Mysterious, yet entrancing. Venice by night, the most romantic place on earth, or so I was told by the thick accented French. Paris; delectable, enticing ‘Pair-eee!’ That is where I spent my nights previous. Paris is indeed magical, but rather built up larger than life by imagination and expectation, by market and misconception, through the tender visions of foreign dreamers. And yet I ask myself, ‘is this also true with Venice, Italy?’
However, I do know now that once I look back years from these moments, I will remember them as absolutely glorious. I will most certainly believe with all my heart and all my being, that this was the peak of my life – this very moment, now. Awe, how the mind makes fools of us all. The consistency of its inaccuracies is an amazing crime, with a simple slip behind the veil. Though I can’t help but marvel at its optimistic favoritism.
The still waters ache with the anxiety of reminiscence, with wild tales of old, of highest rule and former conquer. The soft waves of the sea splashing against the ancient facades are like a song, often sung. A melody of misery and of longing. Burdened with the sorrowful memories of a once sole Venetian existence, a culture that was once as strong as any before it, but now is a mere sight, overrun by the advancing-tourist. Every ripple in every canal represents the character of each soul who once called Venezia their pride and home.
My skin met the gentle, crisp warm breeze of the Italian summer sea air as I stepped through the open doorway of the train station. My heart was finally beginning to calm from the overexcited pace of moving row to row, pressing my nose to the glass of the train as it advanced across the lagoon. A beautiful sunset was masked atop the precious blue waters, highlighting the marshlands and the distant islands with a valiant orange glow.
As the sun abated, the alien footsteps of tourists likewise disappeared. Alone I wandered the whimsical stone alleyways, over canal bridges and passed tiny trinket shops. I felt pensive, mystified even, by the overall mood that entranced me as well as all of those who have experienced the glory that is Venice by night. Dim yellow-tinted lights revealed various paint-peeled and distressed wood-carved doors with rusted wrought iron hangings and well-curated window gardens.
I bypassed intertwined love-drunk couples and the occasional back alley cafe, filled with locals. Men were sitting around a tilted wood table, yammering loudly to one another with heavy Italian accents, as smoke billowed from their cigars and drink sloshed from their glasses in hand. From time to time I lingered nearby, watching these friendly, heated discussions. Often, I became fascinated by the men’s gestures and verbal articulations.
Farther and farther I wandered and the more comfortable I became, and all the more in love I fell. I imagined falling in love in this place and living in a serene Italian fantasy until my last breath. It was beautiful there, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what made it so wonderful. Focusing on the details individually, I noticed that the buildings were crumbling, the canals occasionally gave off a putrid stench and the mood teetered, romance versus eeriness.
I hadn’t committed to much of a plan. I had no itinerary, just a blissful solitude. I planned nothing prior to arriving here, so I knew of no attractions or tourist-traps. My only want was to become lost, gloriously astray, so that I may find what it is that Venice truly wanted me to discover. I stumbled in all directions, changing course just for the hell of it. I deliberately claimed the fool, losing all sense of direction.
I continued in this manner for some time, until I discovered a large opening. Some sort of a square, lined with patio restaurants and shops, centered by a small lifeless fountain. Children and other locals pranced around, laughing and enjoying their time, without a care in the world. “Damn, I wish I grew up this way! There’s nothing of these sorts, but greed and selfishness back home in the States. It’s really quite sad,” I thought to myself, as I watched the merriment of the real importances of life paramount.
Moving slowly around the community square, I glanced storefront to storefront. I stopped from time to time, where I tasted fabulous Italian cheeses and wines. I chose to come away with some lemon gelato from a lovely elderly woman. She gave me the gesture of praying hands as I set off. I felt her meaning was that of wishing upon me future good-will. I turned down a corner alley, in the general direction of the Grand canal bridge Ponte dell’Accademia. My lack of destination had changed since the kind woman eagerly directed me toward the town center along the Adriatic sea.
Even though I had now have acquired plans, I continued at a leisurely pace, taking everything in. A few blocks away, I was serenaded into a fantastic mood by a lone street-accordionist. He bobbed and swayed back and forth, spreading mirth through his festive melodies. He was a large dark skinned fellow, dressed in white and red pinstripes with a black rimmed hat. He had black pants and shiny grey shoes with suspenders completing his authentic ensemble. I stood, transfixed and happier than I had ever felt. I was bewitched for what seemed like ages, until the sticky cool touch of the melting gelato reached my fingertips.
I proceeded several blocks and I still had a distinct glide influencing my step. My mind couldn’t shake the man’s music and I couldn’t seem to put a stop to my hand naturally waving in a conductor-style rhythm to the beat replaying in my head. I couldn’t help but subconsciously hum his savory tones, as they filled my empty gap and made everything feel as though I was living inside of a perfect dreamworld. Excitement flushed my face as the path curved to the left and the immense bridge came into view, and all but the memory of the music had now gone.
I came across a group of shoppers who crowded in a small alley to my right, where several shops were clustered together. A sloping Italian sign hung above the first storefront, which had ‘Apothecary’ scribbled on it. The cluttered window of ancient bottles emitted a green ambient glow and I immediately felt intrigued. The store was cramped and packed to the ceiling, with a middle isle of lopsided hanging shelves. Its product selections were split, part medical and part recreational use. I attributed the green glow to their impressive collection of Absinthe bottles. Squealing like a little girl who had just won a carnival prize, I snagged the first bottle I could, paid for it and ran out the door.
I’ve long had a fascination with liquors, beers and wines. Anything that has alcohol in it, then I must give it a try! This was the real stuff, with all of the correct ingredients – not that garbage sold under the same name, back home in the States. I think I’ll save this rare find for another night of my journey.
It wasn’t long before I found my way to the Piazza San Marco, where I found endless hints that it was closing time. Restaurant employees were busy closing down their patios and musicians were nearly finished packing up their instruments. I felt a bit sad that I’d missed out on all the hoopla, but the fact that I was one of the only souls left who was out wandering the great square instantly cleared away all sadness, and I was now filled with pure wonder. The architecture of the square and of San Marco’s Basilica was more than enough to keep me transfixed. No longer paying attention to where I was walking, I tripped over a ledge and noticed that I had turned right somewhere in my revelry. I likely followed the path along the edge of the square and was now gazing at the great Adriatic sea. There were several gondolas, tied to wood poles and bobbing in sync with the waves of the sea.
I picked myself up from kneeling where I had tripped and stepped over the stone step where I took a seat. I began studying each sight, flirting in and out of focus. I stared at the lights across from the square and over the water for a long while, where the San Giorgio Maggiore church sat looming on another island not too far away.
“The only thing missing now is a gorgeous young Italian girl to fall in love with and a vintage wine to influence bad decision making,” I chuckled to myself. I decided that I wouldn’t be opposed to staying the entire night here, laying out along the Venetian stone and falling asleep to the soothing sounds of the sea. I give in – there really is something magical about this place.