The Hunt – In which the young student gets lost, then finds something remarkable

tempo di lettura: 4 minuti
In another moment down went Alice after it,
never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.[i]

I’ve been living in Venice for one and a half months now. I’m from a little town called Meledo, a few thousand souls, buried in fog, one hour by train from here. I’m not from Venice, but close enough. And yet, it only took me a few days to feel at home, to learn to appreciate the sea, the calm lagoon, wind in my hair, salt on my lips. I longed for Venice when I spent the weekend in my hometown. It took much more, actually, not to feel at home. To realize how lost I was, how lonely I was, how stranded I was. It was just another day, at sunset, when sky and sea meet, glowing red, and all the calli become the same, dark and filled with hungry tourists, students, people. People who talk to people, people who don’t have people to talk to, and by the sea, people gazing at the dying sun, missing other people. One of them, an old man, approached me in the street, asking for directions: “Are you from here?” I didn’t know what to answer. I eat, study and sleep here, and, when not busy doing that, I even live here. But no, I’m sorry, I wouldn’t know how to get to Santa Maria Formosa, good evening, and good luck. Yes, when I got lost, returning in San Servolo after class, that’s what they told me when giving me directions: good luck. In a city like Venice, luck is the only law that opposes to chaos. Mind me, not your usual New York City chaos. Venice is very much like the lagoon surrounding it, changing with the tide, but slowly. No violence, no rush. Just, ‘change’, in its most primal form. No two calli look the same, and, sometimes, not even the same one, in two different moments.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where——” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” said the Cat.
“ ——so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”[ii]

One day I went for a walk. Actually, I’m not sure I had ever done something like that before: I decided where to go, only, I didn’t know how to get there. At least, not the shortest way. It is quite hard to get lost in the eastern part of Dorsoduro, with large canals on every side all you have to do is walking around and, eventually, you will find either water or what you were looking for. This gave me the time to look at people, mainly tourists, crawling in the calli. It may seem trivial, but they spend most of their time taking pictures. Of themselves, of this church, that church, this campo, that campo, a seagull, a canal, a Venetian gondoliere singing a Neapolitan song. What is behind a picture? What does a picture mean? In English, photographers capture a moment; in Italian, they immortalize it. In a city dominated by change, filled with changeable, random beings such as humans are, immortalizing something feels almost unnatural, maybe pointless. Why do people take pictures? To remember. Remember what, a church? The seagull that stole my very much earned pizza in Campo Santa Margherita? Or do they rather remember a moment, a feeling? In those shots they smile, they shine just like the sun above them, dancing on the waves created by waterbuses. That is why people take pictures: to remember happiness, joy, an easier time, maybe. A dream coming true, visiting Venice, Italy, kissing their loved one on a bridge, laughing with friends. Getting their pizza stolen by a seagull. Yes, I hate that seagull.

Then, one day, I saw the sea.

E come quei che con lena affannata,
Uscito fuor del pelago a la riva,
Si volge a l’acqua perigliosa e guata;
Così l’animo mio, ch’ancor fuggiva,
Si volse a retro a rimirar lo passo[iii]
And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;
So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass[iv]

What happened was kind of the opposite, actually, as I was not running from water, but rather towards it, unconsciously. It had been a long day of wandering from calle to calle, carrying a bag, tired, pensive, worried, arguing on the phone, getting angrier and angrier, so many different languages around me, so many people, my heart thumping in my chest. Faster, faster, faster. Stop. Suddenly, I was out in the open. A soft breeze caressing my cheek. There is only one place where this happens: Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Lungo, on the Giudecca Canal. I gazed up and I saw it. Not the wide, open sea, stretching all the way to the horizon. I saw a ‘smaller’ sea, confined by that stripe of land that is the Giudecca Island. You see, you can’t lose yourself in a finite sea, but you can most certainly find it. What was I looking for? That day, stepping out of San Servolo. The day before. What was it, that I lacked? The sun was shining on me, on us, lost people in Venice, and when everything stopped, there I was. Finally, home.


[i] Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Volume One Publishing, 1998), page 3

[ii] Ibid., pages 89-90

[iii] Dante Alighieri, Commedia (Casa Editrice Le Lettere, 1994), Inferno, Canto I, vv. 22-26

[iv] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Ticknor and Fields, 1867), Inferno, Canto I, vv. 22-26


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