After years of working in sterile British offices, my brief sojourn in Italy has been anything but dull. Like my meeting today in Oddo’s court, where my apartment’s bills and surcharges were finally revealed. It was a naked triumph of greed and entitlement, where as a pawn without a voice, I watched Oddo and his wife deliver their payment demands to my boss.
Surrounded by old money in a Venetian town house, I was summoned upstairs by my elderly masters. Sitting opposite them at their family table, I felt the full weight of powerlessness. They were inadvertently stripping away my salary by making me responsible for their communal property debts.
Earlier in the same street, a damp alleyway full of pot plants behind the Grand Canal, my boss explained I had to go to Oddo’s: ‘I need to stay friends with them, Daniel, do you understand?’ I know this is an unfashionable thing to admit, but I like my boss. He’s funny, entertaining and affable hustler with an eye for a new deal.
Once I realised what they were doing and that I was being charged for more than just an electricity bill. It felt like I was on remand for a crime I did not commit. I felt enraged by Oddo’s shameless greed but I couldn’t let my boss down in front of him.
I am pragmatic, savvy and calculating in these situations. I know how important it is to always pick the right words.
Come nightfall I run past Venetian sailing 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 at this scaling leaping figurine skipping over bridges by the sea. My journey is now complete and I’m walking through St Mark’s Square back towards my apartment with sweat heaving over my chest.
Back home I switch on the heating, shower and prepare something to eat and still don’t feel complete. I keep on eating 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.
I had my photo taken again this morning. My blurry silhouette is probably filling up pixels 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 Rialto 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. Even the rubbish disposal boat fascinates me as it churns out steam.
Church bells are crashing around me every hour, but I need to make myself eligible again. Make a leap back towards metropolitan life and nurse glittering bruises on even broader shoulders.
I told my new Lolita-esque flatmate that I have a lot of love to give. Isn’t it strange that you travel so far only to daydream about the same thing?
Sometimes 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. Spotify is a generic experience. Play, pause and repeat over and over again.
Collectively, we are going through the first phase of hyper acceleration. An unprecedented boom of global fertility has ensured everyone wants the same picture 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.
Everyday 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 a tiny prism of light, it’s a unique private moment, one shared with loved ones and liked 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 I enter a chaste world of silence and reflection.
Despite being ardently secular in my politics, I took comfort in this celestial refuge. Photography is banned in Venetian churches and the circus of life takes a deferential pause. With my rucksack weighing on my back, I sat 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.
I guess there is something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.
Sitting in my new Venetian office, I watch an elderly Italian couple attend their pot plants. No one understands why I have moved here from London. I am currently staying in a bog ugly hotel until early November and sleep has become a luxury.
On boycotting takeaway pizza, I am witnessing my body metamorphosis into a leaner machine than before. Many evenings I have gone to bed hungry and longing for a continental breakfast.
Come nightfall I go running along the quayside and this only accentuates my physical condition. Streaming past the tourist starlings at St Marks Square, I skip over ornate bridges and race passenger boats and cruise liners. It feels easier and necessary to run longer and harder over here.
Venice is like a spooky romantic ghost story after midnight, where you develop a heightened sensitivity to the elegant stroking of a Gondola’s oar. For sheer aesthetic beauty, I am simply not a gifted enough writer to handsomely describe what I see.
I have been forced to be more social than I am otherwise inclined. Ambivalent friendships have been sparked up with passing strangers and drinking Spritz cocktails is far cheaper than beer.
Venice meanwhile is virtually crime free and gigantic rats appear once the tourists have gone to bed. The plague of a medieval Disneyland that nobody has paid to see.
I don’t how know I get myself into these situations. A mid-summer calamity formed the genesis of my Italian journey. It pains me to think about it even now. How could I have fucked up so badly. Incidents of virtually no significance throw me to the stars or plunge me into speechless depressions.
I wish I felt more nervous, it would be more fitting, or perhaps my sense of ease is a reflection of the times. English as an international language, internet on tap and a globalised workforce.
On travelling to Venice for a new job, I arrive at the airport with a milky sky sinking behind the Adriatic. Looking at the old maps in my guidebook, it’s remarkable how little the city has changed. How is electricity even possible? For now at least it’s dry and warm.
Stumbling into deli stores and restaurants, I immediately realised I have to urgently learn some Italian phrases and numbers. It’s tiresome nodding, smiling and handing over excessively large notes.
In my experience, buying petty junk food alone is ruinously expensive in Venice and I don’t want to eat pizza every night because funghi is easy to pronounce. Meanwhile I have to forgive myself for being an island monoglot, I have been hired for English language skills after all.
For now at least, that’s my forte.