Several years ago I was fortunate enough to visit Italy with Simon. Our favorite city by far was Venice. When writing home one late evening, I found myself trying to accurately describe exactly how Venice makes you feel…something that goes far beyond the beauty of the city. It feels pleasantly haunted with the past and you feel surprisingly at home. It has a sort of lucid-dreamlike quality about it. I tried to convey that in my letter…a love letter…to Venice.
The moment you step outside the train station, the faint scent of sea rises around you. The first thing you notice—before the crowds of disoriented tourists, before the sea-birds—bold from centuries of coexisting with the Venetian populous—before the ancient stone buildings which display a myriad of colors and ornate, though crumbling facades, even before the boats and sleek water taxis and the vaporetti which slowly grumble along, before any of this you notice the smooth, glassy waters of the Venice canals, right at your feet.
A soft opaque aqua, the color of muted green and blue sea glass. It’s rhythmic rising and falling, from surface disturbances, pulses in accordance with your own heartbeat. From that moment, until the moment you say your final reluctant farewells, Venice overwhelms you with its drowsy, dream-like quality and everything else fades away.
Mornings we are greeted by the bright backlit clouds of a winter sky. Bundled in multiple layers in efforts to conceal our underestimation of the cold, we huddle and stumble about map-less. The streets sprawl outwards like bursts of lightening and always look at once familiar and unrecognizable. It’s best to give up traditional navigation and trust in instinct and intuition. You will always find your way.
The sound of movement across the water sets the tone for the day. With a symphony shifting from humming boat motors, to the flap of wings, voices calling out in different dialects, hard soles on harder ground, everything carries an haunting echo, a resonance that seems to vibrate long after it first comes into being. Down one dark corridor you might strain to hear a conversation that fades into your surroundings as quickly as it presented itself. The din of street vendors, intermittent laughter, and pleasant shouting gets stuck in your mind like an unshakable tune. Down the most secluded alleys, you’re accompanied by nothing more than your own footsteps and breath.
Venice is a collection of memories, a history so vibrant and palpable that it seems tangible to even the most unfamiliar traveler. At once Venice feels like home, a home you remember now only in focused reverie, but once you drift down her canals, the memories flood back, and everything is hazily familiar. Like a dream slowly coming back to you in fragments.
This is the genuine beauty of the city. It has the ability to push you with narcotic ease into another state of being. You lose yourself in the silence of streets unmarred by the traffic of home. The entire city flows before you like an extended sigh, a deep exhale of contentment. The morning fog meanders down winding corridors, enveloping you in a sense of belonging. The gentle motion of the waters is hypnotic and soothing.
You feel the continual pull of languid drowsiness while wandering the streets, slipping in and out of cafes, stopping frequently to absorb the age-old opulence of architecture resting on its bed of sea and silt. Here the cyclic monotony of your existence is drowned out and you are revived by a thriving, ancient vitality.
When day eases into dusk, then evening, and the fog wraps around lampposts and drifts along the surface of the now black waters, you feel a strange sort of comfort. You’ve been here before, along the well-worn stone streets that date back to when the city had just evolved out of the swampy marshlands. What is this borrowed sense of safety and contentment the city lends? How is it that I feel I’ve been here before? Perhaps fair Venezia will take that to her watery grave as she sinks further into her surroundings.
As the sun slips into the Adriatic, and the intermittent cry of a gull pierces the grumble of boats moving against a cloudy sky, you begin to feel the tug of another time, another world, and you know that Venice is beckoning, offering her oceanic embrace, and there is nothing to do but accept.