Keep pouring, keep pouring. The glass is full but we keep pouring when maybe, maybe we should stop and take a sip.
They kept singing, tweeting, talking, whatever it is that birds do. It’s supposed to be beautiful but to her rum clouded head, it just seemed annoying. She lifted her head from the pillow and then sank right back down. Sleep crept back in as did the birds. Her ginger cat friend had decided to acknowledge her and snuggled onto the bed.
How did she get home? With the birds singing and the cat purring, the hazy nights’ events floated back into her memory. She’d been walked home by new found friends. She stumbled down to the kitchen where a breakfast table was set. A slender black girl with multicoloured dreads nestled the stove while her daughter lay the table.
“Buon Giorno, late night?” She winked. She smiled in agreement and placed herself at the table next to the young girl.
“Orange or Apple?” The girl smiled as she held up two cartons of juice. She pointed to the apple.
“Me too” She giggled back.
Croissants, Jam and Coffee.
Rosa sat down. “Welcome to the house” She smirked pouring out the coffee.
“You made quite an entrance” Rosa said softly as she sipped her coffee. “Venice is treating you well.” Rosa continued to pour out the coffee and tell tales of different locals from the area. She made a few suggestions. One being to not worry about being lost and meeting new people.
Notes in hand, she set off towards the fish market, following any sign she saw pointing towards Rialto. The light seemed a little bright and bouncing down each bridge felt a little precarious. She stopped into an old style café. The outside had beautiful long windows, showcasing boxes of biscuits with masked Venetians on them. It was a tiny cubicle of a bar. The bar was a glass showcase of desserts, tiramisu, pastel clouds of meringue and coconut delights. The walls were lined with oak shelves that hosted jars of sweets, soda guns and Carafes of Acqua Alta from the past. The owner rested behind the bar like a bulldog. He looked like a rugby player after a match, a bit dishevelled and drunk. Next to him stood his wife proudly in her apron playing around with the cups and saucers in the sink.
He demanded. She was caught off guard. “Caffe?” She asked as a genuine question. He tapped his watch and huffed.
“You young and in Italy” Rolling his eyes he racked up two glasses and started pouring various things into them.
“Sprizz al Nico” He winked. She leaned on the antique countertop and sipped the orange concoction with conviction. “Buono, eh..sano” he grunted towards her as he clinked her glass. Satisfied. The alcohol fell back into her veins and all of a sudden life felt right again. A couple of men walked in.
They got the same sprizzish beverage. One of them was American and the other Italian. She eavesdropped as they chatted about groundwater, radium and a Mose project. All of which made about as much sense as Italian to her. She sipped her loaded spritz. Nico grabbed the American’s arm, drew him over the bar and mumbled something in Italian and winked hard. The American looked back very slowly over his shoulder. She gave back a coy puzzled smile.
“English?” He inquired
What?! How? Did she have English written somewhere? Or was it just her rosy cheeks and a crooked smile.
“Um, yes…American?” He held out his hand as if it were an interview. “ John” She shook his hand while waving to the Italian behind him, who timidly poked his head over his shoulder “Luca” he belted softly and awkwardly reached over to shake her hand.
“I hear you’re new here,” He said with a sweet goofy grin looking down at her.
What on earth had transpired between him and the bartender? Apparently, her handful of steps into the bar had described and explained her life.
“ Got here yesterday…but, er, still figuring things out” The small talk flowed and Nico gloated from behind the bar. The scientists were going for lunch and invited her along. Maybe they were just being nice, maybe they were coming onto her. She didn’t care. Any help was a help.
The market was closing down. The fishmongers were hosing down the stalls and the walls and the pavement was one big drain. Severed swordfish heads lay on mounds of shaved ice and seagulls poked around at straggling mussels and clams on the floor. Past the market, at the edge of the canal, a gaggle of older ladies waited. Slowly a gondola rocked up with two drivers and full of twelve or so people. They all left the boat some with shopping bags, some with cigarettes, the gondolier was courteous as to make sure he offered his arm to each one. After the boat had emptied they shuffled on. John placed some coins into the driver’s hand and he chucked it with the rest on the side of the boat. She scuttled to the bow of the boat where she could sit. Finally a gondola ride! It was a nice bobbing along the Grand Canal.
In between each main bridge, there are Traghetti. Literally shuttle boats for locals which are manned by the gondolier union. They all need to put in their time each month for the community.
One of the gondolier’s phone rang. An ex-girlfriend asking for a date.
“Ti ga ciapa di nova?” The other gondolier yelled over her head from the bow after he’d hung up.
“Cio” They both snickered as they angled their oars deeper into the canal to turn the boat. John smiled too and whispered into her ear. “He’s still hooking up with his Ex”
He could understand Venetian? Maybe he wasn’t just a big goofy American. The boat bumped into the blue and white pillars that lined the wooden landing. She hopped off with the help of the gondolier’s tanned forearm and they strolled into Campo Santa Sofia and onto a busy shopping street. John and Luca picked up the pace, so she did too. They dipped in between the crowds as if dodging bullets and slid down an alley. Every now and then they glanced back to check she was still there.
The place was crowded and dark with painted ceramic carafes around. The bar top was marble and held up with carved art nouveau wooden panelling. They huddled to the bar and Luca put his arm around her. He had such a kind face and sky blue eyes that she felt safe in this human cocoon.
“You must try the meatballs” A plate mounted with meatballs was diminishing fast. Three small goblets of red and six balls appeared in front of them. She bit through the thick crust and into a still warm, fresh off the press meaty delight.
“How good is that?” She nodded back but was genuinely enjoying it so much she didn’t want to sacrifice it by talking. The bartender topped up their wine and John leant over the bar to chat. Luca clinked glasses with her and started to talk about the lagoon’s pollution and how you would die of infection before drowning. How cheerful she thought about the reality behind the beauty as she listened contently and sipped.