Our apartment was in the Ghetto; or it would have been if the Ghetto still existed, but it didn’t, and so it wasn’t. Instead it was merely in an area where the buildings were more run down and dilapidated, where the apartments were less well kept, more rustic and bare, where the water was more filthy and rancid, where the rubbish was collected less often and the dog feces and mould was more common. Behind our building was the waterfront and to the left a canal. The building was five storeys high, two apartments to each and ours was on the bottom canal side, and through the living room and kitchen windows you could watch the boats go up and down frequently and sometimes the driver would wave and sometimes he wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say our apartment was minimalist as that would suggest it was the owners intention to furnish it so, instead I will call it minimal. In the most of corners the plaster was crumbling and most cupboards were empty, the cutlery and crockery were grimy and unclean to the greatest extent, in the bathroom there was mildew and it wasn’t worth its five days rent. My small simple iron bed was hard and uncomfortable, the two too many sheets left me sweating throughout my broken sleep and fractured dreams, leaving me tired, unfulfilled and of bad temper till midday. Outside you could hear children, not the Venetian Ghetto children who from photographs and stories are depicted as blatantly jewish with stocky wise hasidic fathers, but small blonde Italian boys racing eachother on their scooters and girls sitting on doorsteps chatting loudly, all with bad teeth and generally bad eyes and all with either a mother or a grandmother with hazel skin and wiry black hair and kind eyes and mouths who would call them in for dinner or lunch, or scold them when they caused trouble.
On Easter Monday evening my family went out for a boat ride down and then back up the Grand Canal, but I didn’t have a ticket so I didn’t go and instead at around nine-thirty I went for a walk by myself. As I stepped out of the building I could smell the polluted salty water of the canal as the high tide lapped it up onto the pavement near the door, mixed with the smells of spilt beer and anonymous urine that was found throughout Venice. But in Venice you can see the stars clearly and the moonlight reflected off of the river shimmers on the buildings and its is grand and beautiful, but it was lonely and windy and the saltiness made me feel slightly sick. I started to walk down the alleys towards the roads and streets that I knew led to St Mark’s Square and the lights of the restaurants around the piazza and the slow buzz of tourists and I felt a slight and strange want to listen to the jazz bands outside of these restaurants. But the alleys lined with their colourful houses and closed stores were still cold and lonely and so was I so I decided to phone my friend, to talk with someone who I was neither related to or handing money over to.
She was happy to hear from me for the first time in ten or so days and I was relieved to hear her, to listen to her talk of my friends drinking and somewhat missing me. I knew the way to St Mark’s Square so well by then, my fourth day in Venice, that I didn’t pay much attention to the journey and focussed more so on my friend’s talking and when she hung up I felt slightly saddened and slightly near to tears and in a need for something sweet; a chocolate bar, a crepe, best of all an ice-cream, parlours of which can be found most frequently in Italy, more so than any institution it probably being the country’s biggest tourist attraction, the greatest ice-cream of course being found in Italy, displayed out in great chilled platters. But as I walked closer and closer to St Mark’s and the wild spontaneous bands I longed for to uplift me somewhat, there was nothing open. Not a supermarket with an over-priced bar of chocolate, not a corner shop-cafe with chocolate pastries and sweet citric crepes, nor a tobacconist which contained the thing I craved for second most after getting blind drunk with my friends and to go out and dance and laugh, make friends with strangers I’ll never see again and watch my friends tell lies about their lives and roar out laughing when the strangers believe it, and drink some more and dance, move to a beat, a slow and glorious, magnificent bass beat, the sound of a snare drum, anything.
Not even an ice-cream parlour was open, not one in Venice, not one, and by then I’d made it to St Mark’s, with the Cathedral in all of its Byzantine glory and the bell tower reaching far up above me. I wandered towards the lines of restaurants and inside in my spirit, in my soul I got excited about hearing the jazz, the first great music of life and energy, a music which when I listen to it I felt better afterwards. I passed restaurant after restaurant, one, two, three four five and all had the same message; I was too late, far too late by the looks of things. I watched three bands pack up and away, folding the accordion and breaking up the oboe, cracking up that black stick, and I felt even sadder so I looked down the piazza at the twenty or more Indian street sellers flinging their goods up into the air.
Little plastic toys that cost one euro and would fly up into the air and float back down coloured all red and pink and purple and and blue like little faeries in the dark cool salty Venetian night, the light glimmering on the golden mosaics of the Basilica and creating patterns on the gray floor, the lagoon water reflecting off of the pale green onion domes. I thought about buying nine or ten for my friends, only nine or ten euros, not a lot, because they’d been wherever we’d been in Italy, Florence, Verona, Bologna, Pisa, and I loved them so by then. But I decided not to, because that would be cheap and tacky and bad.
I considered getting a drink, a tall beer with a thick cool fulfilling head or a hard and waking and warm whiskey, but all of the bars were and restaurants were far too expensive and busy and I was far too young, immature, poor and generally usually positive to do such a thing and take it seriously. I looked down to the ground and noticed my boots getting wet as the piazza slowly flooded, rank and filthy water gurgling up through the drains with the tide and I thought “good, drown the whole bloody place” and I stormed off in anger and grief back the way I came and I felt even closer to tears and in even more need for an ice-cream, a cigarette, a drink.
I went back the way I came through the alleys until I came to the Dominican Basilica Dei Santi Giovanne E Paolo and the adjacent hospital with it intricate facade in comparison to plainness of the church, modest, the hospital with its water ambulances and canal side A&E entrance and I walked up past it towards the waterfront, the lagoon and its great expanse of green bitter and foul water.
Like all sea-sides, the Venetian waterfront is cold, bare and depressing, especially so as just over the water you could see the cemetery island of San Michele with its grand imposing walls and in centuries worth of golden-age Venetian corpses buried deep into the cool and still silt and sand and clay, where they lie quietly, undisturbed and content. Even on the waterfront there wasn’t an ice-cream parlour open and I think that that’s my problem with Venice.
From afar, from the books and photographs, films and TV shows it seems like a grand and magnificent city frozen by time in its peak and grandeur, still with its churches, its palazzos and piazzas and canals, still with carnivale and fireworks at night; but really its not. Its lost and empty, void of substance and purpose anymore. Only the tourists ride gondolas and by those carnivale masks. Like a poor meal it leaves you still hungry, hanging around for more and irritated and in want for your moneys worth. Venice likewise leaves you with a bitter taste and scent, heaps of tourist junk and a sense of pity for the people who must always live here to keep up the charade, who pay extortionate prices at the supermarket, who live through the flooding and salt knowing that one day they’ll end up on the cemetery island lying with their forefathers in the silt and the sand and the clay. Its sad and lonesome, and leaves you all but fulfilled and I guess thats why the bars are always so busy and expensive, because after a certain point even ice-cream can’t make you stop feeling bad for yourself, only cheap liquor, whiskey and gin, can do that. But, then again, it wasn’t soulless, it just wasn't what people wanted out of it and as I made my way back to the apartment I realised that one day, and maybe one day soon, Venice may be gone. This opulent, lavish and excessive and grand beautiful city, bella Venezia, will be flooded and drowned and vanish forever except in the books and the photographs and films and TV shows, and maybe by then it won't matter and all the nostalgia and yearning for the Renaissance golden-age would have sunk with the city into the green salty lagoon and down into the silt and the sand and the mud.