Got up early, quickly dressed and escaped the snoring, smelly dorm, and skipped breakfast; no time and no money anyway. I’d arrived in Venice under darkness, and stepping outside and seeing the city in the daylight was a true and rare joy, one of those moments in life where you actually stop and say ‘whoa’ out loud, even though there’s nobody around. I kicked through the hostel doors with a yawn and a stretch, and I was greeted by the bluest lazy waters, easy young skies in a cirrus haze, majestic old buildings and barnacle clinging docks. Oh fuck yes, what a day.
I boarded the water bus and skimmed across to the main archipelago of Venice. Found a quiet square away from the tourist masses for a breakfast of coffee and croissants. I managed to order in Italian, which I was proud of. Drifted through Piazza San Marco and visited the Basilica. Inside it was grand and dusty. I paid 3 euros to enter some ‘secret treasure’ room which was a room full of dull golden objects and some bones; I’m sure there’s an interesting history to it all but I was all hot and flustered and ignorant. My mood is inversely proportional to the size of the tourist crowds, and in Venice it seems you can’t escape. But then, I’m a tourist too, just a gawping tit just like everyone else. Meh.
I found the Rialto Bridge and slumped against it at its apex, looking down at the green waters and the slow gondolas gliding past. There’s something archaic and magical about seeing a long, regal gondola emerge from beneath a bridge nestling an entwined couple, manned by a ducking gondolier with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The manner of the gondoliers is brilliant; lazy, effortless elegance.
I was stood next to some girls on the bridge who were sketching the scene. I tried to strike up a conversation and complimented the drawings. They were English art students, and on hearing this I asked one of them the abysmally stupid question ‘so you came here to draw on purpose?’. Ugh. Of course I meant ‘so you’ve travelled here specifically to draw?’ but my mind shat itself and within a minute I’d managed to convince them I was a moron. Ego bruised, I left them to it.
Tourists do the strangest things. A young man has just come to sit next to me on the steps leading down to the water beneath the Rialto Bridge. I’ve come down here to write in the sunlight. He took out a handful of coins, dropped them in the water, took photos of them beneath the surface, knelt down and rolled up his sleeve to retrieve them, then left, after taking a photo of his own face. Fine?
I’ve wandered the city for three hours, and I feel like I’ve seen most of it. It seems to repeat after a while, but still – it’s all so beautiful it doesn’t really matter. I’m sitting at the end of a dock, or at least I think it’s a dock – at any rate it’s a long walkway heading out to sea all alone and I’m sat on the end of it kicking my legs and thinking about how weird barnacles are and how much my heart hurts.
I’ve been listening to ‘Suck It and See’, the fourth Arctic Monkeys album, my go-to heartbreak record. I’m sat fiddling with my hair; to avoid buying shampoo or shower gel, which I forgot to pack, I’ve spent the week washing my hair with hand soap, and it’s gone bushy like sheep’s wool. The album has just finished now, with an all-time favourite of mine, ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’, and that last optimistic chord that rings off at the end of the 45 minutes of sing-along heartbreak. As that last bass note fades out, I feel good. Well, not good, but… less shite.
I spent days in Paris and Barcelona convincing myself I was okay, lying to myself that I was going to party and revel in debauchery across the continent. That never came true – I don’t think I ever particularly had my heart set on it. I just wanted to be alone, and then I was alone, completely, and I felt worse. But it’s getting better.
I can feel that denial passing, finally. I know my life is never going to be the same. I’m not kidding myself; I know there are tough times ahead, and there will be more pain to come. I feel comfortable with that knowledge now. There was a time before you, and there will be a time after you. That’s what I need to keep telling myself.
In the space of five minutes Venice has gone from romantic and sad to ridiculous. I’m sitting eating pizza on a quiet dock off the Grand Canal, and a Japanese couple appeared and sat uncomfortably close to me. The guy started taking glamour photos of the girl, posing with hair in the wind and thigh-booted legs akimbo, so close to me that I was surely in shot, lonesome weirdo stuffing his face.
They pulled out a strange colourful box and started taking photos of it. Then they opened the box and took out a series of what look like little pink yoghurt pots. The wind blew and while my back was turned I head an exclamation, ‘hoo!’, and I turned and saw a little pink yoghurt pot floating past me in the canal. The man was crouched, reaching and straining for it to no avail, while his girlfriend looked on. Then he sighed, gave up, and started simply taking photos of it as it drifted away down the canal.
While I was shuddering, stifling my laughter at this, a low cargo boat passed by, with a Venetian man stood at the helm looking cool, as they all do. It was only when he passed by that I realised he had the rudder jammed between his bum cheeks, and was steering by swaying his hips. What on earth is going on.
I’m sitting beneath a monument in a square surrounded with restaurants and weathered buildings that look like they were important once. There are kids playing football. One of them missed a shot and the ball rolled away, and a man in a top hat with a silver goatee kicked it back to them.
A few minutes earlier I crossed what I assume was a famous bridge – it was big and busy. I asked a flamboyant American man who was gasping at the view if he could take my photo. I offered to take his in return, and he replied ‘no thanks, I have lots of friends’. Seeing my crestfallen expression, he added apologetically, ‘I know how it is, though’.
Hahaha, hahaa, ha, huh. Blegh. I watched wistfully as he and his merry band of equally flamboyant men walked into the sunset, arm in arm. I shrugged, put my headphones in, shoved my hands in my jacket pockets, and wandered off into the maze of Venetian alleyways.
Later that night I finally found some friends, and shit got weird. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.
Drink, Play, Loathe: Day 7.5, Venice After Dark
“’He left me for a man. He likes vibrators in his arse,’ Hannah shrugged, and took a sip of her drink. She smiled at George sweetly. I didn’t know where to look.”