Updated on January 11, 2015
Forgetting Venice – Part Two
The boat slows down and as it nudges against the cushioned pontoon the driver kicks the engine into reverse. The motor grinds and the sides of the boat squeal against rubber padding. Finally the boat comes to an undulating halt and I stand up; one of the crew has already thrown back the metal railing so, grasping my suitcase, I disembark. A series of short, floating, wooden walkways guides me to the naked street and with a tingle of anticipation I take another first step into the city.
It is a relatively easy walk to the hotel: turning left along the waterfront there is only one wide bridge to negotiate – my bad knee protests a little at the climb – before the right turn into a street which feels like the bottom of a deep ravine, but opens up into a very familiar square. Campo Bandiera e Moro. Or Campo della Bragora. I still do not know why it has two names. My hotel stands at the far end of the square – an old, pale-stone palazzo, with tall clusters of sharply arched windows, and only a small, red banner hanging from its main, first-floor balcony to proclaim its modern name: Hotel La Residenza.
I stand before the door of the hotel and hesitate. The square is empty and silent; the little café behind me is closed and I know without reading the plaque, that the church sleeping on my right once housed the baptism of a baby named Antonio Vivaldi. This is my second home. Putting down the suitcase, which feels heavier than before I climbed the bridge, I take a few steps down a thinly black street in the back left-hand corner of the campo. There are no lights here, and at the end of the stub of pavement, tightly lined on both sides with towering grey houses, a restful canal throws its ripples onto the crumbling facades of the surrounding buildings. I stop before a pair of heavy green doors; four numbers are painted above them in fading red paint. My eyes fail me, I cannot see the smudged numbers in this masking darkness, but I touch the thick brass door handle and summon the memory of how the door used to stick as it was pushed open. 3624 Calle Terrazzera. My home for six months.
I return to the doors the next morning and examine the doorbell that I never had to ring. Bafflingly, the doorbell next to mine is now labelled ‘Bruce Willis’. I step backwards and look up, but the top floor is too high to see. Returning to the square I see a man setting up round, metal tables outside the café – he is opening for business and a few customers are already beginning to gather and consider sitting down in the sunshine. I am still tired from waking up so early, but that morning the light had streamed through the open curtains – how could I have closed them against that sparkling night? – and strange excitement had pulled me away from sleepiness. I sit down and order a caffé latte. There are images of this square crowding around me, pushing and squabbling for my attention, but they all shine at once and I am blinded and confused. I need to be still to put them in order.
I have never stayed in La Residenza before, but I have been inside once. To help my flatmates and I forget impending essay deadlines – which even for a foreign exchange student like me, still had a significant impact on the overall outcome of my degree – we drank several bottles of red wine at the student campo and came back to our apartment in the early hours of the morning, holding steaming bread rolls purchased from the back door of a nearby bakery. One of us discovered that the door to the hotel was unlocked, so we pushed our way inside. We stood at the foot of a large, rough stone staircase in a cool, bare lobby, lacking any decoration other than a worn, Oriental-style rug and a carved stone lion at the end of the banister. There was a plain wooden door to one side, with a huge bag of crisply starched hotel sheets piled outside it. It took two people to carry the sheets up our smooth marble stairs, to the apartment. One girl carried the rug into our building by herself – it covered the entire floor of the living room for several weeks, until we got bored with it and rolled it up to stand behind the kitchen door. We drew the line at stealing the lion.
I woke up one morning to the sound of singing drifting through the open window. Downstairs I leaned as far out of the kitchen window as I dared, leaning on the narrow marble window ledge where I often sat, suspended several floors up over a stone alley, trusting the workmanship of lingering centuries. There were people milling about in what I could see of the square, clapping, dancing and singing. I rushed outside with my flatmate – a tall, thin, jovial Italian, whose name I cannot make myself remember – and no sooner were we in the square than small bundles of string were thrust into our hands. They were attached to tiny, multi-coloured kites and a group of excited, dark-skinned men fervently encouraged us to fly them. In the enclosed square it was all but impossible, and we laughingly lost at least ten of the kites to rooftops, television aerials and the single tree, which by the end of the day was covered in a complex criss-cross pattern of entangled kite strings. Without realising we had stumbled into an Afghan Kite Festival; a welcoming foreign celebration right on our doorstep.
– gildius –
Read part three.