I’ve run to the romantic city. The sinking city. Years before she’d asked me if we we could go, together, and now I’m here, alone. The waterways are green-blue and the yellow-fronted houses are crumbling. Henry James wrote of the empty palaces, I’m here to write of the emptiness of the whole adventure. On the bridges people use selfie-sticks to take photographs. They’re wearing cagoules and hiking boots in the height of summer. They’re Swiss, Chinese, Australian. Centuries before artists sat there and painted, masked beauties spun and danced and sung, merchants plied their goods on rich, happy Venetians. Now we have this. A festering city. An empty city. Imbued with narcissism of a different kind.
Venice smells. There’s something rotting in its belly, something other than the foundations. Raw sewage and faltering expectations. I came here because I thought it’d be a place I’d be able to forget all that which had come before. I’d seen pictures, photographs and paintings, and was struck by it’s beauty, one I had seen re-imagined time and time again. I ran from England. I ran from Stansted. From the bus, I ran to the waterways. I dived onto a gondola and said, take me away from here. In the bars I drank wickedly. There’s only one or two, the others are closed. Too many drunks drowning in the canals. On the bridges, wavering, wobbling, I look into the water.
I see myself down there and don’t want to take a selfie. This is not the Venice I’d wanted. The pigeons are too fat, the squares are too full and the tourists are too rude. Where is the distant music? The soft pastels of the view? Not this solid blue sky bearing down on me, whispering hot words into my ears, enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself. I can’t enjoy this. There’s quiet alleyways where I can pause for a moment and take in a smell I’ve just caught. For a moment I forget where I am. I am antiquity. The drink works it’s way around my body, I feel like I’m floating in time, watching from above the plane, as if any moment a man in a long robe, sparkling with jewels, his face masked, like a bird, will emerge from around the corner, beckoning me. Instead I hear the squeal of a child. The roar of an air-plane. I didn’t want any of this. Years before she’d asked me to come, and I’d said no. Now I’m here. Alone.