Warning: Never Go to Venice Alone
When I got of the train in Florence from my trip to Rome I immediately went to the automated ticket kiosk to book a train to Venice for the second half of fall break. For some reason, I had no desire to go to Venice, but I knew that when I go home and tell people I didn’t make it there during my four month stint here in Italy I would never hear the end of it. After dragging my over packed backpack the few blocks to my apartment, there was a beautiful silence. I had the apartment to myself for the day. I did some laundry, repacked my bag, walked around naked and blasted Sam Cooke, and then I was off the next morning to Venice.
The night before I left, I booked a hostel online; I chose one conveniently near the train station for obvious reasons. When I reached Venice, I pulled out my notebook filled with my chicken scratch handwriting, in it directions to the hostel, my reservation number, all the information I needed. I searched around a little bit, for the little red door that was described online, found it, and apprehensively, slowly stuck my head in the creaking door not quite sure what to expect on the other side. I walked into this ratty, water damaged building. At the end of a long hall whose walls were painted bright orange and pink (making me feel I was inside of a pumpkin) I saw a small desk. A woman yells down in three different languages. I understood, “Do you have reservation?” I shouted back, “yes” my voice echoed down the hall as she ruffled behind her desk, into her computer and reservation book. The woman working the desk was from Russia, her second language Italian, and spoke to me in broken English. I couldn’t understand a single word she said. Wide eyed and amazed by the assortment of sounds coming from her bright red lips I just continued to nod, and handed her my credit card. I think I recall a click or two, coming out of her mouth. Amidst her babble she pulled out a map of Venice, all in Russian, circled where my apartment was then quickly scampered out the back red door to smoke her Marlboro Reds. Not wanting to even attempt to communicate with this woman again, I grabbed my bags, with a “what the hell just happened” expression, eye brows furrowed, jaw dropped, and head tilted to the side, and began to try and decode this Russian map. I paced around for two hours before I found my apartment. Up and down back and forth, the whole time I was on the wrong side of the Gran Canal. My steps were rapid, violent, long, thwarted, and hostile. My apartment was down a dark alley between two other streets, not labeled, obviously. And, or course, after all that, my room was on the top floor. I was so irritated I hurled my stuff on the bed. A thick cloud of dust puffs into the air making me cough. I open a window to air out the room, grabbed my sketchbook, and headed out to wander.
My foul mood was impeding my aspirations of exploration. I walked around huffing and puffing, growing frustrated by the slow moving crowds shuffling down the narrow walkways. Every few steps I took someone stopped in front of me to look in a shop window all selling the same touristy merchandise, read a menu, or check their map. I was about to freak out. Right as I was hitting my breaking point I came across Piazza San Marco, the space opened up, I took a deep breathe of the slightly salty Venetian air and calmed down. It was now late afternoon, I didn’t have much time before it got dark, and I was exhausted. I snapped a few pictures around San Marco, grabbed some food at a stand selling paninis, and did some drawing. My discontent subsided.
I wandered around munching on another sandwich, sipping my Fanta, as the sunset. I began to have more and more company on my soothing seafront stroll. Couples surfaced from their hotel rooms and their aperativos. Seated on every single bench in Venice (and I’m not exaggerating) was a couple making out and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ear. My loneliness increased ten fold, the more face sucking I saw the more alone I felt. As I walked and walked, my sense of gloom became a hump on my back that grew heavier and heavier. The evening was cool, dark, romantic, and then bam! As if someone was purposely prodding me with a pointy pole of un-popularity, there was an enormous billboard covering the side of a building, lit up with spot lights from every direction, the only thing illuminated for blocks, it was a picture of a gorgeous couple passionately kissing. I stood there staring at it for a second in disbelief of this cliché moment; one that I only thought happened in films, then turned back to my musty hotel.
