Venice has always been impossible, alluring and other-worldly – a phoenix city rising from a watery grave – conjured by passion, ingenuity and dedication – and a haven for writers, artists and lovers – romantics, who trade in dreams and inspiration. Venice invades your senses, your imagination, your soul; she reveals her secrets to the patient and curious. Come with me on a journey through Venice, experience her through the eyes of love, through characters discovering the city and each other…
The tiny plane bounced off clouds with abandon as it dropped to earth. Chris’s ears screamed for mercy; this flying business was not for him. Birds, souls were designed to soar, not hunking great bits of metal, no matter how fancy they were.
“We’ll be touching down soon,” Alex said, squeezing his hand as she stared past him out the window. “This fog’s so annoying; you won’t be able to see anything.”
After a kangaroo landing, he was free to gulp the morbid air of Venice. Men in uniforms collected their luggage and whisked them off to a private motor boat – Alex called it a water taxi – which sped away from the dock into nothingness. Everything was shades of grey; it was difficult to believe they were truly in Venice until they reached the Grand Canal.
The images emblazoned on his mind from years of studying Venice were emerging from the splintering fog, in vague water-color form. He gasped in wonder at this ethereal city, embalmed in the mists of time; blue and white striped poles rising from murky water, cathedral domes losing themselves amidst the low ceiling of clouds, and bridges – so many – everywhere – little arches of heaven connecting friends and lovers. It was beyond words – the glorious Byzantine buildings, each so distinctive and beautiful, some with intricate mosaics, others with private gardens. And the cavalcade of canal vehicles, each moving to its own rhythm, from trundling water buses, gliding gondolas, vrooming taxis, interspersed with noisy police boats, and a smelly rubbish barge.
“People really use the water for everything, don’t they?” he commented, wishing they could go slowly so he could absorb the details, but the boat driver seemed to think he was part of a chase scene in a Bond film.
There was the Rialto Bridge! He’d dreamed of being here since studying Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in English class when he was twelve.
“That’s Venice – not much choice – you’re on legs or water; I wouldn’t recommend in it.”
Their boat slipped down a narrow canal; flanked by high walls, it was dark and quiet. They stopped at a stone jetty in front of old blue doors. Alex leapt forth, seized the brass ring knocker and battered the wood loud enough to wake the dead. He noted the bottom bit of the doors were corroding; in fact, the lower wall was missing chunks of plaster, revealing red bricks, and above the water line, the building was scarred with a yellow and green mossy rash – no doubt courtesy of the recurrent scourge of high water that preyed on the city so regularly.
A few days later…
Thanks to Daria and her day-long forced march, Venice had been truly conquered; it was unbelievable everything they’d accomplished. His brain was bursting at the seams; she’d rattled off information at assault gun speed.
She’d run the day with such military precision there’d been no alone time. Stolen kisses behind Daria’s back, brief hugs during clinical photo stops, and holding hands was the sum of their physical contact, which was akin to giving a heroin addict a poppy bagel. What pangs of withdrawal would he know when they were thousands of miles apart if he was in such anguish ten feet from her?
In the heart of the lagoon, with the sun on the decline and the wind picking up, a renewed sense of sadness and foreboding threatened to overwhelm him. He glanced over at Alex and Daria, who were in deep conversation, probably more about Milan and fashion stuff.
Traversing the Venetian lagoon in a red speed boat with two beautiful women was as close to being James Bond as he was likely to get but Chris didn’t mind. Eyes fixed upon the shrinking cottages of Burano, the island where a rainbow fell, he wished for a simple life with the woman he loved and felt jealous of the fishermen and their lace making wives. Why did he fall for someone whose life was that of absolute freedom, akin to that of an eagle soaring over the Highlands, while his resembled that red fox in the Merchant City – forced out of his element, striving for survival, wondering when the fatal blow would strike.
To avoid thinking about tomorrow and to savor the memories of the day, he replayed key moments in his head.
The bustling Rialto markets had provided sustenance for body and soul courtesy of the family gathering atmosphere, profusion of hot expresso and warm bread. Here lay the heart of modern Venice; these were the real people of the city, who endured tough winters, rude tourists, a dwindling economy and constant threat of flooding, yet remained proud and optimistic. He loved how Daria was greeted as a celebrity while Alex was ignored, but she seemed relieved that the attention was off her, which bode well for a normal life with him.
The sun had illuminated radiant marble, pillaged from ancient sites across Italy, Renaissance gold blazing in mosaics, and the water, that never-ending labyrinth of liquid mercury. Yet, it also revealed a city scarred by the ravages of earthquakes, gravity, time, and water; after each assault, the city had been resurrected into a new form. He was reminded of his grand-mother; no matter what life had thrown at her, her beauty, majesty and allure never faded.
