The first time I stepped out of the train station in Venezia, I thought I’d fallen down a rabbit hole. Like stepping into a dream, it looked exactly as I had envisioned it. If possible, even more dreamlike.
First of all, there was a red and white pole in the forefront of my vision which looked like a candy cane on a Christmas tree. I wandered further into the cool winter sunlight. There were tiny bridges, Venetian windows, and flowerpots. The water was green and it swallowed the houses.
Some houses, or homes, had a back door opening straight into the canal and there were boats parked in front. Looking more closely, I noticed that most boats were loosely tied to wooden poles with rope. I had to wonder if they ever drifted away. Beauty seemed to be more important than functionality and I marveled at how things were prioritized in the opposite order in my home country.
Near the edge of the island, there was a chilly fog from the sea, and it seemed to reach right into my bones. As I tightened my scarf, I imagined historical scenes while passing from narrow street to another. Every now and then, a piazza would open up the view. I could point my camera anywhere and always come away with a beautiful shot.
My Italian friend took me to her grandmother’s for lunch. My friend’s grandmother was 90 years old, and though she lived in Venice, of all places, she had never spoken to a foreigner before! But she liked me, and with heartfelt friendliness and hospitality, she babbled away in Italian while showing me around her flat. And I responded as best I could. Her apartment was very posh and the walls were full of paintings.
The lunch was a baffling Italian affair, where you eat the dishes in a precise order, each plate separately, and you try not to act surprised at how much it differs from what you thought Italian eating was, based on restaurant experiences. While you enjoy your delicious meal, you keep thinking, “The pasta isn’t served with the meat!”, “How many more courses will they serve?”, and “I hope I’m not eating this wrong!”
The second time I visited Venice, another Italian friend served as a tour guide for me. He told me that the narrow streets were designed to twirl and twist, only to end in a surprising drop into the water so that enemies would ride their horses into the canal. I don’t know if it was true, but why not? In Venice, I felt like I’d believe anything. He took me to drink espresso standing by a dark bar counter in a place I would never have ventured into alone, and I got to imagine being a local for a moment. Donna Leon’s novels sprung to mind.
There was a third time, too. It was summer, hot, and touristy. I couldn’t quite capture the same magic as I had during my first two visits. But I know that magic is still there, and there will be a fourth time.