When I reached my hotel I took a shower, turned on Italian MTV and watched poorly directed music videos of songs I couldn’t understand. As I lay in bed, I repeatedly fell into blank stares while watching, my mind continued to relive my depressing day. I sighed heavily. Then, I felt and heard banging against my flimsy headboard. Bang Bang Bang Bang! The couple in the next room was having loud sex. With every bang my chest sank deeper and deeper. Bang Bang Bang Bang! Accompanied an occasional lustful yelp. Thankfully, for the sake of my self-esteem, they didn’t last long. I put my head under my pillow and passed out. It was finally the end of one of the most depressing days of my life.
I woke up early the next morning with the goal of visiting the Jewish quarter of Venice and to do some more meandering around the picturesque canals. I went to a café, had my espresso and pastry, and then I began to wander. Still feeling a little sorry for myself, my eyes helplessly fixated on couples and families as I people watched, I missed home, I missed touch, I missed contact. Unfortunately at that moment, the day became a countdown until I was to take a train back to Florence; I really wanted to get out of there. My steps were heavy, my breaths evolved into long dramatic self-loathing sighs and I had little appetite.
I called home, for a little love and suggestions on what to do in Venice. My dad told me I needed to take a boat ride. I asked a boat taxi how much it would cost for just a ride around the city, he said fifty Euros, and I said no way. So with that, I bought a waterbus pass for the day. I waited for the waterbus on a steel dock that swayed and banged with the waves from passing boats. The sounds of people talking in all languages echoed through the tiny tinny structure, my butt cold on the metal bench as I rubbed my boots on the smooth floor. The boat pulled up. It was a long short boat so it could fit under the low bridges over the canals. The boat banged up against the metal making a terrible sound. I rushed on so assure a seat in the front so I could fulfill my tourist duty and record my ride. It was a sweet ride, prime people watching. I took in the grainy, saltwater air, and sat back and relaxed by the heavy slow rocking of the small tanker. The low toned vibrations of the giant motor at the back of the boat slowly lulled me to sleep. I rode around the city until I found the stop nearest the Jewish Quarter, the next destination on my list.
I followed signs in Hebrew that read “Beit Knesset” (synogogue in Hebrew), they made me feel at home and excited to see imagery and an ambiance I’m familiar with. As I ducked into a short tunnel that lead into the old Jewish quarter, a greyhound came gliding up to me. A beautiful brindle with a fancy red collar pranced smoothly around me. I turned and followed her with my eyes as she circled, I looked around for her owner, and I saw no one chasing after her, no one yelling a dog-like name. At the moment I felt as if she was sent solely to cheer me up. I walked up to her slowly holding my hand out towards her nose so she could check me out. Her cold wet nose touched my fingertips, her warm steamy breath filled my hand. Her tail nervously retreated between her back legs. She jumped up in the air, ran in an agile small circle, and sat down like a sphinx. I knelt down and pet her, until her owner came around the corner. An older woman with a dark bronze fake tan, large and fresh from the salon, her blonde hair created a halo around her head. She was wearing black with gold trimmings, jewelry, and held a big, bright red bag hanging from the bend of her elbow. I told her that I have a greyhound at home, and recently lost one to cancer that looked remarkably like hers, like a twin. I told her how happy seeing her dog made me, but she couldn’t understand a word I said, but I didn’t care. I was unable to be there when my family had to put my dog down. This interaction seemed like he was trying to connect with me. Feeling uplifted, I saw groups of men wearing tallit and kippot walking around in long lines, taking up the whole width of the street and speaking in Hebrew. Signs for kosher grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants were in view. Children were playing on the large, capped well that I played on with my sister when we came here as a family almost ten years ago. It was Shabbat, the quarter was quiet except for flocks of youngsters playing and shepherded by gossiping pods of Jewish women in the Piazza. Obviously these were the kids who couldn’t sit still or stay quiet during services, and I know that feeling. I sat in the sun and drew for a while. I spent the day there, sitting, drawing, and taking pictures, surrounding myself with something familiar.
Revived by the Jews of Venice, I hopped another ride on the waterbus then slowly strolled back to the station to catch a train back to Florence. I finished my break feeling accomplished, I did everything on my own, I took care of myself, and did what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. I gained a new and different feeling of confidence even though the ten-day school vacation was a lonely one, to say the least.