She woke to the sound of the bell tolling.
Was it 4 am or 4 pm? It was still light outside and a ginger cat was sleeping on her window sill. He didn’t seem too bothered that she was in his home. She stretched out appreciating the priceless luxury of waking up naturally to the soft murmur of life outside. The rush of adventure slowly rose up in her. Time to go exploring. She would not bring out her phone and she would only refer to her map in coveted alcoves and at desperate times. She let the black doors slam behind her and announce the freedom of being lost and a non-existent deadline.
A slender, tall dark haired beauty ran into the Campo wearing only a leotard with a thick wreath full of red ribbons around her neck and a tiara on her head.
A crowd of twenty or so were chasing her screaming “Dottore! Dottoooore!”
She finally stopped, gasping in front of a lone building. It was once the executioner’s house, understandably nobody wanted to be his neighbour.
One of the clan grabbed the worn out brunette and started taping a plastic bottle of wine to her hand and placed an A2 manuscript in the other hand.
“Dottore! Va fan cul…bevi!” They chanted. In Italy when you graduate, your friends are obliged to ridicule you and get you drunk in any way possible. She tried to read the manuscript, no doubt of her promiscuous past and drunken nights. With every mistake, she was forced to drink and pelted with flour and eggs. “Dai, ragazzi” she yelped as the wine bottle was nearly empty.
Walking further away from the Campo she found some quieter streets and stumbled upon the church and bell tower which had woken her. Carmini. She admired the arched gothic façade that laid out a peaceful empty square and led down to a canal. She crossed every bridge and flipped a coin at each crossroads. Forty-five minutes of wandering and dusk was waning. She spotted a bar on the corner at the end of the restful canal. Il Canton.
Al Canton-There are a lot of bars called al Canton as it just means on the corner.
As she came closer she realized it wasn’t peaceful at all. The graduation party were sat outside. Rowdy as hell. The guest of honour was hugging all of her friends with her pancaked body to make sure they were all as messy as her. They were passing food around the table and all filling up each other’s glasses with pitchers full of bright orange liquid. How did they get here before her?
They must be drinking Spritz. She had researched this before she came and read that all Venetians drink it at Aperitivo hour. Which must be now?
Spritz- A cocktail consisting of white wine or Prosecco, cordial of choice and spritzed up with soda water. Garnished with lemon or orange and an Olive. Between that and crisps Venetians believe they get their five a day.
She snuck up to the bar and the pulled out the phrase she’d been practising in the mirror before she left the house.
“Posso avere un Spritz…per favore?”
The bartender was tall, the late thirties or early forties, short dark hair and a shaggy beard. He hid his smile, said nothing, made the drink and placed it in front of her. She left money on the bar. Next to her stood a shorter man in a tweed jacket with a salt and pepper beard, wavy hair and a bushy moustache that complimented his full lower lip. She ate a crisp from the bowl on the bar and tried to look natural and blend in. There was also a plate of meat and bread but she wasn’t sure if that was for the other man. Finally, her awkwardness overwhelmed her and she decided to scuffle on to a table outside.
The bartender gave a sharp whistle “Signorina, si paga di piu fuori, eh!”
Oh golly, now what had she done. Tweed jacket took her elbow and softly guided her back to the bar.
“Grazie, Dottore” muttered the bartender. Realizing that he’d scared the crap out of her.
“Here in Venice, we have two prices. Al banco and Al tavolo…if you sit down it costs more” His English was elegant and perfect.
“Oh, Thank you, I’m so sorry…I didn’t know” she whimpered coyly to the bartender. He broke into a smile and moved the plate closer to her.
“’’ere, Pancetta” He made a gesture of kissing his fingers.
Pancetta-A glorious form of bacon. Cured pork belly often jacked up with various herbs like cardamom or rosemary.
Tweed jacket turned to her with an inquisitive brow.
“So tell me, how does a young lady like you, end up in Santa Marta”
“I think I’m lost. I’m staying all the way in Campo Santa Margarita”
“Ah 2 minutes away” What? She was walking for nearly an hour. He took out a napkin and drew the shape of a fish, marked it with two stars and handed it to her with a satisfied nod.
He drank a similar drink but it was brown in colour.
“And you like Spritz I see, it was the Austrians fault. They wanted it stronger. Try this” He handed her his drink. It was definitely a bit more bitter. Spritz Cynar. Cynar is an artichoke cordial and tends to be imbibed by the older intellectual folk or young artists that wander the city. Aperol Spritz is good for beginners, a bit sweeter for an untrained palate. Next up is Select a tart almost medicinal taste and made in Venice. Then there is Campari or Spritz al bitter for the Signore and drunks. All will make you projectile vomit various shades of pink if drunken in abundance.
“Some advice” He looked down his glasses while he spoke. “Use fewer words. We Italians, we have enough…how do you say, gestures”
“Spritz ad Aperol, leave the ‘posso avere’ out. A smile is enough”
While she was listening to his sage advice, her glass had refilled itself.
“Fewer words, that’s what I tell my students,” He said with a hopeless gaze at the debauchery happening on the table outside. He finished his drink with a satisfied ‘aah’ and shook her hand with one hand below and one on top.
“Buona Serata” he smiled and walked off with his hands in his pockets. She leant on the bar and finished her drink. Watching outside she fantasized about one day when she could communicate and make friends here. She pulled out her money and the bartender waved it away.
“E pagato il Dottore” she looked back confused.
“The Doctor! He paid…Buona Serata!” he winked
And a good night she felt it would be.