If these aged walls could talk, well… they would speak Latin. I’m leaning out of an open window staring down at the canals and watching the lights come on as night sets in. By my hand is a potted plant, diligently watered but on it’s last legs. It is old like everything else in the city. Old and wise and wonderful. The glass of wine I hold in my hand is positively ancient as are my rickety bed and the cobblestone paths I walked and could not believe it even as I did it.
I am in Venice, a place I have dreamed of since I read first about the Silk trade and became obsessed with after watching the remake of the Italian Job. The roads are water! I take the old-fashioned Gondolas alone because I am an old romantic and romance would just ruin the trip of a lifetime.
I have no tourist guide and avoid the crowds as much as I can. I am not looking for the tourist spots I want to sink in the history of this city without interruption or assistance. I am also broke and have what I call eco-guilt, the flight from Nairobi to Rome cancels out an entire life of using public transport and getting electricity from almost exclusively renewable sources.
The small room I am renting is far away from the glitzy hotels and cafes. The lady who is renting it to me also serves high carb, high calorie breakfasts of rich coffee, bread slathered in butter with sausage and cheese. She is my kind of cook. My mornings start with this meal usually brought to me and placed by the window. I have a wash before I eat and the grab my bag with what little money I have, a bottle of water, and my pen and notebook. No camera.
I bring the dishes down and thank my land lady for the food. She will be sitting with one of her friends and if this new friend has not seen me before, she will tell the new friend that I am a poor writer from Ethiopia.
I step out of the small two storied house and onto the street, take a deep salty breath and start my haunts for the day. Today, I head down to a small dock where the fishermen are bringing in the catch of the day, haggling with the buyers from the market. It is a concert of rapid fire Italian as I have never heard it. It does not stink, but the smell of fish cannot be escaped. I may be allowed to make my own lunch and I eye a good-looking fish but I am a terrible cook and couldn’t besmirch the kitchen graced by generations of amazing Venician cooks so I only look and move on.
A little way away, an older part of the dock lies quiet except for the creaking of old boats that have been lifted onto it. They look broken and the modern ones are rusty. I weave my way between them to the edge of the dock and sit. The sea is murky blue but still the most beautiful blue I have ever seen. I shiver and grin like a loon every time I remember that I am in Venice, Venice!
My feet are dangling off the edge but do not touch the water. I just stare at it. Beholding the expanse of the ocean from a dock in Venice is nothing like looking out at it from a beach. From the shore in Mombasa, solid ground is behind me and I am not as small as I ought to be. Venice is the ocean, there is no anchor to remind me that I am important in any way. I am filled with awe and terror, this is one of the great gifts of Venice.
I scribble about this scene without really focusing on what I am putting down as I am still drugged by it. After I put my notebook away I stand and walk into the city. I am less afraid of strangers here than in Nairobi. As the blackest person here, I stand out like a piece of chocolate in a tub of popcorn. The most olive of olive skin looks white as snow against mine. This is freeing, I cannot hide so I might as well stop trying to. I smile and nod at the hawkers and market people. I have enough cash for one or two souvenirs and I want to make it good which is why I walk past the trinket stalls without more than a glance. I want something old but there are obvious problems with that.
I stop at a building with a single floor and a noticeboard by the double doors crammed with posters. One says that there are lessons for the Venetian Tango. I can afford one class, and that would count as a souvenir. It was a dance so hot the Vatican banned it and the only thing that is not awkward about me is my sense of rhythm. I shrug and go in.
“Yes, very good. You move like you know.” Raphael the instructor says.
I went in just as a lesson was starting. There was also a British couple and two Canadian women. We were not unevenly matched for long as three Venetian men came through the doors and joined the class.
My partner was Max (not Maximus), a student of Pharmacy in Rome back home for a few days. I was doing well, music and food were the two great joys of my life. Writing and reading were my life’s purpose and they did not always bring me joy.
We had a lunch at a small cafe where I was taught to slam down an espresso the proper way. He offered to give me lessons for free when I told him I would not be going back to Raphael’s studio. He thought my refusal to be a tourist seeing Venice through the lens of a camera was funny and pointless.
“You are worse, you wish this was 1204 and great ships were docking bearing spice and silk. They just want to come to the old world, get a tan, learn a few Italian phrases, and go back.” Max said.
“If this was 1204 I would be the property of a noble man if I was lucky.” I said, “Besides, I also want gelato.”
That night I stood with Max at the window, glasses in hand and stared out at the canals. I accepted his offer to show me around but insisted that I wanted to do much of my exploring on my own. He laughed again and accepted with a clink of our glasses.