Tag Archives: venice

Venice and Farewells

“But in vain I set out to visit the city: forced to remain motionless and always the same, in order to be more easily remembered, [Venice] has languished, disintegrated, disappeared. The earth has forgotten her.” Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

On first coming to Venice, one does not want to leave. The beguiling streets and endless canal vistas call out to be explored for months, or even years.

Yet over time, Venice reveals absences – not in itself, but in those who travel there. Any loss or void in your life is magnified by the city until it becomes unbearable. Lack of love, lack of purpose, lack of contentment, lack of knowledge. Perhaps only the perfectly happy can be content in Venice. Perhaps even they are shown the critical flaws in their own perfection.

Whatever it is you are missing, you have to find it outside of the city. Venice is a place where love, like the ending of a story or anything else, is often lost but never found.

One more note – you also know you are ready to leave the city if, even for an instant, you treat it like  your home. Even a single instant of normality (in my case, becoming absorbed in a newspaper whilst drinking coffee besides the Grand Canal) is enough to shatter the illusion, to let you know the bewitching spell of the city is ending and that it is time to move on.

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Venice and the Secret People

It is strange how easy it is to lose people in Venice. The main streets and sights crawl with people, but take two turnings and you are alone in a canal street or small square as beautiful as San Marco or the Rialto.

It is as though the people exist only through your will and imagination – they disappear at the whim of your mind. That is why it is best to come to Venice on your own. Travelling alone, you lose only strangers. Come with one you love, and you could lose her forever in the shifting streets if you close your eyes, become distracted by music playing, or forget for an instant what it as you loved about them.

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Venice and Stories

I am deafened by stories in Venice.

At each opening window, fragments of an opening dialogue can be heard (even by those like me who speak no Italian). A father lectures a flirtatious daughter who will inevitably disobey him. An old widow is lost in memory, and tells her guest (a reluctantly dutiful nephew, perhaps) a story of when she was young and beautiful. Or a moustachioed officer with the touch of grey at his temples discusses a duel he fought with the son of the man he killed.

Just around the corner of each deserted alleyway is a crucial character who must be followed – a girl with long flowing hair in a backless top, an old merchant who cheated me from my fortune many years before, the friend I left for dead long ago on a distant battlefield. Everytime I sit down, the view in front of me becomes the first few pages of a novel, the first thousand words of a short story.

But there are no endings to be found here. Venice is a city where stories begin and do not end.

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Venice and the Thieves’ Magician

Once, long ago, Venice was plagued by a gang of thieves who had in their employ a magician. Each night he would wander the city, scattering his spells into every alleyway and backstreet.

He charmed these streets to draw in passersby, irresistibly drawn in by the siren song of cracked plaster and overflowing drains. These curious travellers would be met by the thieves, their throats and purses opened by quick razors and gold rings cut from their fingers, their corpses discarded in some quiet canal.

Today, the thieves are gone. The carabinieri hunted them down years ago, the last one a senile old man bedecked in gold and jewellery from his glory days, but insensible to the world. However, the spells still remain in place, despite numerous expensive efforts by the Venetian government to exorcise them. (Indeed, two mayors have lost their jobs after very public failures to counteract the magic.)

So, when people wander through the city today, they find their feet rotating to point down battered, silent alleys, their legs conspiring to propel them to their doom. Travellers are compelled to wander the backstreets of Venice forever, waiting for an end that will not come.

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Venice and the Cats

Cats are the forgotten princes of Venice. The skulk in the shadows and sidestreets, licking up rainwater from discarded plastic tubs and empty trays of food.

They were deposed many years before, and now scrape a living as beggars and pigeon hunters. Each one dreams as he dozes during the day (for they stay awake all night to have the city for themselves) of the time when they will rise again, storm the Basilica and take back their city, driving the tourists and the Venetians alike to drown in the canals.

Their numbers have dwindled, yet they have the advantage. Over the roofs, through the streets, under the canals, there is no passage through the city that they do not know. Only they know the hidden paths of Venice.

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Venice and Arrivals

You arrive at the city of Venice after travelling for ten hours of night and two of day – the city can only be approached at night, and entered shortly after dawn. In the day, the road in is impossible to find, and a few hours after dawn the city itself vanishes like a dream.

It is a city where saints are to be found in every street staring mournfully from candlelit alcoves, and where slow running fountains appear spontaneously from the ground whenever a traveller is thirsty.

This city is a marvel that the traveller does not want to leave. Even the sewery sweat of Venice smells sweet.

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