On my first trip to Italy, I wanted to greet Venice as a holy place. I somehow saw myself as a profane being, ready to plunge into the secrets of a city I could not understand, whose name only reminded me of an overwhelming culture and Renaissance busts. The floating city of Venice was, in my imagination, the same with the ancient city of Atlantis and I expected to see Venice too sink under the seas the very moment I would get to its lands. At the same time, my Venice was full of Romeos and Juliets cuddling all throughout the city, in the gondolas and on every narrow bridge. I was quite sure their tears of joy actually added up to the water that would eventually sink the city. That is why, when I got the chance to approach Venice, I was grateful to the fact that I managed to see it before it totally disappeared.
But I soon got to find out that my personal myths concerning Venice were far from reality. I imagined I would enter the city alone, on one small raft or boat, accompanied by a mute dark gondolier and that my trip by sea would be close to crossing the Styx, a sort of experience of initiation. On the contrary, I got stuck on a two story boat where all tourists were psyched of taking Kodak moments while approaching the shore. As soon as the boat hit the San Marco Square they poured out like insects, making me feel like a hungry bird trapped in an aviary. And my feeling of unsafety was greatly increased by the pigeons diseasing every granite tile of the plaza. They were demons describing a brownian movement, only tempered by the crumbs of bread tourists chose to spread around the plaza. Some tourists, more daring than others, let the pigeons eat from their very hands and that’s when all the birds usually went mad and attacked the person’s head and limbs.
For me, the real Venice was close to a wetter Hell- each tourist slaughtered by the pigeons was a metaphorical sacrifice to the myth of the demigod Prometheus, whose liver was meant to be eaten by the eagles for eternity, just because he offered the secret of fire to the human species. And the stench that was rising from the canals reminded me of rotten pomegranate and old lipstick. Everything in the city was consumed, dusted. The city itself was an old courtesan that no one could love anymore. Under the glittery shops, whose counters were full of carnivalesque masks, laid a tired stillness. And water invaded everything, you could feel its dampness in your lungs. It was also troubling to see the old dwellings of rich Renaissance families bearing their washed coat of arms being eaten up by the mercury-like water. At the balconies of many of these imposing houses draperies were left blowing in the wind, as if waiting for their ethereal owners to return.
Two hours in Venice and I already felt the mould forming on my soul. I feared looking down in the canal, I had the feeling that other tourists were paying for their sins down there, as if struggling to get out of a tar pit. You could see no vegetation in Venice, the only spots of green were twisted vines trying to suffocate whole balconies, all in vain. As the night came down, the city itself started to boil, as if animated by the cursed waters beneath it. The turmoil made people’s faces fade away and the jazzy tunes jingling from the nearby restaurants seemed almost ritualistic. What really struck me at night was the emptiness of the San Marco Square- with all the pigeons gone to sleep, people seemed feeble and bored, awaiting other forms of punishment. I was lost in a labyrinth of strangers, feeling even lonelier because of the constant noise. Another thing just as surprising about Venice was the fact that although the city was surrounded by water, there were actually few fountains in the city where you could chase away your thirst. That was another proof that the water of the city was somehow tainted… I refused to eat or drink anything belonging to that sad place.
I left Venice during the evening, dazzled by the fact that it resembled nothing in the colorful postcards. Not even the warm sunset or the dreamy gondolier. It was just a city of masks and faces, a city of strangers and glass.