Even though I haven’t had much personal contact with Venetian entrepreneurs, there are two I will never forget.

Claudio is the owner of a small hotel I stayed in on a visit a few years ago. One morning he and I had a long visit about his hotel (a Rick Steves recommendation) and what his life as a native Venetian was like. On the morning I checked out, he was at the front desk. After we’d completed our business, I said, “Claudio, I enjoyed my stay. When I come back I will be sure to stay with you again.”

He bowed slightly and said, “I shall be here, Madam, awaiting your return.”  I giggled all the way to the train station thinking that Claudio would be there to welcome me back.

Then there’s Carlo. In October, 2006, my siblings and I rented an apartment in Venice for a week. When we arrived at the vaporetto stop, we were greeted by our temporary landlord Carlo. He shook hands with each of us and then escorted us back to the 500-year-old building he owns. The first thing I noticed about him was that he didn’t actually walk: he bounced. And he smiled a lot.

The next afternoon he stopped by to make sure that things were running smoothly. “So, Carlo,” I asked, “where did you learn to speak English so well?” The grin got even bigger and he told us how he’d decided to learn English when he was sixteen and began his lessons by  listening to Simon and Garfunkel. A few years later, he went to London and was dismayed to learn that nobody could understand him.

We invited him to sit down and tell us more about this building which he was renovating. What followed was a delightful story about creative entrepreneurship. He told us he’d been a pharmacist, but when the building came into his family rather unexpectedly, he left his pharmacy to devote himself to his new enterprise. His parents occupied an apartment on the ground floor and there was another space he rented to a group of architects. Carlo lived on the top floor while the other four apartments were vacation rentals.

Redoing the building had been a huge undertaking and he seemed to be enjoying it all. I tried to imagine how difficult it would be to rehab an old building in a city where everything had to be brought and removed by  motorboat. It seemed daunting, but Carlo seemed to have taken it all in stride.

When Carlo told us that he was facing a couple of off-season months with few takers, my sister Margaret suggested he advertise on Craigslist, which he hadn’t heard about. To our delight—and his—he promptly got two bookings after posting on that popular site.

If there are more charming landlords and hotel owners than Carlo and Claudio, I have yet to meet them.

Further Explorations

Writers, painters and musicians have found inspiration in this elegant city. From William Shakespeare to Indiana Jones, Venice has proved a fascinating backdrop for storytelling.

Books

  • A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlene di Blesi is the story of an American food writer and restauranteur who falls in love with a Venetian banker and moves to Italy. While the book is treated by critics and readers alike as a romantic tale, I saw something else: how di Blesi’s entrepreneurial spirit infected her new husband who ultimately leaves his dreary job.
  • The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt was not the story the author was planning to write when he landed in Venice, but an intriguing city disaster led to this unusual glimpse into modern Venice society. The audio version is also good.
  • If you love mysteries, American teacher-turned-writer Donna Leon has a series set in her adopted hometown.
  • There are countless works of fiction and nonfiction covering all eras of this enchanting city.  DK’s Eyewitness travel guide to Venice and the Veneto is fun to read, as is The Collected Traveler anthology of Venice, if you’re really curious.

Movies

  • The Merchant of Venice has been made into film several times with the role of Shylock played by Sir Laurence Olivier and Al Pacino, among others.
  • Dangerous Beauty is a personal favorite about an impoverished Venetian woman who becomes a courtesan when she learns that women in that profession have access to libraries. Based on a true story of the life of an early feminist.
  • What exploration of Venice would be complete without Casanova? The 2005 movie with Heath Ledger as the legendary lover is charming and fun.
  • Bread and Tulips is a movie that will be especially appealing to those who have visited Italy.
  • And, of course, there’s the romantic classic, Summertime, with Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi.

Venice, Italy is an exotic and mysterious place that attracts visitors from around the world. It’s been doing so for centuries.

In its heyday, it was a rich and powerful center of trade and business. Poised between East and West, Venice became a city of merchants, many of whom ran their empires from exquisite palazzos designed to serve as their business headquarters, as well as being the family home. These gorgeous buildings still line the Grand Canal, greeting newcomers entering the city by vaporetti.

