We went for brunch at the Cote France French restaurant in Venice, Florida, a few weeks ago and the waiter seemed to recognize us when we showed up again for a special wine pairing dinner this week.
“Good to see you again,” he said in his thick, French accent.
We haven’t met a lot of people here in Venice, but everyone is so friendly—even French people, passersby, and shopkeepers. They make this little town feel welcoming.
A week or more ago, a waitress at another local eatery was cheerfully telling us about a drink special and didn’t realize that the rum she was describing was my favorite. We toured the distillery in Key West when we were there in 2019. It’s a rum named for Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat, which was in turn named for his second wife—Pilar. Turns out the waitress had also toured the rum distillery. I’m not sure if she’s ever read any Hemingway, but I felt connected, nonetheless.
Shopkeepers also seem genuinely glad to see us as customers. We met a woman who studied art in Paris and now runs a gallery gift shop here. Behind red-rimmed glasses and brown hair pulled back, she gladly told us her story. A checkout girl at the grocery store told us about her recent retake of the ACT and how nervous she was about getting a high score. I asked her if she had taken a prep course and from behind her face mask, she said she had, so I assured her that she would get a better score this time. For a moment, I felt like a teacher again. And for a moment, we were strangers caring about each other, sharing a town small enough, full of enough older people, or maybe Southern enough, to slow down a minute and listen.
Following a pandemic year, all these things can no longer be taken for granted. Following a year that seemed to have torn the country in half politically, friendliness seems to have been placed on the endangered species list in some places. So now, eating at restaurants, shopping, teaching moments, connections with strangers, feel novel again. And for me, these are moments that are filled with gratitude. I missed people. And the kindness of strangers.
One final person in Venice to mention, as we are on the topic of people. Today we went over to visit our new friend C. again. She is 90 years old, maybe 91, and enjoys a good conversation and her little dog, Murphy, who is currently in our care. He spins in circles and jumps around whenever we say we’re going to visit. He likes visits, walks, rides in the golfcart with his furry ears flapping in the breeze. He also likes squirming to try to jump out, and randomly issuing a bark so high pitched it makes me want to jump out. Instead, I tighten my grip on his little red harness and Ron zooms along.
Our friend’s face lit up when she saw Murphy. Then, we chatted about everything from National Geographic television programs, to how people don’t have phone books anymore, to her wicker rocking chair, as Murphy sat in her lap and then licked her shoes. Then he pranced around again excited to end our visit and get back in the golf cart.
“He seems to really like you,” C. said. “So that’s good.”
“We like him, too,” I said.
He likes Ron the best; insists on sitting in the purple chair in the living room with him. He sleeps in our bed. He wags excitedly when we come home from outings.
“We’re just at the forefront of our housesitting career,” Ron says. So, there may be more dogs, cats, or miniature horses. (I hope.) We may make more acquaintances, or friends. We may visit more places that may become as familiar to us as Venice has. (I hope.) Beautiful beaches, cool sea breezes on hot summer days, long walks on avenues shaded with historic trees hanging with Spanish moss, historic homes roofed in red clay tiles and infused with Mediterranean style, and friendly, smiling faces all around.