Turned on to an oldie by Alice Steinbach’s Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman (Random House, 2000), I quickly add the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime (1955) to my Netflix queue. Lured by the prospect of Venice from an earlier era (the film was shot on location), I anticipate a character like those Hepburn played as Linda Seton in Holiday (1938) and as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story (1940).
The year Summertime was released, Hepburn was 48. As character Jane Hudson, an old maid from Akron, Ohio, she takes a break from her life as a secretary for a dream vacation in Venice. Being single hasn’t served her character well. She’s not comfortable in her own skin. She likes to drink bourbon. She’s a bit wary of dining alone. She has watched life more than lived it. She has something of a temper. She doesn’t understand marital dalliances. Until, of course, she meets a handsome Italian stranger.
Time had changed Hepburn’s character in this film, but the years haven’t really changed Venice. The only thing that struck me as really different was that female tourists no longer wear gloves, elaborate fitted dresses, and heels. Also, we’ve come a long way from the coiffures of the ’50s when hair seemed to require bobby pins and shortness. The piazza, the music, the bridges, the gondolas, the pigeons endure.
Today, solo travelers and longtime singles aren’t an oddity, and there’s no need to be uncomfortable with their choices. Film buffs should watch Summertime for the joy of Venice and of the incredible Hepburn. Travelers—and all of us—should be reminded to embrace the world in our travels whether we’re walking it alone or in the company of others.