Venice, beginning

tempo di lettura: 5 minuti

When trying to describe a city one usually starts from the beginning. But then they realize that it would be untrue (can a city really have a beginning, apart from the date when it was founded?), give up the whole idea and start from wherever they like.

Venice, unlike other cities, does have a beginning. It is located in the fish’s mouth (everybody has already compared Venice to a fish, so let’s follow the beaten track).

Trains arrive into the fish’s mouth. They bring the crowds of visitors that trample down her pavements-and-campi scales, slowly drowning her in the Adriatic. Fish’s cityhall is concerned about it, but we will see about it later – after all, you’ve just arrived. Be careful not to fall into the water when you get off the train.

The fish goes underwater year by year, settling down on wooden piles driven into the lagoon seabed. Once upon a time Venetians-to-be chopped down the forest, set it out upside down in this blind corner of the Adriatic sea and laid the fish on top of it. Pressed her down with a hundred marble churches and let her lie off the coast of Italy. Tree trunks got filled with seasalt, petrified and lost their organic nature, unable to rot forever. Since then the fish is going down, slowly sagging on these pillars of salt under the weight of her own beauty, and stone church floors become bumpy as the underwater forest sticks out.

Soon you, too, will start stomping madly on the fish’s back. You will be running circles in her labyrinths, corridors, eaves, attics. Under a heavy rain you will be rushing to your exam, barefoot, across the pearly scales of a campo. In square-shaped courtyards of brick palazzos you will be dancing to Balcan gypsy-punk, entrusting your shoes to a couple of immobile Americans. Not feeling your legs, cutting corners, you will be hurrying to the pier to jump on the last vaporetto, liberating the fish from the weight of your body.

The fish has many things, even a Jewish museum. She has a sharp pectoral fin where students settle on, a picturesque tract of the Canal Grande, and a fluffy tail where the Biennale gardens rest. She has houses that seem palaces and alleyways that turn out to be blind. Also, she has tourists. They fill up dimly lit bars, hotel floors, waterbus decks, the entire San Marco square, streets, bridges and basically all the space between the walls here. These crowds are flowing in her windpipes and veins, jingling coins, keeping the fish alive.

Tourists watch Venice and you, you try to watch the tourists. Sit down in the shadow of a bridge somewhere in the back streets of Canal Grande and observe the gondolas sailing under it. Look how gondoliers lazily turn their oars in the water, how quiet and obedient passengers are, how nobody keeps an eye out. How a fat lady in a golden mask with feathers aims the lens at her husband, how Korean girls, holding onto the edge of the boat, crawl around the gondola in search of the best shooting angle, how a woman in a plastic flower wreath bent over her smartphone edits a dozen of selfies at once. Gondoliers are bored, they are chatting on their phones and sometimes, while gabbing, they hit the damp brick wall with their right shoulder and quickly push off the boat by pressing a foot against it.

There is a lymphatic flow in front of you, and everything runs inside it. Four firemen, arms crossed, are standing in a speedboat passing by. Where do they hurry and do fires really break out in Venice? Hold on, one thing at a time. Workmen with tired faces and paint-stained trousers are following them on a big dirty boat. As they see you sitting with your legs dangling over the bridge and staring at them, they smile and grab your shoe. After another gondola, there sails a long barge loaded with containers; two African men lie down on top of them and carelessly look at the sky. Police speedboats, ambulances and splendid polished wooden taxis with leather interiors navigate these canals. Boat-whales are nodding off, lead on a leash by locals.

There is a swim bladder inside the fish, it keeps her floating. Try to find it. If you cannot, check the Venetian wikipedia (Venipedia), it has all the anatomy of the city sorted out – where is the heart, where are the gills. Here a square is called “a field”, a glass of wine is called “a shadow”, and literally everyone is called “amore”. Venetian girls look like Murano glass figurines, sailors on vaporettos can be good or evil depending on the day of the week, and there is always a way out of a dead-end even if it may lead you into the water. At night, the palaces of Venice light up from the inside like Christmas showcases and late passengers that sail by on a waterbus can have a good look at the wooden ribs of its high ceilings and the golden chandeliers of its living rooms. Sleep while the fish goes down into the lagoon. Venice is here to stay. It is not going anywhere – you will break its spell later.

A passer-by hurrying for a train or a ferry fears the blind alleys like plague. A tourist, if just arrived, acts favourably towards them: well, we’ll have to turn back. Those who thought they had already figured out the sudden logic of the streets crumple the map irritably: no way, mistaken again …

Sit down at the end of a blind alley and watch people take a wrong turn. You hear someone’s steps behind you, the person is approaching. Don’t turn around, with your back you can feel if they are sure whether there is a turn at the end. They can begin to have doubts, they can stop, they can swear, they can step back. They can quietly talk it over with their companion. They can flip the shutter and go away. But if they stay still and it goes quiet… that is when it is time to turn.


di Anna Efremova


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