Gazing up and down the fairytale that is the Grand Canal, freckles on my cheekbones, champagne in my veins, I sing out loud: This is the best day of my life.
We've just checked into our massive, OMFG, symphony of a suite at The Gritti Palace. My now-favorite friend who works for Starwood Hotels hooked it up, and I want to kiss her hard. The Donghia Suite, with its striking views and sweet-mamma summer breeze is so preposterously chic that I can't help but believe it was put on this earth for design gods, Kate Moss, and me.
Nude pink roses in crystal vases, black-and-white snapshots of disco days and boogie nights, dramatic Venetian chandeliers and groovy '70s sconces, a massive marble bathtub, and a butler — with more bubbly — buzzing at the door. Still. I can't leave the window.
Venice is so glamorous! The Grand Canal vacillates between green gems and blue glitter. No wonder Hemingway was inspired here. (Literally: Here at The Gritti!) The posh Peggy Guggenheim Collection is right across the way. And even those gauche gondolas filled with silent, smiling Japanese bring me joy. Oh, I wonder how many happy, hopeful lovebirds got engaged here this hour.
My guy's hands are now on my waist, pulling me towards the bedroom. But first we sip more sparkly and change the vinyl to The Rolling Stones. In our woozy master suite, a hotel-silver dome awaits on the Frette sheets. "Happy Birthday, baby," he says, presenting the perfect piece of tiramisu. Tears!
Eventually, we pry ourselves away from The Gritti Palace. It's been twenty years since I was in Venice. Must see the sites. We zig-zag through Piazza San Marco and visit some glossy galleries. We browse Baryshnikov's photography exhibition, Dance This Way. We walk to the Jewish Ghetto and rest our legs at the kosher restaurant Gam Gam. We talk about the future over fried artichokes. We get very lost and very tan.
My best day ever is still going strong, but I'm dying to get back to Donghia.
Inside the hotel, I swoop into the Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Spa at the hotel and snag some products. A blonde Brit in a bathrobe is moaning, "amazzzzzzzzzzing." Back in our room, after a long, hot shower, I put Pink on the speakers and red on my lips as my guy hand-rolls cigarettes and makes videos of the view. Proof that this all really happened for our family, our friends, and ourselves.
When you're a New York girl with a Roman guy, visiting Venice on your 36th birthday, there is only one place go for an all-dressed-up-and-ready-to-go aperitivo, and that's Harry's Bar for peach Bellinis. There, we eat salty olives and make small talk with lovely strangers, and I think to myself: Pope Francesco, mommy, Mr. Cipriani, Somebody… please don't let this moment end.
We try to eat at Arturo's, a legendary little restaurant my friend Restaurant Girl recommends, but it's closed. So we go back to The Gritti (just can't get enough) for lemon risotto and crispy sole. Overlooking the water, we eat, laugh, and enjoy every second. How fortunate we feel.
On our midnight stroll over the bridges and through the piazzas, we see upscale Europeans, gay lovers, lonely poets, drunk teenagers, desperate gypsies, and a whole lot of gelato-licking Americans. "This was the best day of my life," I say, again, staring at the moon. Then I take his wrist and look at his watch, and I know that tomorrow has come.