A little story from the road.
Everybody knows Venice is my favourite city in the world,
and this little story is one I’ll never forget.
Let me tell you about the time I got perfectly lost in Venice…
So I was wandering around, as usual, right off the heavily-beaten tourist trails in Venice, no bag, no map, with just my camera, meandering slowing down this long, winding alleyway, taking photos, happily minding my own business, when suddenly…
this girl comes frantically running down, a map held sort-of upside down, her beautiful, curly black hair all big and whipping crazy all over the place – clearly she was hunting desperately for something – and then suddenly she stops right in front of me. Just stops. I looked around – nobody else was there.
Then she starts to speak to me in Italian – asking me if I know where some street is.
I told her I didn’t know – in Italian, of course – stating that I was English (for some reason I thought that was obvious).
“You’re English?” she replied, now speaking English herself, with a thick but beautiful Italian accent. “I thought you are Italiano!”
I laughed. I get that often when in Italy.
She then explained that she was from the next city – and was in Venice to view some rooms, as she was moving to the city the next month to study. Only she was late for this particular viewing, and now, evidently, lost!
“Pass me that map,” I said – foolishly feeling confident in my navigational skills, and in my knowledge of Venice. “I’ll get you there, no problem. I know Venice like the back of my hand.”
“You want to come with me?!” she said, surprised but clearly delighted.
“Yeah!” I said. “Why not?” not really thinking now about taking it easy before my impending flight to Athens…
So that was it – we were running around like mad dogs and Englishmen, trying to find this IMPOSSIBLE-TO-FIND-place. Dodging in and out of the tourists, this girl checking her watch every minute, saying “we must hurry!!” – me saying “I’ve got us lost already!!” laughing. We both were. The sun was shining. I had no idea what I was doing. One of those great moments when you just stop thinking and roll with the tide.
“My name’s James, by the way,” I said, as we slipped down another alleyway, trying to dodge tourists and street merchants.
“I’m Arianna,” she replied. “Or just Ari!”
And so, as simple as that, I made another friend.
We decided that for the rest of the day Ari would speak to me in English – and I would speak to her in Italian. Good practice for us both! Although I do wonder what everybody thought of us two non-native speakers walking hurriedly through Venice (everybody else walks slow, of course), speaking different languages – bad grammar probably flying all over the place. But we didn’t care. It was great fun!
After about half hour of running round, maps in the air, hair getting bigger and bigger, tourist getting fatter and harder to get past (or so it seemed to my tired brain), me panting and sweating and all flustered like a right plonker, we finally stopped, in some square, in some part of Venice I’ll surely never find again, and admitted defeat. Oh, yes. Venice swallowed me up and spat me back out good and proper, once again. We had no idea where we were – or if we were even close to the damn place!!! I’d failed…
After asking a local newspaper seller for directions and rethinking our plan of action, we were off again – this time trying to find the next house on Ari’s list, forgetting the last one and accepting that it was not meant to be. But – lo and behold – this time, I actually knew where this particular square was. YES! The map was thrown down, my brain was switched on. This time I lead the way, ALL the way, purposefully and assuredly… and I got us there! In good time!!!
Okay, so we took a few pictures along the way…
Then we met this lady – she was Venetian – a proper Venetian – in this square (the one that I’d found without a map) – and she started to lead the way to this other house we were seeing. It was great following her through the streets of Venice. She weaved in and out of the tourists like a stalking tigress – knew exactly what she was doing and where she was going – naturally – she’d been doing it all her life. She took us through all these shortcuts and parts of Venice I swear just appeared out of nowhere! Then we were back in a tourist square – then back down some secret, dusty and dark alley again – then through some shop – then back on another empty street – then we were suddenly on St. Mark’s Square again! – it was all so weird and wonderful – mystical – the magic of Venice revealing itself once more.
Eventually she took us to a coffee shop – a quaint little place full of Italians that unfortunately I don’t think I could ever find again. We all spoke in Italian now – she asking me about London – Camden Market and Soho (my London recommendations – day and night respectively) – and me asking her about Venice, its secrets, its people.
“Most of the true Venetians are gone now,” she said. “There are less and less of us. The tourists are taking over…”
…It was a sad thing to hear.
“How do you know each other?” this Venetian lady eventually asked, looking me up-and-down (pausing to examine my 1940’s high-waisted trousers).
Ari and I looked at each other, laughing. “We don’t!!”
So next I’m in some house in another part of Venice I didn’t know existed, and Ari’s asking my advice on the place, as if it were her and I looking to rent it together!
“I don’t know about this one,” I was saying. “Not much light.”
Ari smiled, thinking.
What the hell was I even doing there!?!
It was a magical, crazy day, and I’m so glad I had the spirit to get involved, let go of ‘plans’,
and see so many parts of that ancient city I would never have seen otherwise.
I don’t know how it happens – wherever I go – whatever I do – I always manage to get myself into the most weird and wonderful situations.
But this could happen Only in Venice.
Update – Arianna recently messaged to tell me she eventually chose one of the houses we viewed together! At least now I know how to house-hunt in Venice, for when I eventually move there permanently.