Chapter 1: Angels

She gazed outside the coach window and watched the trees flicker by. Were they vineyards, olives…figs maybe? Apparently, kiwis grew in the Veneto region too. Who knew?

Breathe deep, in and out.

The ache in her neck had been there for weeks. She couldn’t stop clenching her teeth. As soon as she tried to think happy thoughts everything gravitated back to work and the anxiety grew. It felt like somebody was pulling the strings back on her brain and refused to let go. The coach pulled in to Piazzale Roma in Venice and she waited while everybody rushed off. She had a small suitcase for life but she rolled it over the cobbles with confidence, determined not to be mistaken for a tourist. Through the bustle she stopped upon a bridge, awkwardly sweating she grappled to get out of her jacket and finally…she looked.

She stood on one of three bridges, tre ponti, all holding hands over the canal. A taxi driver yelled up to her as his boat glided beneath and gave some waves to a nearby Gondola. The young gondolier didn’t blink as he teased his oar in and out of the forcola, effortlessly bucking his knees and angling the boat straight like a knife through butter. The delighted Japanese couple he was hosting cooed at the boat drivers’ banter as if it were Sinatra, where in actual fact the gondolier and taxi driver were probably chatting about a good Seppie or even better a new loose woman.

Seppie- Cuttlefish most commonly used in the Venetian dish Seppie al nero. Which is with Spaghetti, squid ink and Polenta.

 

With all the planning of her adventure, she’d forgotten to think about how beautiful Venice could be, would be. The canal lapped onto the worn down marble, seagulls swung low and as she looked up she realized the sky was a shade of blue she’d never seen before.

Breathe in, breathe out.

She carried on bouncing her suitcase down the bridge. A young mother bounced her stroller down beside her. The kid giggled with each bounce and as the mother turned on her way she smiled “Buona Giornata”. What was that? A random act of kindness? She was used to the cold downward stares of London and was left with no appropriate response at hand. After three minutes of walking, she realized she had no idea where she was. She looked up. The sign had arrows pointing in both directions. How is that helpful? Each wall had two different names. Was it Italian or Venetian? The street signs in Venice, Nizioleti, are all in Venetian which makes google maps completely useless.

Nizioleti -The street signs of Venice which they proudly keep in Venetian. Many canals and streets have multiple names due to the different rulers of Venice over the years.

 

Breathe in, Breathe out, Breathe in, Breathe out.

She collapsed on a step, useless phone in hand and burst into tears. How could you be so stupid? No Italian, no friends, no direction…no idea!

“Eh! Non piangere! Fai mal agli angeli!”

An elderly man with trousers belted up to his chest, suspenders, nice shoes and slicked back hair, stood in front of her...yelling.

“I’m sorry…sorry” The most frequently used word by English women. He sat down and continued talking. He offered her a tissue and took her hand. This is the moment when she began to master the ´ I have no idea what you’re saying but I will try to smile at the appropriate moments´ face. Whatever he was saying it cheered her up. She sniffed up the tears. She understood one word while they were walking.

Caffe

He gestured his hand as if he were drinking a tiny espresso down the narrow street. The gothic windows of the houses felt like veiled widows looking down and the cool shade revived her cheeks. He dragged her into a Café on the corner. Il Tonolo. Two elder ladies and one young girl were running the counter. Not one hair was out of place and all three had a busty posture and impeccable eyes and lips. The counter was full of multicoloured desserts, bread and cookies.

“Alvise!”

“Ciao Amore!”

He held two fingers up and they hustled close to the bar. A few more gestures and two perfect espressos in dainty china appeared in front of them accompanied by two ‘S’ shaped biscuits. He held her hand again.

“Boo-ran-el-eee” “Buranelli

She smiled and took a bite of the soft yet firm buttery delight. A classic biscuit from Burano, a small island in the Venetian lagoon where all the houses are multicoloured so the fisherman can find their houses in the fog. At this point, Alvise grabbed the piece of paper she’d had clenched in her hand with her booking details.

“Ah, Campo Santa Margarita!”

He winked at her and awarded one of the elder ladies two kisses. Money was left on the counter and “Ciao”s were belted. Alvise took her hand back onto the cool cobbled street.

“Dis way...Dis way”

For an elderly gent, he walked pretty fast, a Venetian trait perhaps. They stopped in front of a church. San Pantalon.

He took her hand, gestured left towards a bridge “Campo Santa Margarita” and then he gestured right, towards the church. “Dio”

And then he left, whistling as he walked over the bridge and jovially yelling down to some other men on a transport boat.“Dio?” She checked google translate. Ah, God. Well, at this point it couldn’t hurt.

The door was heavy, a few candles were lit and as she walked into the church her footsteps felt like giant raindrops. Walking in she slowly looked up. The ceiling was painted to infinity with angels reaching up further than the eye could see. Her nose filled up and started swelling into her eyes. Don’t cry…you’ll hurt the angels. That’s what Alvise had told her and here she was looking up at them in the eyes. A lady sat next to her.

San Pantalon - A church that often goes unnoticed due to its unfinished façade.Free entry if you catch it open and the ceiling is the most stunning after the Sistine Chapel.

 

“Incredible isn’t it? It took him 24 years to paint and he fell off the scaffolding two weeks before it was finished and died”

Breathe in, Breathe out.

“That is incredible” She pondered…”How did they know it would be another two weeks?”.




1 comment

Ali

Lovely read, brings Venice to life. Must visit San Pantalon church next time I visit.

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