I took a bus from Sevilla to Lisbon, Portugal and spent the night in a hostel. The check-in guy took me to my room and what a fucking surprise, the loudest snorer I’ve ever heard in my life snoring away at 8pm. How fitting. There was a Chinese girl in the room and when I motioned to the snorer’s bed she put her hands in the air and made a face like she couldn’t believe someone could snore that loud. I had a flight out of Lisbon at 7am.
There were only a few other people on the flight and I was so excited about how spacious it was that I couldn’t nap like I had planned. Instead, I kept glancing around trying to catch someone else’s attention so we could talk about how amazing this was.
I landed in Venice and took a train to my airbnb. A young woman with a buzz cut met me at the door and took me into her apartment. It was beautiful. It was immaculate. It had a queen size bed all for me with low lights and bookshelves everywhere. There was a balcony outside my window. She told me that her boyfriend was a writer and liked to write in silence in the room next to mine. I sat on the bed and felt wonderful.
Mestre (where my airbnb was) was a half hour bus ride from Venice. I only knew of Venice from what I learned in Shakespeare and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s the best of the trilogy and all arguments are null because of Sean Connery. Before I left on this trip I was reading some opinion piece about a how a modern day Jew should look at The Merchant of Venice and how the word Ghetto came from ” Copper Foundry,” of which there was one near the Jewish neighborhood in Venice in the 1500s. That’s interesting to me. I don’t know why. Maybe because I knew that somewhere along the line I could write it or use it in conversation and people would think I was smart. Sort of like why I learned Mandarin. Anyway.
Through the streets and canals of Venice I wandered all afternoon. I knew that it was a tourist Mecca but because of my terrible sense of direction, I never made it to the touristy parts. There was a side street with a sign for a Chinese restaurant and I took my chances that it was Chinese owned and could finally have a conversation with someone. See what I did there?
I walked in and the restaurant was sprawling and deserted. In a back room there was a family of seven Chinese eating at a round table and I addressed them in Mandarin. They led me to a corner where I ate kung pao chicken in silence and listened to their conversation in the other room.
I went to a bookstore and browsed; I expected the store to have five books in English but they had an entire wall. I bought Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. It’s time I learned what all the fuss was about.
I spent €20 on a museum pass just to see the antique globes section. I sat in the center of a plaza within the museum and people watched. My body felt like it was starting to get worn down again and I remembered that I hadn’t had alcohol in two weeks. I found a tea shop and bought Pu Erh tea. I spent too much money on everything.
I was on a bridge. The place was deserted, only myself and the canals as the sunset transformed my landscape into a long lost Shakespearean play, a Dickens novel, something from my memories of reading as a child, before hypochondria and iphones, and I felt such an overwhelming happiness that my body ached for alcohol or tobacco – something to damage me.
The next day I hung out with Claudia. I met her when she came to New York and was staying at the airbnb of my boss at the winery. She walked in with her sister as I was closing the bar and I thought, “Wow, she’s good looking. Too bad I’m tired and would much rather get home than talk with her.” When I told them that the bar was closed they looked confused and then my boss came up and said who they were. So they stayed there while I broke down the bar. They were from the Friuli region of Northeast Italy and I got their contact info incase I made it to Venice. She didn’t talk much because her sister who played softball in Arkansas spoke English so well.
Anyway, she was a bit unresponsive as I got nearer to Italy but she ended up coming to meet me. Claudia was all smiles. She had blonde hair, with eyes grey/blue, “like the sea after a storm”. It was hard to imagine that someone actually lived in Venice – the whole city seemed designed for tourists – but she took me to a local hangout and got two aperol spritzes. She was an architecture student at the University of Venice and as we walked to another local bar she spoke of how the canals work and pointed out different spots where the water levels changed and affected the ground.
She knew people who walked by and they always hugged and chatted for a bit before she remembered that I was there. Then she would look at me and sort of introduce me, but only in passing.
At the next bar we had two Proseccos and another of her friends walked in. She gave him a hug and a kiss on each cheek. He had one earphone in and the other hanging down and she put her hands on his jacket, brought him close, and fixed his other earphone so it didn’t hang out. They were two feet away from me. For a few minutes neither of them looked or talked to me. Finally she looked over and told him who I was. They backed away from each other for a moment and he shook my hand. We chatted about Brooklyn and Claudia told me that he was a true Venetian (her family is from Trieste and she has Croatian blood). He quietly bought our two Proseccos and left. Claudia recommended two glasses of Valpolicella and it was delicious; it had something that no American wine I’ve tasted had. She beckoned me to go to the other side of the bar and we got to talking about books. Well, she was talking and I was happily nodding along. We landed on Shakespeare and I lied about Macbeth being my favorite play just to keep it going.
She took me to another spot deep into the university area to see a jazz band perform. There was a violinist, drummer, bassist, and accordionist. We squeezed into a packed room and onto a couch. When I lamented that my phone was almost out of battery and I couldn’t take a picture she commented that it’s sometimes nicer to just enjoy.
Outside the jazz-living room she rolled two cigarettes and we decided to get some food. She took me to her favorite sit-down restaurant and when we walked in she immediately ordered a carafe of wine and we shared a seafood platter. Too much money. Too much food. God, it was amazing.
She walked me back to the bus station and I gave her a hug and said goodbye. She semi-hugged me and stood there, smoking a cigarette, staring me down as I boarded the bus. There was no wave, nothing, only staring. And then I never heard from her again.