We were set to go to Venice, to leave the mountains of Friuli behind, and head, in this thick afternoon heat, all the way down to the lagoon. The idea did not sit well with me this time. Venice is wonderful, but the mountains, and the days we’d spent there, had been nice and breezy, complete with sweater weather evenings and moonlight, and lazy naps in the cool afternoon. I even walked across the border to Austria one morning, from one side of the mountain to the other, and peered out at the country beyond. We spent Friday morning on our own, hiking an ancient Roman Road through the hills around Paluzza, stepping merrily in brisk mountain streams and finding peaceful chapels in the countryside around, making promises to return soon. Venice, for me, was a million miles away.
I’m not saying I don’t love Venice. How can you not love a city that is floating in the middle of the sea, glimmering in candlelight every day of the year? Yes, Venice itself is a wonderful escape, but after a few days in the mountains it’s always a shock to the system to walk out of the Venice train station into a waterworld filled with tourists and shops selling striped pasta and dusty bottles of limoncello. We felt it right away, the heat hitting us hard — the tourists (which we were, as well), the people trying to sell us selfie sticks and long stemmed roses, the icky humidity that you could drown in. Even Venice seemed tired. We walked down the long Fondamenta, over bridges with our luggage and through tourist filled streets, until we got to our hotel. Luckily it was air conditioned.
We had spent the drive down talking about how every trip we take up north, into the mountains, eventually brings us here to Venice — like Venice’s voice is somehow calling us — that siren in the night — and we can’t help but listen. On the way down we stopped in the Friulian city of Udine in search of cake and souvenirs to bring back home with us. After we found the cake store (we bought two of their famous Gubana cakes — filled with cinnamon and raisins) I wanted to take a detour — through the main square, under the shade of the loggia. We’d been there before, years back, and it looked just like I remembered — the marble pavement shone like water — ripples of pink and white — and the arches were like the ones in Venice that grace the buildings on the Grand Canal, facing out at you as you sail by. Maybe the cities feel it here too, that tug from Venice, like its calling their names as well.
That evening we wandered along the maze of canals, over walkways, past young people sitting on the stairs of the bridges with beers and cigarettes and loud voices. There was music playing, and the Venice we recalled from the year before — just a couple of months after that first lockdown, when people were still wearing masks outside and there was still an air of concern as we weaved in and out of the alleyways and over the many canals — had given way to this, a kind of blithe disregard for such things, people walking in groups, no masks on, hurrying through toward bars and restaurants, toward summer nights. Maybe it was just our impression, but Antonello shook his head in frustration as he walked by — as if to say we’d left the Alps and the cool mountain air for this? For the bustle of a rollicking city which seemed fully intent on putting the past year behind it and finding a way to move on.
But the next morning, Venice was another city entirely. We wandered out of our hotel into the quiet streets, the piazza and its well in the middle, where a boy was filling a bucket with water and rushing off with it, toward home. Here the sunlight had just started, the day had just begun, and it was still bearable. Perhaps this would be the hottest day of the year, or at least one of them, but at this hour Venice was waking up, opening its shutters, leaning out its windows to say hello.
Had we forgotten about the mountains? Not quite. But Venice is Venice, and when you are there, it’s hard to hold onto anything that came before. We walked over a bridge and looked out at a man who was giving his friend rowing lessons in the middle of the canal — oars in the water, splashing delightfully. And another corner, with its faded pink walls and green shutters, had three women gathered out front with fans in their hands, talking in gestures and laughter as the water lapped up against the sides of the buildings, as the day caught the water — gleaming. Maybe we were the first of the tourists at this hour to come across Venice the way it should be — whispering in sunlight and colourful facades, early in the day. We tiptoed off, toward the other bridges and the Grand Canal, and we let this Venice stand alone right here, exactly as it was.
Today I’m listening to: Tecumseh Valley by Nanci Griffith.