Booking my flights to Venice last September had none of the usual fanfare. No shiny guidebook purchased from Waterstones, no ‘going local’ through disruptive technologies or Spritz cocktails. This was a flash visit for a purpose, a clandestine mission lasting less than 36 hours. After a deeply frustrating summer and a broken fairytale pulling my strings, I threw the dice and gambled on Venice.
On arriving at Marco Polo Airport around noon, I had the afternoon to work out the route if I could find my hotel in time. Armed with only a rucksack, I repeatedly told myself this was not a holiday, I couldn’t contemplate doing anything fun. Chopping along the lagoon waters at breakneck speed, I sat next to a brash American family as cormorants sped past us on the aquatic highway. Young couples on mini-breaks took shameless selfies and a Dutch family hawked up guttural consonants throughout the sea bound journey.
Everyone else on the vaporetto was decked in holiday attire and carrying bulging suitcases. I felt considerably out of place as we pulled up at St. Marks Square. Battling amongst a swarm of visitors I marched towards an astrological clock with sweat trickling down my back. Much to my dismay patches the size of Venice were already starting to develop.
Still blisteringly hot in early September, I checked into my one star hotel and was curtly directed by a mute receptionist to my room upstairs. I had to squeeze past a monstrous boiler just to get inside. Collapsing onto my rickety single frame it immediately began to squeak – this was going to be a long night and bloodsucking mosquitoes certainly made sure of that. Such was the sense of decay, I could have mysteriously died and my body would have lay undiscovered for about 25 years.
My interview took place a few days before the Scottish independence referendum and I felt incredibly tense refreshing Twitter for new polls. The #indyref certainly contributed towards a heightened sense of anxiety, one which crystalised my entire summer and fed into my Venetian journey.
Meanwhile I had to get this job whether Scotland became an independent state or not, and finding the office was proving difficult. Navigating a densely packed medieval warren and trying to pinpoint a tiny calle is not easy. With the lagoon heat saturating my energy, I kept on getting as far as Rialto fish market and nervously backtracking to my hotel exhausted and hungry.
Unlike Scotland nightfall descends more vividly in southern Europe and I failed to find the office despite searching for hours. My all-important interview was at 11am and not being able to find the office would hardly be a ringing endorsement of my intelligence. Even with my spatial awareness deficiencies, I simply had to find it after coming all this way.
After dining in a backstreet tattoria close to St. Mark Square, I coughed up my Euros for a pizza and returned to my upstairs hovel. Darkness had pulled its cloak over the island and there was a tangible switch in atmosphere, a balmy restlessness of knives and spoons entwining in lobster restaurants. Lying on my creaky bed frame, I conceded to my overheated melancholy and purchased £10 phone data triggering multiple What’s App conversations.
My first message came from an eccentric Croatian guy called Matej who had been communicating intermittently with me on Skype for months. Highly intelligent with superb colloquial English, Matej told me about the job and encouraged me to apply for the role, but pleaded with me not to mention him at all. I never knew what to make of the veiled secrecy. Being a straight up northern European my instinct is to apply for jobs the traditional way and let emails take care of the rest.
Things are done differently in Venice as I soon found out. Matej aggressively pleaded with me to meet him at Rialto Bridge saying “I’ll be really pissed with you if you don’t come!” On Skype chat he always appeared to be a shape shifting chameleon, and had a bizarre penchant for self-publicity. His alter ego Facebook page left me wondering exactly what ‘Matej’ I was going to meet later that evening.
He was also a domineering figure and clearly enjoyed playing games with people. Luckily I liked him but was suspicious and nervous too. I always appreciated his friendliness and sense of humour, but I didn’t know what to make of him, or what his motivation might be for inviting me to apply.
Unsure whether it was a good idea to meet him beforehand, I left the hotel and entered the darkness with mosquitoes famishing my wrists. Guided by spooky gas lamps and painted arrows, I arrived at Rialto Bridge teaming with flashing cameras and selfie sticks. Matej was standing there on the lower steps, a skinny flamboyant man with a rib hugging t-shirt, and we shook hands and both silently observed a hitherto internet character morphing into life.
Matej stressed we couldn’t hang around Rialto in case somebody saw us. Venice is a small island and you bump into friends and acquaintances every day. As a stranger in a foreign land, I blindly followed him down a series of calles past a fifteenth century monastery, which had been serenely converted into a beautiful hospital. In hushed tones he made it clear we couldn’t be seen talking in public, as far everyone in the office knew, we weren’t aware of one another’s existence.
Along the way I learned a Swedish guy was being considered for the job as well. Matej’s plan to parachute me into the office was suddenly in jeopardy. I felt threatened by this development too. Suddenly this trip wasn’t an inauguration after all and I could end up flying back to London with nothing.
Arriving at a back street tenement in Castello, I was introduced to three people in a gloomy Hopper-esque kitchen. Accepting one of their beers, Matej went on to explain the owner ran the office like a saloon bar and “you need to tell them how you can make the company lots of bookings without spending any money.” Then somewhat depressingly he lamented the state of the website and lack of bookings, much to the annoyance of his room mates, who were probably all too familiar with this angst ridden story.
After discussing the Scotland’s exit from the UK, I said my farewells and headed back to the hotel following the yellow arrows. Mataj’s cloak and dagger tactics had been a great help and I warmly reassured him I would stonewall him at tomorrow’s interview. With the office directions firmly embedded in my head I was confident I could find the place and get through this final, final round. Like everything else you need to throw the dice for extraordinary things to happen. I had lost enough in the proceeding months.
I flew over to live three weeks later.