As I was crossing the bridge at Campo Manin last week, I was startled by a man walking towards me. “Wait, I know you,” he said with an American accent.
I flipped through my mental files. No matches. I had never seen him before.
He held a hand to his forehead in thought. Looking at me, he said, “Gonzalez, right?”
I stopped in my tracks. Should I be scared or excited? I know that the top of a bridge is not the best place for a conversation. I’ve certainly been annoyed often enough by people blocking traffic. And my mother would say I shouldn’t talk to strangers. But this was too astounding.
“I have a gift for faces,” he said, “but I don’t always remember names.”
“Um, yes, I’m Kathy Gonzalez,” I said. But I didn’t need to worry for long because this man quickly explained himself.
“I’m Howard,” he said. “I recognized you from your blog.”
Really?! I stood there amazed. Howard told me he’s a Venetophile from New York and comes to Venice three or four times a year. “I can’t stay away,” he said. We chatted for a few minutes, though we were each heading in opposite directions in a hurry to meet people. I didn’t even take the time to take a picture!
Just recently, I had listened to an episode of the podcast Hidden Brain, where Shankar Vedantam looks into the “myth of coincidences.” He wants to believe that random meetings, like what Howard and I had just experienced, are “magic,” but the experts he talks to affirm that statistically, these encounters are not actually very random at all. Here’s a shorter NPR version of the story highlights: The Myth of Coincidences
But I’m just not buying it! Three years ago while in Venice, I ran into one of my former students who I hadn’t seen since the early 90s. I thought that was really random, but at least I knew her. But meeting Howard tops that. I’ve never met him before! We were passing on a bridge in a foreign country! Okay, we both love Venice, but still, neither of us lives there. I’m willing to listen to Shankar and his mathematicians talk about probabilities, but I have to say, a coincidence like this really is a coincidence, right? Not a myth!
I told this story later to Alessia, who I was renting an apartment from. She told me, “I knew this man from Netherlands, but I hadn’t seen him in over ten years. And then we ran into each other at a cafe in Isfahan.” That’s a good one! I want to hear the most random things that have ever happened to you–and if it happened in Venice, even better.
I looked through the list of followers of this blog, and I don’t see Howard there. I know many followers don’t use their real names (or any names, for that matter!). Howard, I hope you see this and know that you blew my mind! And why didn’t either of us think to take a photo?