Monday, September 25, 2006


Photo by W. Auberle

Old Venice hotel room where I am writing about
this amazing city of water...

Venezia, Venice--city of 400 bridges, 112 islands, 112 churches. Outside the city are two beggars--one a dark, hooded figure, impossible to see if it is man or woman inside the garment, head down, sitting cross-legged, a dirty gauze bandage on it's outstretched hands. It speaks no words, only deafening silence. The other is a man with no legs, a hand with no fingers, one a bandaged claw. He moans, his face implores, I cannot resist.

We park outside and enter the city. Pulling luggage behind, we walk up one bridge, down another, over and over and over. The sun is hot, my arms ache. I want a motoscafi, a water taxi. A man offers to show us the way, wants my suitcase, he is a ragged man. We keep walking.

Is there a school for boatmen, I wonder, these beautiful men--to learn to sing; to have such muscled arms; to traverse the canals in their old gondole; to charm the ladies from Iowa, Brooklyn, Munich; to recite the stories of this ancient place?

Later, armed with maps, we sit beside the Grand Canal, watching a storm coming in, the wind rising, waiters pulling down sides on the restaurant tent. We are confident we know the way back to our hotel, but as we walk and it darkens, I want to stay in the narrow lanes. Out in the plazas, I fear lightning will be drawn to my yellow umbrella's metal handle and I will join those ancient ghosts walking beside us. Up and down bridges we trudge, passageways leading only to water, past this same trattoria three times. Drenched, we circle around and around. Firemen in florescent green and black walk beside us, under great umbrellas. They will know where Hotel Basilea is, but no, they shrug, no English.

At last a man says yes, I live near there, you must cross this bridge, look for the tall tower, the Indian restaurant beside the canal...and we are home, at last, to the tall ceilinged room, the pink bedspread, the lace curtains. The rain stops as we crawl, shivering, between heavy cotton sheets, outside water drips from the eaves, Handel's Messiah drifts in the open window till a man shouts and the music stops. A busload of Italian children pulls up. The noise is deafening for awhile, and then it is morning and the tiny shower, the doves calling, the bells, the bells, the bells...

Breakfast is in the dining room--espresso, yogurt, meats and cheeses and eggs and 50 Italian children--the girls just beginning to grow breasts, dark eyed and tempest-haired, the boys both sultry and loud. Passionate musical language and hands flying through the room too small to contain all those burgeoning hormones.

Sunlight gleams on the canals this morning, puddles on ancient stones. The water taxi pulls up in front of the hotel, takes us down narrow waterways, down the Grand Canal, out to the ferry for the island of Murano. Its glassblowers have been at their work since the 13th century. In the glowing furnace rooms the glass glistens, melts and moulds. In deft hands it transforms. Gold and silver are added, incised, engraved, heirlooms are born. A man smiles at me as he shapes the glass. The furnace light falls on his dark hair. He is proud, this artisan from another time. We can only afford a small vase to keep on the dining room table, but I will shine it everyday, keep only a single flower in it, let it catch and hold mountain sunlight.

On to Burano, island of fishermen, lace makers, houses caught in rainbows. In the warm sunlight an old woman opens her heavy wooden door and draws a curtain to let in the Adriatic breeze. She steps outside and begins to sweep the street in front of her house by the canal, where we sit at a table, eating. Smiling shyly, she watches us the entire time, as she sweeps. I want to talk with her, tell her how I love her island, but our languages will not mesh.

A watchmaker tells me his siesta is soon, if I want to buy the orange watch. I wait too long, he closes for the afternoon. I admire the masks of Venice--the jester, the doctor, the lover. Roses climb old stone walls, canals lap quietly, there are no cars.

Later we board the ferry back to Venice--Piazza San Marco--St. Mark's Square, St. Mark's Cathedral, glowing with gold. In the setting sun the bell tower shines where 15th century priests were suspended in a cage to repent their sins, next to it pink and white marble--the Doge's Palace. Always, side by side, saints and sinners. In the square, pigeons outnumber people, landing on people's arms, their heads. We wade through pigeons, listen to orchestras playing, debate a gondola ride, decide to walk instead. The songs of boatmen float in the evening air. We stop for wine, some cheese and bread. The air is cooling now. Our room in the small hotel awaits, by the tall tower, the Indian restaurant. This time we are not lost...

- mimi

"I am not going to write as one driven by compulsions, but freely, because I am a writer, and because for me to write is to think and to live and also, in some degree, even to pray." (italics mine)

- Thomas Merton


Post a Comment

<< Home