In Venice For a Day


We wake to a morning of monochrome grey, though the promise of a brighter afternoon hides behind clouds like a scolded child. Water sloshes over pavements already stained with the rise and fall of an encroaching sea and my boots crunch over debris discarded by the tide. The air is thick with the call of gulls and they swoop and sweep for the goods offered by a nearby stand dealing with wares of the sea. One is lucky in his pursuit and snatches a cut of fish. He flies to the steeple of a nearby church, cry loud in his victory as grey scales quickly disappear into a greedy beak. 

The streets are winding, each marked with flecks of sun-bleached paint and the reflection of canals wavering on crumbling brickwork. We cross bridges and pass shop fronts crowded with detailed masks and colourful glass. Often, we walk paths no wider than my outstretched arms. Here, in the alleyways of more residential districts, the scent distinctive to the passage of water lingers. My fingers catch maze-like walls that usher us to our eventual destination and they are damp to touch. I look to see that the sky is a thin line in the distance.

After many twists and turns, backtracks and dead ends leading to water, we eventually find ourselves on the plain of Piazza San Marco. Groups of tourists are evident by shouts in multiple languages, though they are greatly reduced compared to the heaving masses seen throughout the summer months. In early spring, the square is almost void of people. We enter St Mark's Basilica without a pause of breath.

Whatever light that enters the church is absorbed by mosaic tiles that shield the ceiling like armour. There is a heavy silence to this place, one that I am afraid to break. It’s a relief to fall under the open sky once again. Saltwater blows across the open sea though we are somewhat sheltered by the walls of Doge’s Palace. My sister and I enter the former seat of government, admiring the colourful scenes of Venetian life that hang on richly decorated walls. We never do discover who Doge was, though. 

Diligently, we pay our respects to the Bridge of Sighs, walking further beyond its crowded balustrade towards the Arsenale di Venezia. Streets in this area are quieter and civilian boats bob on rising waves. It's strange. I know that this island city will eventually be lost to the sea, but it's still a shock to witness water rising onto pavements that it should not reach. 

We turn inland, loosing ourselves to the floods until we find Liberia Acqua Alta. It's a mess of literature in all languages; a chaos of publications, prints and newspapers. A gondola, stuffed with books, rests precariously on wooden floorboards, its lacquer marked with water stains. A draft enters through an open window, stirring pages and my tangled hair. I exclaim at a stairway constructed of books, then spot a reading room that has slowly become reclaimed by the canal edge it exists on. The sun finally makes its way through clouds and I watch dust motes dance in shards of light cast by the shadows of window shutters. 

I notice details on our departure. The way canals react to the motion of boats, the caress of dawn on the water. The sun is warm on my upturned face, making it that much harder to abandon my time here to memory. We leave Venice in a haze that awakens the city with a golden kiss and reveals the crest of mountains on the distant horizon. Their snow-capped peaks are a dusting of cream that captures the colours of sunrise. 

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