Forgetting Venice – Part Four

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Forgetting Venice – Part Four
November 2010

I have had to get a boat to the Rialto Bridge.  I cannot ever come to Venice without visiting my favourite view, but after I fell into my reverie on the warm waterfront I did not feel able to walk all that way, so I found a vaporetto and rode it up the Canal Grande to here.  This is not a logical tour of the city – any efficient tourist worth their salt would visit the Rialto before the Accademia – but I am not drawn on by logic.  Chronology is what interests me and even if it sends me on a long-winded zigzagging path, I will follow it naturally.

The view from this bridge, up the Canal Grande, with San Marco away to the left, is by far one of the best views in the world.  I can (and have) surrendered hours of my life to simply staring over the marble railing at the boats and the gondolas, meandering along the water that Lord Byron swam through; a ribbon-like watery path turning a corner and disappearing at the point of perfect perspective.  There are blue and green mooring posts sunk into the water like aquatic barbershop poles; heavy, grey floating vaporetto stops with garish yellow stripes providing an ugly contrast to the grand, crumbling facades of buildings that rest on underwater foundations.

I am standing on the highest point of the bridge, and if I look carefully I can see the stone at my feet, worn by generations of passers-by, but indented most heavily by Carl where he knelt and held a ring up towards me.  Even though the air is filled with lilting speech and shouts of canvassing gondoliers, I can still here Carl’s proposal echoing around the marble, as if it has been caught there since he said it and has been bouncing off the walls of Venice ever since.

I cannot hear my response, however; although the dull, faded ring on my finger commemorates what I said, the exact tone and turn of phrase is lost to me.  It makes me quite frantic, that I am unable to recall what happened immediately after his question.  Did I cry?  Did he?  Did we embrace, or kiss, or laugh?  Did we run back to his apartment in the pouring summer rain, or was it simply another soporific, sultry night that we wandered through lazily, only half awake?

Oh, but I can remember too perfectly how Carl looked at me two weeks ago when I told him that wanted to return here for one last time, alone.  Uselessly he said that it did not have to be the last time, but we both knew that it would be.  He told me that maybe I should wait a bit before coming, rather than rushing off without thinking it through.  This just made me angry, I thought he was hoping I would leave it so long that I would not be able to come at all.  When he saw that I would not be moved he insisted that he should come with me, but I told him that I could not explore the city the way I needed to if he were by my side.

We spent some of the happiest moments of our shared life together in this impossible maze of streets, but I can invoke them more perfectly without him here than if I could see his aging face.  This is the first time in seventeen years that I have been back here – we both looked very different then – and my fickle aesthetic temperament cannot bear the idea of seeing his lengthening jowls, encroaching liver spots and comfortably expanding waistline set against the backdrop of our youth.

It was shortly after I had told Carl the same frivolous anecdote five times in one week that I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  They told me that I am in the early stages – or at least I was a few weeks ago – but that all forms of dementia are progressive and I can expect to deteriorate over time.  How much time they do not say – so many variants, so many factors to take into account and, of course, everybody is different – but they said that I should start making preparations for the future, for when I become less able to look after myself.

Carl is the model husband.  He helps me whenever I find something too difficult to do, he glides over my forgetful moments as if they have never happened, and he invites our children and their spouses over more frequently to keep me in good spirits.  But despite his attentiveness I have been restless: from the moment I heard the doctor’s diagnosis I could not shake the idea of coming back to Venice.  Every time I have been here before I left with the certainty that I would be coming back; like a rarely used room in a large house, the city gained the complacent aura of a place I knew I could return to as often as I wanted and, therefore, did not visit nearly enough.  I had to come back and relive the city once more, so that now when I leave for the final time I can lock the door behind me and experience the peace that comes from knowing I will never open it again.

So Carl relented and let me come alone, but he has made me promise to phone him every day, more than once if I feel scared or confused, and I am to wear a necklace containing details of my condition and his telephone number, just in case.  In case of what he did not say, but I admit that feeling the weight of his pendant round my neck makes me feel safe.

I must go back to the hotel.  I have lost track of time and do not know how long I have been standing here, but the sky is getting darker and I am hungry.  Tomorrow is my last day – I am squeezing a lifetime into one weekend – and there are more places to revisit at my slowing pace.  It takes me a while to work out which vaporetto to take because the timetable stares me down and dares me to crack its intricate code.  Eventually the mist clears and I find my way back to the security of my room.


There was a fiasco over breakfast this morning.  I dropped a bread roll and was bending down to retrieve it, but a young man crouched and stood up again before I could put even one knee on the floor, and he thrust the roll eagerly towards me.  I snatched it out of his hand and said something rude.  He looked offended and turned his back on me.  I had to go back up to my room and lie down for an hour before I could face leaving the hotel.

I am on the Lido.  It is a long, thin island which defends Venice proper from the sea, and subsequently it is renowned for the expanse of sandy beach that stretches its entire voluptuous length.  Sitting on a set of blocky concrete steps I can see people near me, lying on towels on the sand, holding drinks purchased from a beach bar, while over-excited children dodge and weave between them, engrossed in their secret games.

At night the beach will be empty and the sea, reflecting the star-stained firmament, will look like a second sky.  A couple on their honeymoon will crash into that liquid abyss and the fractured starlight will wrap around their naked bodies – young, beautiful, with no premonitions of jowls, liver spots and other pockmarks of age – and they will swim further and further away from the shore, warmed by the summer sea.  If Carl’s voice still echoes around the heart of Venice, then our bodies, preserved in youth, still find their way into this drop of ocean every night.  After the thrill of skinny-dipping the couple will walk back across the island and happen upon a hedgehog squeezing itself between a marble pillar and a metal gate.  They will pick it up and carefully hold its spiny back in their hands.  Then they will laugh and put it back, accidentally facing it the wrong way, and walk on.

Read the final part.

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