Posts Tagged ‘venice’
It’s 2 am. My sister is asleep and has forbidden me from opening any of the windows in our hotel room. Mosquitoes will come in, she says. And she’s right. I mean, she is. And I’m not really forbidden, but we agreed on it.
Before we turned out the lights, we made a promise that if any mosquitoes buzzed around our ears in the night, we’d immediately turn the lights back on and kill them. We even kept the windows closed all day and swept the room beforehand. She found one and killed it, smearing its guts down the wall, just to have some visual proof of our diligence.
This was a really great plan, we thought: Keep the windows closed at all costs and be vigilant about stragglers after the fact.
The worst that could happen, she said, is that the room could get really hot. But we’d be mosquito-free—a quality that we agreed was more valuable than, say, being properly temperature-adjusted.
The mosquitoes kept us up the night before—you don’t even understand. Chewing away at our backs, risen up out of this sinking swamp of a city.
In fact, this was not the worst that could happen.
The worst that could happen was as follows: My sister, immediately before lights out, takes a sleeping pill. Which renders her unable to hear any buzzing mosquitoes (which appear out of nowhere, in my ear and not hers, as though they’d grown out of the wall like Darwin’s meat experiment). It also renders her unable to sense that the room is stifling.
I kill the mosquito. I cannot kill the hotness.
Which is why I’m sitting on the bathroom floor of a hotel room in Venice, Italy, unable to sleep, writing in the dark, not wearing any pants, unable to open any windows because we agreed, wondering how long I will keep this agreement, desperate for air, because really I’m older, waiting for morning, or for the pill to wear off, whichever comes first.
The storm on Burano coincides with our visit nearly to the moment and gives the impression, at first, that the entire island will run in the rain like a bleary watercolor.
We huddle under the awning in a bar and drink too-expensive hot chocolates while old men rattle away in Venetian dialect around us. Day trippers scamper for the vaporetto and for the lace shops. The town hardly looks real with its low stucco houses painted in rainbow colors—from peppermint twist pastels to blinding neons. It is Italy out of a feverish dream, Italy gone Willy Wonka.
The best colors are in the interior, when you slide through the tiny entryways off the main drag. The buildings form little courtyards in the center. Enter, and you’re swallowed by color, by an umbrella hanging on an outside hook, but three girls jumping rope, by a spluttering fountain. Steps away from the tourist din, Burano is a real place.
In the overgrown churchyard, the brick steeple leans so precariously that it actually seems dangerous—not like that other Italian leaning tower with all of its history, its army of scientists to protect it and the gawking tourists below. We ponder the chances of it tumbling on our heads when an old man comes up behind us and stares. His blue-striped sweater is done in the hues of the town–cobalt and cornflower. It is that time of the afternoon when old men in Italy take their walks or sit outside, their hours of afternoon commiseration.
When I look over, he says, “You probably don’t speak Italian.”
“I understand it,” I say.
“Ah, he says. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you, but when I see pretty women, I have to look. I know I’m old, but still. Have a good day.”
I feel bad taking photos of people’s everyday lives, until I remember that in New York City, tourists constantly take photos of my everyday life, and that I don’t really mind very much. So maybe this is cultural exchange of the highest and most literal order—your little houses for my skyscrapers, your canals for the pond in Central Park—a way of seeing what is colorful and bright about the places we visit, and about the ones we come from.
Go there: The island of Burano is located about 12km north of Venice. To visit, take the LN vaporetto from Piazza San Marco (Pieta), or Fondamenta Nouve. The latter is quicker.
After dark, the arrows point in both directions. They do in daylight too, but it doesn’t seem so challenging then, when aimlessness is its own kind of reward—the reason why you visit Venice in the first place. Once the sun sets, though, the labyrinth turns Alice-in-Wonderland sinister—lit with high yellow bulbs and silent to the point of distraction, save the footsteps just around the corner.
Unless you’re in love, I guess. In which case, the challenges of the shoulder-narrow streets, the hitching corners, are probably different. Then, you can probably appreciate the safety of the thing better, the fact that there are no muggings or murders here. The darkness, the shuttered storefronts, give way to nothing. The threat dissipates, falls away like a length of cloth in a magic trick.
We’ve eaten dinner—overpriced and the wine was terrible, but it’s hard to know sometimes. Choosing a restaurant in a nook or a cranny guarantees nothing, partly because the entire city is nook and cranny both, but also because “off” and “on” the beaten path are slippery terms here. To go to Venice is to visit both the most touristed, most traversed, most memorized and mapped, most known of known places, and to be utterly, pointlessly lost. All we want, at this point, is to get home.
Around a wide corner, we get harassed by a group of big, intoxicated boys. It happens by the shuttered fish market. This is as close as I will ever come to definitively identifying the spot. One of them latches on, says things that are distinctly tame and rather beautiful, compared with things I’ve heard on the streets of New York, but his marginally-more-sober buddies tell him to give it a rest, especially when they see our averted eyes, the tense lines of our spines.
Near the Rialto at high tide, the water has brimmed up over the edge of the canal and people are having their dinner at tables perched on the edge, the water creeping up against the soles of their shoes in harmless little waves. The building just behind them—a slouching white stone structure that could use some of the city’s abundant restoration budget to wipe the generations of soot off its grimy face—is immersed up the threshold. The candles on the tables flicker anyway.
When we finally find the Ponte Scalzi, we scuttle like mice who have reached the cheese—spat out the right end of the maze, finally. Four or five other tourists, lumpy in their fanny packs, their khaki dinner clothes, have been following us and seem grateful in several different languages. We reach our hotel and stay for an instant. Create the illusion of a fixed point on the map, pretend that the city isn’t always shifting, sliding out from underneath us.