A typical Venetian house had an elaborate facade facing the canal since visitors and clients usually arrived by boat. The house was tall and narrow, with the ground floor serving as an office and, perhaps, warehouse. The second floor was used to entertain visitors and discuss business affairs, while the family quarters were kept on the third floor. Many houses also had additions on the street side that were used as an office, but  frequently became personal libraries.

So, you see, the home business movement  isn’t such a new idea after all. The Venetians, who did it more elegantly than anyone, were running international enterprises from their homes hundreds of years ago.

Despite heroic efforts to preserve Venice’s elegant buildings, the days when merchant ships sailed in and out laden with exotic cargo are long over. Today’s Venetian entrepreneur is more apt to be a shopkeeper catering to tourists—or a musician playing Vivaldi. If you are visiting, take a walk off the tourist paths and wander into a residential area. If you happen upon a supermarket or hardware store, pay a visit. It’s also worth a boat ride to see the glass shops of Murano where you’ll find pieces done by imaginative artists, alongside tackier pieces intended as souvenirs. The Lido is another island which is home to the Venice Film Festival. It also has the distinction of having streets where buses and cars can drive as well as beaches.

Peter Leshak is a writer and handyman who spends part of his time fighting forest fires. When a television reporter asked him about this dangerous and difficult occupation, Leshak shrugged off his concerns by saying, “I think of it as a paid adventure.”

Without doing anything nearly so treacherous, many entrepreneurs are drawn to their work by a desire to live an adventurous life. While we often think of travel as being an intrinsic component of adventure, that’s not always so. My favorite definition says an adventure is any undertaking the outcome of which cannot be known at the outset. We don’t embark on an adventure so we can have our preconceived notions verified; we do it to be exposed to something new or challenging.

How can you bring more adventure into what you’re doing? One way is by creating a profit center that meets your definition of adventure. For many people that means finding a way to get paid to do things that most people pay to do. When some friends and I were traveling through the mountains of Colorado, we saw a man in a truck that was mysteriously covered in canvas. Being curious, we asked him about the strange vehicle. He said he was on a highly secret mission testing a new truck’s performance in the high altitude. Testing new products has the potential for paid adventure. Patagonia, the maker of travel clothing, does testing both inside the company and in the rugged outdoors. Manufacturers of everything from sporting goods to household appliances use independent testers to try out new things.

A woman who loved to stay in elegant hotels started a business to evaluate the service in such places. Now she poses as an ordinary guest while rating everything from room service to the hotel spa. Her opinions help hotels improve their services while she enjoys staying in opulent surroundings.

If you’d like to get some experience in evaluating services, locate a mystery shopping service in your area (or online at one of the sites such as www.MysteryShop.org that operates internationally) and sign up. You may be given some less-than-adventurous assignments, but you’ll get a sense of what goes into evaluations and gain experience to help launch your own specialized service.

Maybe your idea of adventure is to spend time in another country. The adventurous entrepreneur realizes that there are unlimited ways to get paid to go places. The founders of the Italian Pottery Outlet in Santa Barbara began their business as a wholesale operation, selling the items they imported to retail shops. After they held a well-attended parking lot sale to get rid of their surplus, they decided to open their own retail operation. Today, their business stretches even further via a website. Like other importers, they’ve created a business that has a built-in adventure component.

Research can be a passport to adventure, too. Writers delving deeply into a subject often find themselves chasing information in diverse locations. Dava Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter includes letters exchanged between the scientist and his convent-bound daughter. The book required massive research and a bit of detective work in both the U.S. and Italy.

Real adventure comes from our personal passions, of course. LaMar Hanson is a high school counselor who organized a student trip to Ghana. This wasn’t just a travel experience, however. After gathering dozens of used computers, he and his students delivered them to a Ghanian village and installed them in a school, beginning a relationship that continues long after the trip.

