The thing I like most about Venice is that she shows no mercy to the unadventurous. Step across the threshold of the city and you have no choice but to abandon the illusion that you might know where you are. Streets and canals wind across each other in a dizzy Pollock painting that no cartographer has yet to translate into a map of any accuracy. There is no memorization of these streets, for Venice is a living organism who cannot sit still. You think you know her, but she shifts in her restless sleep, leaving you agape on the shore, staring across the murky water at a pharmacy that used to be your favorite trattoria. Did it close down, or are you lost again, on the wrong Frezzaria? Venice is a city that can be felt, but never known.
It was high tide.
San Marco Square stayed one step ahead of me, thwarting my every attempt to track it's progression through the maze of illegible street signs and watery dead-ends. I chased it through the city, judging its path by the pigeons it shedded as it ran. Morgan, a friend from L.A. who I'd carted along, sought the plaza with his nose pressed firmly down (dangerously close to the ground) into the map. He had yet to look up today.
The birds thickened in the sky, like a coming storm, an omen of Marco. Below us, the cobblestones were beginning to drown in the briny tide. We'd have to forge the newborn canal. I shuddered; I needed a hot shower just looking at the water.
But I'd been through worse. What's a little Venetian scum after that river I fell into in Botswana? What's the smell of canal after the whale I stumbled across, half eaten by sharks, half melted by a tropical Kiribati sun? Morgan had braved the wild streets of East Hollywood; surely he could handle a few drops of misplaced Mediterranean.
I followed the birds across the water, clacking carefully over in my three-inch heels. They were not lofty enough to keep me dry and the canal sucked up against my ankles, licking its oily scent onto my skin, marking me as its own, its precious.
Morgon's eyes rose above the edge of the map as if returning from a dream. Beads of sweat collected on his forehead; his pupils narrowed to pinpricks of darkness.
Still in the water, I turned to him, "Come on," but he shuffled backwards a step away from me. Did the word, "Unclean," creep across his lips?
"Morgan." I kept my voice soft.
He was trapped somewhere under the water's rainbow surface, his eyes full with the most beautiful colors, previously unknown to nature: siren's-conch-indigo, viscous-violet, radium-223-chartruese. They stuck on the skin I'd left too exposed by these strappy-straps.
"I'm not crossing that," he said at last, still staring wide-eyed-down, never meeting my gaze.
Damply, I pleaded, "This is the way." From my vantage I could see the gaudy gold shimmer of the plaza. I'd never lost a traveling companion before the fourth day before. This would not be good press.
"No," he repeated, resolute, "I don't care."
I looked back at him with my sad-eyes face, but the distortion reflected back to him was monstrous and not endearing.
"I am not walking through that." He punched the not a little hard and frightened a few misplaced pigeons back into the sky.
I joined them on the other side, looking back across the sea to where Morgan stood, smaller, distant. "Fine, meet me back at Calle de Montello at five. At the trattoria across from the hotel, okay?"
He nodded slightly, seemed to want to spit at the canal. "You ruined your shoes," was all he said. I never saw him again.
That evening I found myself back on Calle de Montello, sitting on a terrace at a trattoria I'd never seen before, half a bottle of Proseco glistening in the last light of day. I lifted my glass again, listening to the bad news told by my new friend Benigno.
"You're thinking of the other Calle de Montello. It isn't here, bella," he said, sympathetically refilling my glass. "You must go back, to the other side of the city."
But I sat still and soaked in the long rays of sun and the dizzy mess that was Venice. Benigno and his sparkly wine whispered calm against the American get-up-and-go schedule-brain I'd brought with me, telling me against all my judgment that everything was okay.
Sure I was lost, sure Morgan would never speak to me again, but I was lost in the heart of Venice, on a sun washed hillside, surrounded by good wine, good food, and Italian men. Beautiful Italian men.
"Forget it," I answered, "No need to go searching for nothing when everything is right here. I think I'll stay."
"How many nights?"