Daniel Agnew

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Oddo’s Court

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Surrounded by old money in a Venetian town house, I was summoned upstairs by my elderly masters. An epic canvas of St. Marks Square dominated proceedings, like I needed a reminder of where I am living.

Earlier in the same street, a damp alleyway full of pot plants behind the Grand Canal, my boss explained I had to come with him: ‘I need to stay friends with them, Daniel, do you understand?’ I know this is an unfashionable thing to admit in any walk of life. But I like my boss. He’s warm, entertaining and affable. A networking hustler with an eye for a new deal.

After years of working in sterile British offices, my brief sojourn in Italy has been anything but dull. Like my meeting in Oddo’s court, where my apartment’s bills and surcharges were finally revealed. A naked triumph of greed and entitlement, where as a pawn without a voice, I watched Oddo and his wife deliver their demands to my boss.

Sitting opposite them at their grand table, I felt the full weight of powerlessness. They were inadvertently stripping away my salary by making me responsible for their communal property debts.

Once I realised what they were doing and deducted from the paperwork that I was being charged for more than just a electricity bill. I sat silently like my boss’s errant son on remand for a crime I did not commit.

I felt enraged by their shameless greed, but I couldn’t let my boss down. Not in front of him because unlike in past I know the power of words. When to speak and in this instance when to say nothing. I am pragmatic, savvy and calculating in these situations. You play the game.

It’s important to always pick the right words, and refuse to shake hands when I finally depart from my apartment’s front door.

Slim Pickings

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Come nightfall in Venice, there is a Bolshevik disco taking place far away from the centre. Half sunk and with a beatnik charm, this underground club is gunning for billionaire yachts in Venezia.

Earlier I had been following a Lido local, an enormously handsome Chilean man and a floppy haired indie boy from Torino. It costs three euros to get in, and I will never be able to come back without a guide. Anti-navy posters are peeling in the cloakroom and dandy bohemians are loitering outside smoking cigarettes.

Pushing our way to the bar #NOFUTURE and anti-Bush posters fill up every permissible space. Vino bianco is served in lethal shot glasses, and bottles of red wine are funnelled into curvy glass caskets. That’s my abiding memory of the night.

A vintage jazz band perform Roxy Music singles and Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). The shuffling audience could be their grandchildren, but age doesn’t seem to matter here. Alongside the wide-eyed misfits and ageing lotharios looking for one last kiss, I find myself drifting between moods. Alcohol is no longer the electric force it used to be.

Watching smoke rise and body temperatures soar, I drift between rooms nursing cheap wine and it’s slim pickings for someone like myself. It’s not the same anymore. Also I have no language skills and my time here is fast running out. But for now I’m grateful for jazz music and that there isn’t a Trip Advisor sticker in sight.

Lanterns by the Sea

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Come nightfall I race past Venetian sail boats, angling my body towards the Lido. I don’t want to run after work, but for vanity reasons alone I persist on doing so. Endless daydreams seep like the waves, as I rise and fall down every beautiful crossing. A bridge for each year I am unable to match. All because someone captured my imagination during a particular moment in time.

Elderly couples in minx coats look upon me like I’m a different species. Dumbfounded afresh at that scaling leaping figurine skipping over bridges by the sea. My journey is now complete and I’m walking through St Mark’s Square with sweat glistening down my heaving chest.

Back home I switch on the heating, shower and prepare something to eat and still don’t feel complete. I eat more until I feel uncomfortable. It’s getting late now. I have no idea why I do this. This blocking urge to feel nothing and full simultaneously.

Partly Cloudy

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Rialto Bridge Nightfall

I had my photo taken again this morning. My blurry silhouette is probably filling up pixels on Instagram as I write this story. It happens every day, observing untold love stories walking over Rialto Bridge. Europe’s most famous crossing is forever swelling with tourists wanting their Facebook cover of the Grand Canal.

Every day I cross over Rialto Bridge on my way to work. I love watching little men scurry off their boats exchanging ropes for boxes; frantically unpacking wine and chocolates. Occasionally an ambulance dashes underneath like a Bond villain under siege and even the waste disposal boat is fascinating as it churns out steam.

Church bells are crashing around me every hour, but I need to make myself eligible to live in London. Make a leap back towards metropolitan life. Nurse glittering bruises on even broader shoulders. I told my new Lolita-esque flatmate before I left that I have a lot of love to give. It’s a source of comfort to dream and care about someone, like asking a shadow to dance.

Strange how you travel so far only to daydream about the same thing. Silly I know but January has always been a reflective time of year.

Notebooks

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Already I am making plans for next year. Get fitter, stronger, healthier and brighter than ever before. I need to consume less sugar and run harder and longer. Make my heart beat even faster. Being marooned in a bitter cold village over Christmas makes you look forward. Travelling backwards is a melancholy street.

I’m already thinking how I can improve my East London flat. I have a new flatmate arriving in January and I want to live somewhere effervescent and colourful. Nobody visits me because I tend to socialise outside of my triple shared abode, but I want to make it perfect regardless. A glorious new mattress needs to be delivered, small book shelves ordered and freshly chilled wines stacked nicely in the fridge. Make my place look as cheerful as it can possibly be.

We live a visual age and I regret not taking more photographs. Not being in enough photographs. I wish I looked more handsome underneath a flashing bulb. I think my life would be infinitely happier if that was the case. For reasons unknown but to nature, I prefer to hide behind words and look the other way. I want everything to be perfect.

I need to learn when to omit unnecessary words and write more than I did last year. Be more open and honest. There is one love story I have always wanted to write, but I shy away every time. I romanticise far too much and decay with indecision, but I read and watch many plays.

I just hope it won’t all be for nothing.

Sirens

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Each of us wages a private battle each day between the grand fantasies we have for ourselves and what actually happens.’

Cathy Guisewite

Super selfie love story

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Venice EveningSometimes I feel unworthy of living in Venice. I don’t pay enough attention to details, especially now the numbers are slowing down. Walking back to the hotel with my headphones on, I feel guilty for not listening to bursts of opera or cutlery exchanging hands in restaurants. Spotify is a generic experience. Play, pause and repeat your songs over and over again.

We are going through the first phase of hyper acceleration, an unprecedented boom of global fertility all wanting the same photograph of the Grand Canal. Likewise I’m just a temporary EU migrant passing through the loveliest city in the world. It was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass.

Gondola Couple VeniceEveryday I see newly married couples snuggle in beautifully crafted gondolas and it’s very much a case of play, pause and repeat. Same posed smile, loving tilt of the head and furrowed brow, I’ve witnessed a thousand honeymoons upload their story underneath a bridge. Seen through the prism of light, it’s a unique private moment, one shared with loved ones and marvelled over by long distance friends.

Only I see the same love story every single day.

Away from the watery parade, I remove my headphones, the plastic grooves gnashing onto my collar bone and enter an inverted Catholic church. Squashed inside the Venetian back streets, I arrive in a chaste world of silence and reflection.

Despite being militantly secular in my global politics, I took comfort in this medieval refuge. Photography is banned in Venetian churches and the circus of life takes a deferential pause. With my rucksack weighing on my back, I stood in silence amongst elaborately carved tombs and dead wooden benches.

It’s one of the few places in Venice where you can share a private moment, a world without flashing cameras and streamed playlists. Outside the craziness goes on oblivious, and I have to get back to my hotel; shower, get changed and go online again. My smartphone might vibrate with loving messages.

There must be something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.

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