Floating Marvel, Sinking Antiquity

http://vagabondmagazine.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/1399062858.744053.img_5637-1050x787.jpg

BY PIPER FRENCH

The first thing I hear walking out of the train station is American, Midwestern American coming from five overweight blond fellow citizens. Venice, inflated before me, collapses. The sparkling canals, the pastel façades rushing back, quelled. Life is life still. There’s nothing I can say about this city that hasn’t been said already.

+

Maps seem to work differently here and it takes us two hours of erroneous wandering through the narrow streets before we find the hostel. They have given us our own room, and it is surprisingly spacious, two stories up, window opening onto the canal. At night I lie in the still warm half-dark and listen to people drive their boats out towards the bay. Handheld radios project American hip-hop, suddenly loud through the open window, always quickly fading as the boats move past.

+

The magic of Venice comes in tiny coincidences. After three hours of missed connections and the type of stress that is the worse because there is nothing you can do but sit there and hope that the other person figures things out, the word Vermont floats up through the open window and I run downstairs and Alexandra has just arrived in the courtyard, face shiny, back bent against the wall to support her hiker’s backpack. She hadn’t said it, but I heard it somehow.  We go and sit on the cracked plastic tables in a sparse inner sort of paved yard and talk about home.

+

The supermarkets aren’t open after 3 pm save one, it caters to tourists and is happily close to our sequestered hostel. Standing in line we are accosted by five, seven languages, everything but Italian. The cashiers are heavy and have little patience for our unawareness. Apparently here you are expected to find your own bags for carrying.

 +

This week I eat: gelato, peaches, flat-tasting biscuits, one too-expensive spaghetti meal the remnants of which we smuggle out of the restaurant to save for later. I drink wine, but no coffee because they only sell espresso. I eat pizza over and over again and mostly avoid staining my clothing with grease.

+

We make friends with three successive installments of Canadians. One group in a square, as we search for directions and try to find some shade. They are benevolent; they point us where we need to go. The second sitting on a bridge busking. We assume he is Italian, but he speaks to us in unaccented English. He is maybe 19 and has decided to stay there a while, though he at least has something to do with his hands.

The third is an older couple from Montreal who give us spare change when we don’t have enough money at the supermarket. Our camaraderie is scorned by the cashiers, who unsurprisingly hate each and every person who comes into the store.

+

 Definitions of Venice: a floating marvel, a sinking antiquity, a mecca of the baroque pastel, a wastebin made mostly of water, an anachronism.

+

Due simply to the heat, there becomes a clear tradeoff between hunger and physical discomfort. My will to not leave the room and bear the oppressive sun is so strong that it overpowers my instinctual tendency to feed myself. In the room there are six peaches that sit together on a dresser that’s not made out of wood, they’re slowly rotting into stagnant air and I eat them one by one to save them from senescence. When I have no more food to pass the time with, the only thing left is to read—so I do, spread out against my low-slung bed wearing as few clothes as possible. Languid is the only word that means anything to me right now.

The windows are both open and some modicum of air comes in, but not enough to make my back stick any less to the dampness of the thin hostel sheets or dispel from my brain the nagging idea I might hate Venice. The painted houses and sudden hidden delights, these things are maybe better in print, though it is true that from there I could not hear the slosh of water from the canal outside.

+

I shower like clockwork, every two hours, and then I overflow the tiny bathroom and have to go retrieve a desiccated mop from management. I stop taking showers.

+

Every day I wander around with a girl I’ve known for three years and with whom I have never had a real conversation. One afternoon we sit out in front of our hostel, not dragging our feet in the canal water (It has surely seen everything under the sun, garbage and shit and definitely a few prostitutes’ bodies, sooner or later) and we do talk about something—relatives? And it makes me realize how much I don’t know this girl, how little we manage to say to each other. It feels so wrong to be alone here. Would Venice be more Venice if I saw it with my arm wrapped around someone else?

+

All we do is walk, because it is free. We find one museum and I look at ancient violins for an unreasonable amount of time because the room is air-conditioned and I can breathe, momentarily. I make eye contact with the proprietor of the place; I know he knows that we are only there because it is cold and costs nothing. I can’t tell whether this bothers him, he has probably just come to expect it.

+

By the time it gets dark all the tourists leave but so does anyone who might live in the city. Marie and I buy a full pizza and a three-dollar bottle of wine that tastes good or at least I think it does. We sit on the edge of the city, legs swinging off the pier.

Later we walk back and old men sing to us as we cross a bridge. They do it unthreateningly, they expect nothing. It is about expressing something that might as well be expressed.

+

I hate being in Venice, but I will love having been.

+

Filling up our water bottles at an unexpected fountain, we are accosted by a friendly man who is trying to bring a new transportation system to Venice. The mode of transportation is a sort of waterski/bicycle hybrid; he is confident in its potential for wild economic success. We are clearly the only ones who will entertain his fantasies with more than a polite nod and a smile.

+

The last night Marie goes to bed and Alexandra and I sit there for another two hours. I tell her about Marcel, the boy I met in Paris less than a week ago and already think of as a memory, or a good story maybe. We eat peaches, sloppily, we finish the wine. We still go back to the hostel before 2. Things end early here, because there is nothing to do but sit and watch the moon.

BY PIPER FRENCH

+

Rolling suitcases are a modern convenience not fit for a city of such antiquities. We leave late and Marie stops to get a cheap coffee in the hostel lobby. It is one of those ones that comes from a metal box, probably powdered seconds ago, and half of it spills as soon as we get into the street.  My hair is down; I am wearing a bright pink shirt and have the sensation of parting waves as I bounce along the cobblestones, suitcase dragging awkwardly behind me.

We make it to the train station with ten extra minutes. It is baroque, billowed ceilings, faux frescos. I discover that the tickets we have are for the train station on the mainland. That train has already left, we won’t make it out of this hotel anytime soon.

I leave Marie with the bags and walk outside. My two remaining peaches I eat in rapid succession, juice dripping down my chin and staining my silk shirt. This day will be 15 hours of hell before we finally arrive back where we’re meant to be but the late-morning air finally has the right feeling to it and I can’t hear anyone speaking English, for the moment at least.




There are no comments

Add yours