How can words adequately map the topography of sadness? Today we leave Venice, and as with every parting from this gem of the Adriatic, I have a profound feeling of loss. Today this sense is amplified, as when a storm wind drives the acqua alta deeper over the city, by the knowledge that only a week of the Euro2008 tour remains to us. Next Saturday we shall board a flight for America and nine years as expatriates, sojourners in the Old World, will come to an end. The loss of Venice is symbolic of an even greater loss, a way of living, an older sensibility that we had adopted and made our own.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the inclement weather, I have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here in the city. Venice is a city of two parts: the 15,000,000 tourists who visit every year, and the quiet undercurrent of the 70,000 permanent residents who make the city run. In my morning walks I have begun to grow acquainted with the locals, men and women who stride purposefully through the streets and calli on their way to work. For the past two mornings, on my way to San Marco, I have encountered the same old man walking his dog near the Rialto bridge. I have taken to wishing him “Buongiorno.” He replies with the same greeting, and then, yesterday, broke into song.
I do not know why I love Italy and this city so much. I suppose that I am captivated by its beauty, its classical buildings that eschew glass and plastic and prevent the planting of a large strip mall or a discount warehouse. Even the local McDonalds has been forced to blend in―you might miss it entirely if you weren't looking for it. Venice seems timeless, an elegant city that serenely weathers the high tides of both tourists and water that overrun her streets.
I have read that the Venetian is both good-humored and unconcerned about what is happening in the world beyond his city. The humor is undoubtedly needed to deal with tourists, like us, And, perhaps, the Venetian has no need to seek out the rest of the world; sooner or later, the world comes to him.
Mary and I were both astounded when we realized yesterday that we had basically spent an entire week doing nothing more than simply being in Venice. We avoided all the “must sees” of the city―churches, museums, galleries―and just spent hours each day walking around, exploring, delighting in what we found around each corner. Despite the absence of programmed activities, our time seemed very full, and we agreed that we didn't have nearly enough time to even begin exploring what we'd missed. There is only one solution: to return for a very long stay, months or even years when the chance comes along.
I walk around to the northern edge of the island on my last pre-dawn ramble. Up past the hospital, past the flat in which we stayed at Christmas, north to the Fondamenta Nove, the last street before the water. On the far side of the lagoon I can see the green and white flashes of the airport. Closer in, the dark hulk of San Michele, the cemetery island. I snap a few photos of the darkened waters, broken only by the illuminated pilings that mark the channel to Murano. Water buses cough to life, churn up the black waters, and move off in a blaze of light to begin their daily orbits of the island.
Time is up for me. I return through the greying morning to our flat, where the team is finishing its last minute packing. By 9:30 we are arrayed in a line before the Ca'd'Oro water bus stop, Blue Anvil and the lesser suitcases glistening with morning rain drops. Our train for Milan pulls out, nearly empty, at 10:30 and we are on our way. We cross the bridge to Mestre in the rain, drops drawing long tears across our carriage windows.