It wasn’t only the trip that provided adventure, however. Hanson and his students had to find creative ways to finance the project. “We tried everything from car washes to a silent auction,” he says. It was a learning adventure from conception to conclusion. He could turn that experience into another adventure by starting a business to advise other student/teacher groups.

Collectors claim to be on a perpetual adventure since they’re always on the lookout for the next addition to their collection. Although most collectors acquire things for themselves, some entrepreneurial treasure hunters enjoy building collections that they resell for a profit — after having all the fun of the search. When Southwestern decor was all the rage, for instance, one clever woman became a traveling shopper, going to New Mexico and buying objects for restaurants cashing in on the craze.

Challenge yourself to create a paid adventure that’s just right for you. You could plan a different project every year. Take your cue from John Goddard, whose entire life has been a paid adventure: “If you really know what things you want out of life, it’s amazing how opportunities will come to enable you to carry them out.” It just takes a bit of imagination and a spirit of adventure to claim it.

There’s more where this came from.
Order Winning Ways now!

 

The world is like a book. He who stays
home reads only one page.
~ St. Augustine

The place that Amy calls World Headquarters is a townhouse filled with beautiful objects gathered on her many travels. Her business was intentionally designed to include plenty of opportunities to feed her wanderlust and her friends and business associates consider her one of the most creative people they know.

It wasn’t always this, Amy says. In the days before she became an entrepreneurial gypsy she worked for several years in a retail store. Even though that brought her into contact with many different people and the store’s inventory frequently changed, she credits her travels with opening her creative spirit. Now Amy comes back from every trip with a notebook full of ideas she’s gathered along the way. “There’s something about being in a new place, with new people that seems to make me more alert,” she says.

Go Where Your Muse Is

Amy’s not the only one to discover that a change of scenery can be a creative catalyst. Monet, Signac, Browning and Ruskin are just a few of the artistic souls who left home to find fresh inspiration in Venice. Frances Mayes was an unknown college writing professor until she shared her passion for Tuscany in her popular books.

Although it’s wonderful to have a faraway place that can be a source of creative renewal, your Muse may not require you to travel so far. My friend Peter has taken to walking around a favorite lake in Minneapolis. After checking out several lakes, he chose Lake Harriet because of its serenity. He claims that his best writing ideas are generated on those walks which get him out of his home office.

On one of his walks, Peter, who also does career counseling, realized that often the solution to an unhappy work situation is to relocate to a different environment. As he says, “It’s not just the what of our work. It’s also the where.” It’s hard to know where Where is if we haven’t done some exploring and discovered those places and people that call forth our best self.

In Praise of Small Excursions

Julia Cameron, best known for The Artist’s Way, is an enthusiastic proponent of regular adventures. Cameron also nudges her creative spirit by dividing her time between New York City and Santa Fe, New Mexico—two very different environments.

In Walking in the World, her book on practical creativity, she writes, “Once a week I take some small adventure, an Artist’s Date. And I do mean small. I go to the fabric store. I visit the button shop. I sneeze as I enter a dusty secondhand bookstore. I take myself to a pet shop and go to the bird section. I might visit a large clock store and hear the rhythmic ticking, steady as a mother’s heart…I declare an hour off limits from hurried production and I have the chance to marvel at my own being.”

This is a splendid idea that anyone can borrow, but in order to get the full benefit of small excursions they need to be given the same commitment as any other important appointment.

Build a Travel Component Into Your Business

A life coach I met in San Antonio, Texas has another business selling Venetian glass beads. Two or three times a year, she flies to Italy to restock her inventory. Another woman I know, who published a cozy mystery newsletter, led a tour group of booklovers to England every year.

Entrepreneurs who have expanded their business while earning money as they travel agree that it adds a new dimension to their work, but there’s more to this than just supporting your wanderlust. In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes, “It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.”

A change of scenery can give us a new insight into who we are and what we can accomplish. When we step outside of the familiar and into a strange environment, we are challenged to be more alert, more aware, more open and curious. Those are some big rewards for jumping on a train or airplane—or taking a walk in a new neighborhood.