Two vagabonds on a lottery ticket. Part IX – Merchant in Venice.

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I am keen to hold on to the tradition to learn an important (life) lesson from every city that I visit. However, I am quick to discover that Venice wasn’t going to be what I thought it would be.

I still vividly remember how the bus turned and drove over the mile long bridge-like road leading to Venice. I suddenly grew extremely excited – Venice! Venice is over there, I’m going to see Venice! It’s so close! The bus station at Venice is, like any bus station, uneventful, but quickly skipping past it, I came across the first bridge. And then another. Canals everywhere and then – the smell. Nobody told me that Venice doesn’t smell all that great. It’s a combination of sea air, fish and the sewer.

Almost immediately, we escape the flocks of tourists by heading straight into small alley’s, picking the ones opposite of where everybody else is going. We end up exploring the northern area and the Ghetto – the centre of life for Jewish Venetians. I couldn’t believe my luck when I realised it was a Saturday and saw many Jewish all dressed up. It instantly reminded me of Israel and it was great being thrown back in time like that. Wandering around aimlessly, trying to take it all in and limiting myself to the number of canals I’ve photographed, we roam the streets until exhaustion sets in.

Though not as magical as I thought it would be, I’m still thrilled as the bus drives off, leaving Venice in the distance.

Venice. I’ve been to Venice!

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I’m starting to think Venezia is more about the people rather than the city itself. Growing up a child of ‘an islander’ myself, I know people living on or coming from islands are different. Sure, the city is pretty, the floating homes are inspiring and the view gets me every time, but after canal number 986, you kinda get used to it. I don’t feel the magic of Venice as much as I felt the magic of Napoli and Ferrara.

That said – I’ve met a beautiful variety of humans here, each with their own stories and backgrounds, all equally as kind, generous and friendly. They colour this city for me. I found an amazing photostore in the heart of the city, where I met the incredibly kind Gracia. She offered to introduce me to Marco Missiaja, a photographer based in Venice. I took my time to take in all the images upon the wall and let my mind wonder – why if I could start to earn a living of my photographs? I already felt like the luckiest gal in the world, travelling with my camera and my dog, but that would be the cherry atop of the cake. The following morning I got to meet Marco and we talked for several hours about photography, his work and camera’s. I let myself be tempted by the latest Fuji series, but in the end couldn’t bare the thought of leaving behind my beloved Canon.

As we stroll around the city, we meet more people. A group of English ladies, one of whom burst into tears when seeing Mace, reminding her of her own collie. While trying to understand the madness of Rialto Market, we were stalked by a man for a while, who was trying to take pictures of Mace. We ended up talking briefly and he showed me pictures of his own blue-eyed collie. I managed to hold a conversation in gestures and sign language with a friendly, elderly man sitting near one of the many canals, and I think he was trying to explain something about the rules of the water and the gondola’s.

While the water holds a beautiful, sea-green hue and the homes here are tinted in many different tones, the majority of colour is an off-white. Especially when following the endless streams of tourists in the narrow passages, the buildings are dark and brown. Away from the hot spots, houses stand out because they are coloured, whereas most of them are simply coated in a light brown or natural stone paint. The reflection of the water casts an unusual light, which adds a certain character. Dipped in a hazy, glow-like, slightly saturated hue, the blue-green light creates an almost-magical scenery.

We try to make it all the way to the end of the main island, but find it’s simply too far away. Water taxi’s are incredibly expensive and I’m not even sure dogs are allowed. Besides – why cruise right past it all? There are simply too many alley’s here that draw you in and before you know it, you’re lost again. Finding my way back to the bus station became a relatively easy task once I figured out Mace actually has the most incredible sense of direction. A simple nod in his direction, the words ‘camping’ and ‘food’ and he’s off.

In the less busy areas, he’s running around freely as many Venetians don’t really care. We attract both locals as tourists and I’ve lost count of all the times he’s been photographed. As we start to map out the city, recognising more and more as the days pass, I’m trying to find that hidden message.

Venice is a maze – I know it must be here somewhere.

Last day.

It’s hard to really find a (particular) lesson here in Venezia. Ferrara and Napoli were clear in their messages. Venice is not. Perhaps this city is too anonymous – there are too many crowds. Or perhaps I just haven’t quite found a connection with Venice. And then, as we stroll around the city centre one last time, saying our goodbyes and retracing steps made five days earlier, I suddenly spot it. The ‘Merchant in Venice’ store. I wander over to take a peak through the window, almost thinking it’s like in Harry Potter and I literally see magic right through the windows, only to discover is full of perfumes and other expensive looking things. I glance around but leave with disappointment. Stuff. I don’t need more stuff. I’ve been joking that I’ve got a camera in one hand, my dog in the other and that’s all I need, and it’s true.

The train of thoughts leaves my mind as Mace and I make our way back to the bus. I realise that tomorrow morning I’ll buy a single ticket to Venezia, not a return. We won’t return. My mind starts racing again and before I know it, with Venice slowly becoming smaller as the bus driver takes us back to the camp site, I realise what Venice has been trying to tell me – something I’ve known every since I left, yet never was so clear as it is now.

I’m losing that attachment to material things. Papers, notes, receipts, train tickets – either I photograph it to use later, write it down in the travel book or I toss it. There’s no use in holding on to it, I want to travel light. It took me six days in Venice to realise that it’s a synonym. A symbolisation of, well, pretty much life. It stands for learning to let things go. Holding on to too much stuff, too much junk, pretty much anything that you don’t really, absolutely, essentially need, makes you heavy. It wears you down.

Imprint the important stuff onto your memory and all the rest needs to go.

The ancient Greek used to believe that if you died, you would need a coin for the ferryman Charon to cross the river into the underworld. It was the only way to rest peacefully after death. I like the ways one can interpret mythologies and how they seem to make sense when you translate them into modern day happenings. The coin represents the sheer and utter need – the most, most, utmost important things. Things like love, family, friends and kindness. All the rest will cause you to sink once it’s your turn to cross the river.

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To see the whole Italy series, please go here.

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