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In which John discusses tourism, art, life, meaning, and how we find it together on a jetlagged afternoon in Venice, Italy.

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Preorder John's new book, Turtles All the Way Down, out October 10th 2017! You can find links to both the signed and unsigned editions here: and information on how to (probably) get a signed copy here:
Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.  I landed in Venice, Italy yesterday morning feeling a smidge tired and then stood in this very long customs line before catching a ride into the city.

J: "Are we going to see some palazzos?"
S: "If we want to."
J: "What about some statue-ettos(?)? Are you going to be annoyed that this whole trip, I'm just gonna add a vowel to the end of a noun?"
S: "Yes!"
J: "Is that gonna offend you?"
S: "It is."
J: "Ok, well... I'll bear that in mind-o."

We're in Venice to film this huge art show called the Venice Bienale for the Art Assignment- Sarah's show with PBS- but our filming didn't start until tomorrow, so we checked into our hotel room, marveled at the view, and then set out into the city.

Venice is a very crowded city, but not with residents.  Its population has shrunk by more than half in the last forty years.  In fact, more people lived in Venice a thousand years ago than do so today.

But visitors still arrive in droves to see the great floating city, its narrow alleys, its gondolas, and its famed art and architecture.  It's so picturesque it often doesn't seem real, and I guess in some ways, it isn't. 

I mean, in the 18th century there were more than 8,000 gondolas in Venice and they were the primary means of transportation.  Today, there are about 400 and they are used almost exclusively by tourists. Then again, you can't really complain about crowds of tourists when you are, you know, part of that crowd.

So first we made our way past the Fenice Theater, down a series of winding alleyways to the Libreria Alta Acqua, this sprawling canal-side bookstore with towers of books pressing in on all sides. Outside, books that had decayed past the point of readability formed a kind of sculpture- a reminder, I guess, of where all books are going.  And also all cities.

But there's no need to despair about such inevitabilities because THERE'S GELATO! I got tiramisu and chocolate and It. Was. Amazing.

We stopped at the top of the bridge over the Grand Canal to marvel at the view and then made our way to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where we saw an Anish Kapoor sculpture and this Sarah-ish Modigliani and art by Warhol and Frank Stella and Picasso and Jackson Pollock, but mostly I saw the backs of people's heads, because it was really crowded.

So we made our way back outside and sat for a while on this bridge watching the gondolas come and go.  It was ridiculously beautiful and the sun felt good on my face and I started thinking about the last time I was in Venice, just over six years ago.

My video that day began, "I'm in Venice, and I'm really sick." I was, in fact, very, very sick.  The next day I had to cut my visit short and fly back to Amsterdam.  It turned out that my gall bladder needed removing.

But in addition to the physical illness, my mental health was near an all-time low.  And now, six years later, Sarah and I were walking toward the Piazza San Marco where I'd filmed that video.

It's the tourist capital of Venice, and also the pigeon capital, and back in 2011 I hated it.  I remember it smelling of death and decay and I hated the tourists and the pigeons and the stupid flying lions everywhere, and I was so sick and so scared.  And it sucked!

But yesterday afternoon I was happy in the Piazza San Marco, which has been a gathering place for humans for nearly a millenium.  I loved watching families from all over the world, I loved watching people take selfies with history; God help me, I didn't even mind the pigeons!

And I was reminded that how you feel at your worst is not how you're always going to feel.  I mean sure, the world is going to end and Venice will sink into the sea, but not yet. 

Sitting in the piazza drinking unconscionably expensive espresso, I was reminded that the world is what it is, but the world is also what you bring to it.  And who you share it with.  Hank, I'll see you on Friday.