St. Mark’s Square had been mobbed by people and pigeons; he preferred it at night when they had the place to themselves. It had been easy to tell the locals, who, oblivious to their surroundings, moved quickly, expressions dour, eyes facing forward, pausing only to converse with a friend, while tourists stumbled around, massive rucksacks on their backs, water bottles in hand, eyes to the sky, usually with a camera or binoculars glued to their smiling faces.
He’d been mesmerized by the water oozing up through the flagstones; when he thought of Venice flooding he’d always pictured waves coming in from the sea not this sneaking up like a deadly terrorist infiltrating from within.
The Basilica was breath-taking but he’d found the sheer excess of gold and marble obscene given the number of people starving in the world. Intimidating in design, fussy in detail, this was a place to revere God and feel small; he’d thought of Alex’s words about Incan temples, places at one with nature that brought a sense of peace, wonder and a personal connection to the divine. Although, the quartet of legendary bronze horses, nabbed by Nero, Constantine and Napoleon but originally cast for Alexander the Great, were spectacular.
The Palazzo Ducale, home to Tintoretto’s finest works, was no longer the power house but a museum. Yet, even now, the offices were warm and cozy in sharp contrast to the notably chilly public areas, where you could see your breath. Here, the past still lingered; one could sense ghosts on the Bridge of Sighs, such a short walk into hell. In Casanova’s old jail cell Alex had tried to summon his ghost to no avail, although she put in great effort.
The view from the Campanile, one only shared by pigeons, had revealed the jade lagoon and an undulating plateau of red roofs punctuated by towers and domes. This would have been a perfect place for an intimate moment, but Daria had chosen to use the silence to drop her charming narrative of old Venice and expound on the impassioned rant on modern society that she’d started earlier.
“Why do city officials promote a living mausoleum? Why fight to have skyscraping, lagoon-dredging cruise ships dock here? Their tourists out-number mosquitoes, treat my city as a theme park, over-run her for hours, eat bagged lunches, buy Chinese masks from stalls, knock-off designer bags from illegal vendors, before returning to the boat for dinner.” As she paused for a breath Chris was happy that he’d bought Fiona’s mask from a local artisan. He wanted to bring her here when she was bigger, hopefully with Alex; Jean was not fun to travel with.
“All they give is noise, chaos, rubbish and surging water levels. I’m sorry for you to feel my anger, but I love Venezia and she is dying, salt is eating our bricks, nobody cares – not tourists, politicians, rich foreigners, who buy palazzos for holiday homes. My friends can’t afford to live here, to protect their homes, there is no work for our children, they.” She stopped short, seemingly embarrassed by her outburst, “We must eat, the sugar is burnt from my blood.”
He felt her pain, knowing that feeling of life being beyond your control, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
“Come back to us,” commanded Alex. “You okay? What you thinking?”
He tugged his gaze away from the open lagoon and glanced forward; looking past her at the pink marble of Palazzo Ducale and the twin columns standing guard at the entrance to St. Mark’s Square, he said, “Tomorrow, I’ll be in Scotland, you’ll be over the Atlantic flying away from me. Will I see you again?”
“I have a plan; I’ll tell you in a minute.”
He nodded as they scudded up the Grand Canal past the now familiar stately palaces which glowed in the golden light of the dying sun.
Chris loved Venice; she was such an impossible city, nothing was as it seemed – decaying façades hid sumptuous interiors, tiny lanes gave way to open courtyards, giant billboards cloaked Byzantine brilliance – something unexpected lay around every corner. But beneath the magic and mystery was the steely determination of a survivor; she’d once been a great power in the world and would be again. It was not time for her last dance; more than ever, he wanted to get his architectural degree to help save her.
The speed boat puttered to a halt at the Gritti Palace Hotel – a 16th century palazzo, commissioned by Doge Andrea Gritti himself, which had maintained its ancient grandeur, according to Daria; he couldn’t wait to see inside.
“Ciao, Chris,” said Daria kissing him on both cheeks, “Holly has my email; when you return to Venice, you’ll come again with me to see more.”
“That would be brilliant,” he replied not sure if he was more delighted at the thought of Venice or that Alex had declared the intention that they would be back. “Thank you for a great day –we couldn’t have done it without you.”
If you’ve got this far and want more from my characters – this is excerpt from before Venice – inspired by me visiting Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast and Capri – http://yvonnemcleod.com/capri-vesuvio-pompeii-dream-nightmare/
For more information: If I’ve inspired you to visit Venice: here are a couple of useful websites that I’ve found:
Thank you for reading, hope you’re inspired to get out there and have your own adventures – I wish you love and luck and more passion that you know what to do with – Ciao!!!