If you ever need someone to owe you a big favor, make sure it is the world’s best hotel. That is what I discovered when I checked into the legendary Cipriani Hotel in Venice, Italy. I had booked their cheapest room at $1,500 a day. Due to a screw up on the reservations, I learned to my great distress, that I could stay only one night.
The good news was that they graciously offered me a free upgrade to their presidential suite, a two-bedroom palace stuffed with 18th century antiques, exquisite Murano glass chandeliers, and its own private pier. All of this was a bargain for $12,000 a day. Would you care for a $1,000 complimentary dinner for two? And, oh, seniore, could we please cover the cost of the rest of your entire stay in Venice at the Hotel Danieli, a 16th century palace that was the city’s other trophy hotel? Total value of these freebees: $18,000. Thank you Orient Express!
Thus, my stay in Venice was off to a spectacular and serendipitous start. They say “See Venice, and die.” That’s because so many drop dead when they get the bill. Feel like a continental breakfast for two with cappuccino for $100? It was all worth it, as breakfast on the roof of the Danieli was one of those once in a lifetime, bucket list type experiences. Watercraft churned by in the hundreds, including ancient gondolas, wheezing, smoky old vaporetos, water taxis, inflatable dinghies, and even sail boats. I fought the sea gulls for the butter patties, which if not eaten immediately, melted in the heat.
Squeezing my way through the crowded alleyways of this enchanted Renaissance city, I caught a snapshot of the global economy. The only Americans I saw were either young hedge fund traders wearing Rolex watches, or farmers sporting John Deere baseball hats, cashing in on last year’s sky high prices for wheat, corn, and soybeans. The rest were clearly scared off by the price tag. The Japanese were still there in force. But the groups included many single spinster women in their thirties and forties escorting their parents, unable to get married in an economy that has shown almost no growth in two decades.
They were joined by large tour groups from the up and coming economies of China and Brazil, their leaders barking out orders and leading the charge with large umbrellas or flags. The super yachts of the Russian oligarchs lined the waterfront, conspicuous with their obscure Caribbean flags of convenience. Extended Arab families that included two, three, or even four wives, and uncountable children in designer togs could be spotted in the best restaurants, the women laboring in their burkas in the 95-degree heat. It seems that oil at $100 a barrel will cover every bill and excuse any excess.
I have been coming here since 1968, and am never disappointed. I made my ritual stop by Harry’s Bar for a Champagne Bellini, and strolled past the American Express office where I used to pick up my mail during my wild and reckless, pre Internet youth. I made a pilgrimage to Quadracci’s on the Piazza San Marco, where my grandfather used to sip espresso with another young ambulance driver named Earnest Hemingway during WWI. Family legend has it that Hemingway modeled his Italian driver friend on grandpa, who in the book gets killed.
That night, I had the concierge send a speedboat around to my room to take me across the lagoon to the Casino at the Lido. An Arab at my blackjack table was losing $50,000 a hand and sending out hugely negative vibes, so I moved. I just wanted to let you know where the money for your $4 a gallon gasoline was going. As I was playing merely to see who was there, I gave my winnings to the dealer, who gave me a big grazie. It seems that Italians are lousy tippers.
On my way back, I stood in my powerboat alone, holding on to the cabin and racing across the water at 40 knots in the darkness, wearing my white dinner jacket and bow tie, the wind blowing through my hair, thinking life is good. I better come up with some new trades to pay for all of this. I mentally prepared myself for my strategy seminar in Zermatt.
To be continued.