07/11/12 Midday, floating on a gondola in Santa Croce, Venice.
“How many bridges like this are there in Venice?” Mom asked our gondolier, pointing to an exquisite yet ubiquitous bridge up front.
“Four hundred and forty-two.” Our gondolier extracted the cigarette from his mouth and replied with the certainty of a man who has seen all 442 of them. “Altogether we get 22 million tourists a year, but 18 million of them come in the summer season.” He was interrupted and expertly returned his focus to steering to avoid collision with an approaching speedboat in the narrow waterway.
Floating so close to the waterside houses, I traced my fingers along their walls, I notice that they all showed a distinct band, a shade darker than the paint, roughly a foot above water level. There it was: an omnipresent reminder of the city’s annual flooding. It’s these quiet silvers of Venice that I try particularly hard to commit to memory. No other sound, but your steamed breathing, the musty smell of sunlight that softens everything and accentuates the lines on the water.
Standing by outstanding and tragically tourist-crammed landmarks, it’s easy to end up squandering your time competing (sport category: wrestling) for prime photography territory rather than laying back and drinking in the scene’s intertwined simplicity and extravagance. Mom and I found several of these secluded walks on our winding afternoon quest back to our hotel. We MAY have gotten lost (we MAY have done so intentionally… okay, I lie), but we were rewarded with many untrodden alleys and shadowed slices of space carved out of buildings so narrow that it became perfectly conceivable to me how people leapt from roof to roof in Angelina Jolie’s “The Tourist”, among other movies you are at liberty to name.
Emerging into the streets again, I readjusted to navigating through herds of people. Actually, Venice also revealed itself as a shopping and café paradise. Mom and I had a BLAST checking out the local glass jewelry, most of which are artisanal creations. I had to double take backward to properly admire a mask painter at work, his work surface multi-functioning as a palette bench, coffee table, and cashier. The other surfaces of his studio shop were even busier! Not an inch is visible beneath the timeless display of Venetian masks: lips curled in mid-laughter, sinister Guy Fawkes faces from V for Vendetta, striking plague doctors with hollowed beaks, cats, sun and moon- it was like a cavern swallowed by masks. I considered leaving my resume should I chance upon an apprenticeship, but, watching his long thin fingers dance with the toothpick-thin paintbrush, I felt increasingly inadequate. Time to leave the shop making as little noise as possible. I regrettably won’t be able to make the next Mask Carnival, Carnevale di Venezia (Jan 26 to Feb 22, 2013), but if you EVER go, bring me back a bit of the party in a bottle or something.
At our lunch spot in one of the campos (mini plaza), we were served by a Chinese family running their own Trattoria. The cuisine was by all means authentic Italian but it was a bit of a surprise seeing our young Asian waitress conversing with everyone in fluent Italian. She had only been here for 2 years and came from Zhe Jiang province. As it turned out, the Chinese restaurants we stopped by in Praha, Venezia, AND Paris (we are shamelessly patriotic eaters) were all run by Zhe Jiang people. As my parents made a point of explaining, Zhe Jiang people have exceptional business instincts thus many have, as we have seen, emigrated from China to start their own work elsewhere in the world. It would have been tempting to sit by a quiet canal sipping my Frullato di Mirtillo all evening but my feet were tired from walking and we had a 7:20am train to catch to Gare de Lyons et puis à Paris tomorrow morning.
You see, I don’t go red (fortunately) after too much sun since UV rays have maxed out my skin cells’ darkness capacity already. Even so, the most distinctive feeling that drew my day to a close was sunburn. Finally resting my feet in our conspicuously un-air-conditioned hotel, I could feel waves of heat emanating from my body in longitudinal waves. Pulse pulse pulse. The city leaves a mark on you, not just surface level melanoma but its long-lasting, lively, sensual spirit; it slips into your steps and radiates from your warmed skin as evening falls upon the hot dusk light.
Next stop: Paris.