A glassy-eyed kid my age walks into a toilet that doesn’t match his gender and sheepishly backs out again, stupidly grinning at me as he passes. He enters the toilet and leaves, probably oblivious to the entire event. His dreadlocked mate is in a better state. His homemade flares flash past me as he decorates himself around the room. Top 40 and classic hits are on the TV: “Afroman featuring Silent Bob and Jay – Because I Got High”. Four fashionably alternative girls and a boy walk up to the table next to me and steal all my chairs. Luckily, I’m not expecting any friends.
I don’t understand the language. Do you?
Paraphernalia covers the walls. Photos, phone cards, posters for Guinness and money from countries no one here has heard of, let alone been. A purple balloon poodle bounces from person to person as they chat and laugh until finally stopping in a girls restless hands as she subconsciously mutates him whilst avoiding the eye contact conversation the boy next to her is trying to seduce her into.
It is nine minutes past one in the morning on a weeknight.
The girls sing the repeated one word chorus of a foreign song. Travis. Sing. The chopping board that delivered my ham and cheese focaccia is removed with the empty coke glasses. The music is turned down. The two staff wander aimlessly around, fed up and wanting everyone to go home but professional to the protocol and no words are said. Just subtle hints. Mobile phones. Alternative yuppies. Drinks are emptied.
The purple poodle lays abandoned on the table amongst the cigarette butts and scraps of snacks.
Outside the mist from the still water hangs in the narrow streets, framed by tall picturesque buildings. I’m down to my last 3000 liras. I should have grabbed more cash. Umbrellas from seats in the street are marched in and stored out of my sight. The four girls and one boy leave. I leave.
Wandering behind them they disappear into another bar and take with them my food for thought. I walk up the 40 steps which clears me of the Canal Grande and then down 40 and straight into the swallowing labyrinth of the city. Snatches of people drift past me from time to time but mostly it’s only my footsteps I can hear echoing from dark corners behind me. A baby awakes and instinctively screams until comfort comes in the form of a parent.
Slowly silence returns to the streets. Or do I just walk out of hearing distance?
Another dead end. Water. Streets turn into dead ends. Dead ends turn into alleyways which turn into streets………..which turn into dead ends.
The flowing streets warm me and the walls close in on me. Laughter crescendos out of the silence until I pass the open door, where I can’t hear any silence at all. It fades as I turn another bend.
I come across five options and turn to the right.
The buildings are beautiful. They loom up and look down at me as if I am a child with unimaginable amounts of inquisitiveness. I continue, head tilted back, mouth agape and eyes fast tracking the immense beauty. I stand beneath an enormous Greco-Roman Masterpiece, the deteriorating façade, the soft lighting, the moon in a glowing grey sky. Beauty comes in many forms. Boats lie still in the smooth green water.
Is this the quietest place on earth? A flash of familiarity but I shy away from it.
Bakery smells waft out of a door ajar. An empty beer bottle. A human form at the end of the street. It moves away from me. An engine rumbles past nearby. A minute later, the silence is deafening.
I sit in an opening within the crowded city hearing only an unevenly running tap and occasional ventriloquistic noises. A hint of breeze is in the night. A black cat stalks the garbage bags that spot the edges of the street. A graffiti joker stares past me at an impressive meaningless tag. In one of the streets leading away from here, somebody coughs.
The time is four oh seven in the morning.
I’m in Venice.
I am lost.
I have a train in one hour and five minutes.
I am the happiest man alive.