She followed on in Alvise’s footsteps towards Campo Santa Margarita. Taking in deep breaths as she walked. She realized that there was no stench from the lagoon. Maybe it was because the tide was high she thought as she watched it lapping onto the pavement. The tide in Venice went up and down each day. If it reached more than one metre about sixty percent of the city was under water. When the high tide, ‘Acqua Alta’, got really high sirens would go off around the city to warn people about what was to come and how to prepare their day to day business. Wellies to work?
Acqua Alta-The phenomenon occurs mainly between autumn and spring, when the astronomical tides are reinforced by the prevailing seasonal winds that hamper the usual reflux. The main winds involved are the sirocco, which blows northbound along the Adriatic Sea, and the bora, which has a specific local effect due to the shape and location of the Venetian lagoon.
She strolled into Campo Santa Margarita and passed a half-finished bell tower. Did they run out of money hundreds of years ago? The sun seemed brighter than home and reflected off the wide pave stones, turning them all into pretty mirrors. For a moment she felt like Dorothy, happy and not longing for home as she slid along her yellow brick road. The paper was still in her hand. 2932 Dorsoduro. The Campo was alive. Two boys ran past her chasing a ball, women chatted over their baby carriages, a young girl was selling flowers and next to her there was another stand where a tall bald man was hosing down fish. The boys ran to the water fountain in the middle of the square. They pushed each other aside to get their heads under the fountain. Where were their parents?
Above each door there was a number 1892, 2041…they made no sense. Her heart rate quickened again.
A hand landed on her shoulder. She jumped startled and turned around to see the flower girl. Flower girl’s smile was all teeth and she had a piercing on her lower lip. Apologetically, she gestured to the paper.
“You need ‘elp?...My English not so good” She held her thumb close to her forefinger as if she held an imaginary ant “A little bit English”
So clearly, it was obvious to everybody around that she was English and lost.
What about the flower stand?
“Marco! Un attimo, arrivo” Flower girl yelled towards an old drunk guy stood by the stand in pink trousers. He lit his cigarette, shrugged back at her and sat down on the stool next to the stand.
“Oki, it’s a game” Flower girl took her hand with the paper and read the address and started glaring at the walls. “So ‘ere is 1884” She hadn’t noticed that number before as it was above the tobacco shop. They walked along the Campo, suitcase in one hand and the other with the flower girl.
“I’m Lara!” She smiled, in between her counting and saying hello to what seemed to be everybody. She said Ciao to the waiter at the Café, the old lady with the terrier, the two boys at the fountain, the fishmonger and the guy in the tobacco shop. Finally, they stopped in front of two big black doors. The door handles were the heads of two black men, made from beautiful bronze.
Do Mori. Once upon a time, two moors rang the bell upon the Orologio, the clock tower in St Mark’s square. There are still tributes to them all around the city.
She heard wheels roll up behind her. A tall, stout man stopped with a trolley full of wine cases.
Franco’s belly was majestic and his face was warm, with a wry smile and small kind eyes. Lara and Franco kissed cheeks and greeted and spoke rapidly. Lots of hand gestures were given in her direction but she just stood there smiling awkwardly. The conversation ended with Lara shrugging and taking her hand. Leading her into Franco’s bar.
Il Bifora. Franco had run a bar for twenty years and finally, he was approached by some Chinese people with a hefty proposal. Lots of Venetians frown upon each other when they sell out their businesses to foreigners. Franco took two years off and then he vowed to build the most beautiful bar in Venice….and that it was. An old butcher’s shop that he gutted down to the original marble pillars and grand oak beams. Pristine Marble floors, Murano glass Chandeliers and warm wooden tables. She stopped breathing for a second when she walked in with awe.
The guys from the transport boat were at the bar. All yelling. Were they angry or happy? The volume continued to go up, Lara yelled back, then they laughed and without her noticing two glasses of white wine had appeared in front of her and Lara.
“Only one Ombra” Lara said winking at her. Everybody winked here. Ombra means shade or shadow. Way back when they kept vats of wine in the shade of the bell tower to keep them cool. So now, when a Venetian has a sneaky glass of wine. It’s just an Ombra. It was only 11.45am and all of these people were drinking.
“Signorina!” The transport guys all gathered around her to clink glasses. She understood nothing but soon realized that she was smiling and laughing with them all the same. The shortest gent of the pack came over and put his arm softly around her, pulling her playfully away from the others.
“Lasciala stare, poverina!”
“Dai, tieni” He placed a small soft bun shoved full of meat into her hand.
“Mortazza, Mortadella…bona” He winked too!
Mortadella-The name comes from a sausage paste which was mixed together originally in Bologna using a mortar. Usually the off cuts of pork with pistachio and myrtle. Very fatty and very delicious.
Franco rolled his eyes behind the bar. Pushing the giant beast of mortadella back and forth over his beautiful red and silver slicing machine. The meat melted in her mouth and the soft bread crumbs fell all over her top and the floor. She washed it down with the wine and before she could finish swallowing to thank them the transport mafia was already bumbling out of the door. Twenty or so Ciaos later and the bar was peaceful again. Lara grabbed her hand, kissed both her cheeks and also skipped towards the door.
“Ci Vediamo!” “See youuu!” She yelled from the door with a full smile and frantic hand wave. Letting out a long-winded sigh and a kind yet exasperated smile, Franco sauntered around the bar like a tired old shire horse.
He took her hands, laced them with keys and led her back to the black doors.
“Ci vediamo dopo” Something about his smile made her feel safe. She walked through into a courtyard and up the stairs to room number eight. When she opened the door the sun rays were shining directly over her small single bed and she realized she wasn’t clenching her teeth anymore.