Postcards from Abroad: Venice, Italy

Delilah is a third year student of English Literature studying in Venice, who now seems to spend the majority of her time reading books on boats and trying to communicate in horrific attempts at Italian. It is yet to be said whether she will ever start to use maps effectively, speak the language fluently, or understand why this city was really ever deemed practical and built in a lagoon. But she happily goes along with all this strangeness all the same.

There is very little you can do as a study abroad student to avoid the classic questions. What do you study? Where did you come from? And why did you choose [insert city of choice which was most likely chosen on an inexplicable whim such as, ‘er Italy looked pretty’ or, ‘I like pizza’]? A particular look of confusion often crosses people’s faces when they discover that you study English literature in Italy. As if you should never bother to stray any further than Stratford upon Avon if you like Shakespeare so much. But it was an opportunity, and wherever I was going to end up, no matter how estranged from my degree subject it might be, I was going to take it. Also, being in Venice, it is easy enough to ramble on about Othello and The Merchant of Venice to cure peoples’ lack of comprehension.

As for Venice itself it is so far proving to be a magical, ridiculous, pretty, yet tragically impractical city. As I am writing this I can see little further than the edge of the balcony of our little apartment because the fog has set in, and set in strong. This means I will have to re-evaluate my day plan. Does the bad weather mean Aqua Alta is back and the floods have returned? I’m trying to remember whether I heard the old-worldy flood siren wail out this morning as I was dozing, half asleep, in bed. Will it be a wellies-to-uni kind of day? Will all the vaporetto boat lines have been cancelled, or the routes changed, due to the high tides and fog? These are the kind of questions I now find myself contemplating on a daily basis, queries which I never thought I’d have to think about in the twenty-first century. There seem to be so many difficulties which can only be related to Venice. It is one of the only places I can think of which would require me to take a boat to uni (or pretty much anywhere I need to go). A funny old place which, without warning, could suddenly be engulfed under a few feet of water rendering it necessary to walk around the city on temporary wooden platforms like some kind of gloomy fashion show in which the clothing line consists solely of plastic macs, wellies and tourists’ selfie sticks.

Having said all this and despite it’s evident impracticalities, Venice really is somewhere that you have to live (at least for a short amount of time) to even begin to understand and love it. A weekend break could never possibly be enough to discover the true Venice. You might get to see St. Marks square and Rialto bridge but seeing these famous sights shrouded by a million other tourists and an incomprehensible amount of pigeons can never be as satisfying as knowing you have all the time you need to wander and discover the lesser known parts of the city. Even the top tourist attractions are better viewed in less conventional circumstances. The first time my flatmate and I saw St. Mark’s square was quite honestly a complete accident. At that point, still within a week of moving here, it can fairly be said that we still spent the majority of our time lost. That is, lost in the daylight, un-affected by alcohol and with a tourist friendly pocket map.

But on this occasion we’d been to one of the few and far between club nights that are held on the mainland. So when we decided that the wait for the vaporetto was far too long and that we definitely knew the way and it would hardly take us ‘ten minutes honestly!’ it was inevitable that we would spend the next two hours wandering around completely clueless. We ventured down side streets which all looked the same and faced what seemed like a continuous stream of dead-ends. The path would simply stop and be replaced with yet. Another. Canal. Eventually though, we turned one corner which by that point seemed like any other, probably one we had already seen five times on our spiralling circular route, only to stumble upon the Piazza. Completely empty of tourists, Piazza San Marco seemed huge and the Basilica loomed impressively opposite us, towering up in the darkness and seeming magically duplicated due to the dancing reflections in the flooded square. It is rare in a place like Venice, easily a tourist capital of Italy, to get a moment which is just yours. And to be able to splash around and paddle in the world famous flooded piazza at 4am was definitely worth the hours spent lost and confused in the labyrinth of a city.

Still without much of a grasp of the Italian language at all, and still feeling like a lost toddler in a supermarket, confused and displaced, yet optimistically enchanted by the new and surreal surroundings, I am writing this with the ambition of more adventures, accidental and otherwise. Northern Italy puts me in a perfect position for travel. Both within the country and to the surrounding areas of Europe. I spent last weekend in the unexpectedly picturesque city of Ljubljana, watching the sunset over the mountains that surround Lake Bled. The Slovenian countryside is not really somewhere I could venture to for a day away from Leeds, although in all fairness I have not yet attempted it. Maybe it’s the study abroad mentality rather than purely the convenient location? Perhaps a mentality that would be beneficial to hold on to: when the stress of final year and dissertations gets a bit too much the prospect of running away to Slovenia, Switzerland or Malta for a weekend is going to feel like the only appealing option. Or maybe even back to Venice. I’ll take Aqua Alta over tackling real life responsibilities any day of the week.

Delilah Kealy-Roberts

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