Friday, April 1, 2011

Un giretto imprevisto a Venezia

La vita continua (life goes on), and things continue to occur at an astonishingly rapid pace (even my three-hour lectures don't seem quite so interminable these days).

A few days ago (as in, Saturday night at two in the morning), my friend Ellie from Wash U wrote to me letting that she was going to be in Bologna on Sunday night and inviting me to continue on the Venice with her on Monday to meet up with Parker (another close friend of mine from Wash U) and Cory (a friend of close friends from Wash in he and Ellie and Parker met while studying at Oxford this semester).  This sounded like an admirable plan, especially once Ellie told me that the three of them had rented an apartment for a few days while they were there (apparently some Venetians with second homes elsewhere rent out their Venetian apartments to travelers by the night) and that I could stay with them there at no cost. Perfect, right?

So I spent the next day catching up on various things that needed to be done and waiting for Ellie.  Once she arrived around 10pm, I obviously wanted to show her around the city and have a fun night out.  Unfortunately, Bologna is absolutely dead on Sundays (especially at night).  More fortunately, my friends Vittorio and Milos had been telling me all day that they were interested in doing somehing, so since Milos speaks English fairly well (Ellie speaks no Italian, and Vittorio speaks pretty much no English whatsoever. His vocabulary consists mostly of "Yeah!," which he uses often and with great enthusiasm), we headed over to their apartment (after finally finding them in Piazza Verdi after two hours of searching/waiting for them).  Although there were several language barriers in the way, the four of us managed to have a good time and communicate reasonably well (except for the part where I tried to explain the concept of Newspeak and Saussure's linguistic theories about the relationship between the signifier and the signified in Italian...that didn't go very well at all).

The next day Ellie and I walked around Bologna for a bit and did some grocery shopping at the vegetable market before catching the train to Venice to meet the boys.  Although the train ride itself was incredibly pleasant and Ellie and I each very much enjoyed both the view and the conversation, disaster was soon to strike.  Well, maybe not disaster, but certainly a great deal of inconvenience.

The plan had been for Ellie and I to meet Parker and Cory at the apartment they were renting around 6.  What actually happened was that Ellie and I got off the train and straight onto the vaporetto (water bus) going absolutely the wrong direction.  So instead of going only four stops, we ended up going fifteen stops and taking a fifteen minute break at the end of the line while waiting for the vaporetto going in the correct direction.  Meanwhile, Cory's phone has run out of batteries and Parker's phone, which won't accept calls outside of England, decided not to accept text messages either.  To further complicate matters, the apartment reservation is in Ellie's name and neither her nor Parker nor Cory speak any Italian (well, to be fair Parker took a few semesters a few years ago but freely admits that he remembers almost none of it), and the woman at the apartment speaks absolutely no English.

Eventually, after a stunning (if unintentional) tour of most of Venice by water, Ellie and I made our way to the apartment, still without any sign of the boys.  At this point, we discover that this is not, in fact, and empty apartment as the listing implied, but an apartment inhabited by a reality-TV-watching grandmotherly Italian woman named Linda.  However, she seemed happy enough to see us and, after showing us our room, directed us to the kitchen so we could cook up those vegetables from the market in Bologna for dinner.  I was able to provide translations between her and Ellie, so the conversation went relatively smoothly.  As she was showing us around, the boys finally arrived and joined us in the kitchen.  Linda resumed her reality-TV watching while we chopped vegetables.

Then she came back into the kitchen.

"How many of you are sleeping here?" she asked.
"All of us," I replied.

This was apparently a problem.

After a long (confusingly translated) conversation and several international phone calls to the British woman in charge of the on-line listings and reservations, it became clear that while Ellie had made a reservation for three with the understanding (she thought) that there might be a fourth for the empty Rialto apartment, there had been a mix-up of some sort and the four of us had ended up in Linda's spare room.  To further complicate matters, Linda had been informed that the reservation was only for two.  Yikes!

After a bit of begging and offering to sleep on the floor (keep in mind, it was already past 9pm by this point), we agreed to finish making dinner (which had been simmering away on the stove this whole time) and leave.

This dinner was one of the more hilariously (in hindsight) uncomfortable experiences of my life.  Since we had been unpleasantly distracted throughout most of the cooking process, the pasta was overcooked, the carrots were undercooked, and there was not enough sauce.  Still, we ate as quickly as possible while trying to keep the nervous giggling to a minimum since Linda was standing over us banging pots around in the sink as she did our dishes.  After refusing to let us do out dishes, Linda then stood at the door as we gathered our things and ushered us down the stairs to a chorus of mumbled "ci dispiace"s ("we're sorry"s).

So we stood there on the street, absorbed the fact that we had just entered an elderly woman's home, cooked dinner in her kitchen, and left, and considered the fact that we were now on the streets of Venice at 10pm with nowhere to stay.  Parker and Cory had called all of the hostel numbers in their guidebook, but all were either full or no longer answering phones.  So, we wandered.  And wandered.  And wandered.

After some time, we found an (exorbitantly expensive) internet cafe, where we quickly searched for more hostels in the area.  None of the phone numbers we tried worked, but at least this time we had addresses.  Armed with this list and our free map, we struck off in search of the B&B Rota.  Due to the narrow windiness of the Venetian alleys, the dark, and the absurdly tiny size of the hostel's sign (it was, no exaggeration, about half the size of a postcard), it took us some time to find said B&B.  When we finally did find it, we rang the bell...and received no answer.  So we rang again.  This time a suspicious face appeared in the window.  Apparently the four of us with our backpacks didn't look too disreputable, so he opened the door.  "He" turned out to be a German backpacker staying at the hostel.  He also didn't speak much English, but managed to convey that the receptionist was mysteriously missing.  Fortunately, he let us in anyway and the four of us sat in the hallway of the hostel for approximately 45 minutes eating apples and sandwiches and wondering how long we should wait and what we could possibly do other than wait.  After about 45 minutes a man walks in, looks at us all sitting there with our packs, and, without batting an eye, asks how long we've been waiting.

Not only were we able to get a nice room for four right off of the kitchen, but we also got a tour of the entire hostel (for rather obscure reasons) and cookies!  So, all in all, not a bad night.  Walking around a deserted Venice at night was incredible, and we got some great pictures.

The Grand Canal by night.

The next day we spent the morning wandering around the city some more.  Venice is a completely different place by day than it is by night.  I LOVED walking around the empty nighttime Venice.  It was beautiful and, other than being slightly deserted, felt like a real place.  However, the daytime was horrendous.  The city was obviously still incredibly beautiful and even more incredible to think about (especially considering its past), but it was impossible to escape from the tragic theme-parkification.  La Basilica di San Marco had ropes strung up ushering lines of visitors through (it felt like being in line at Disneyland), and the Bridge of Signs is apparently now sponsored by Toyota.  I wish I had been able to see Venice at least a hundred years ago, and while I was there I just couldn't keep from being distracted by a feeling of something precious having been irrevocably lost.  Really, the only word that can sum up the situation is tragic.

This makes me lose a little of my faith in humanity.

Fortunately, the rampant tourism has not yet completely destroyed Venice's underlying charm.  Here are a few (more uplifting) pictures as a reminder of why people go to Venice in the first place.

Small bridge near our hostel.

Ok Parker, I admit it.
Venetian canals DO beat the one in Bologna.

The Grand Canal by day. 

A rather over-exposed Parker and I.

Gondolas in which we did not ride.

Italian flag made of laundry!

Someone rather helpfully wrote the direction to
San Marco on almost every wall in the area.

Even the graffiti in Venice is directed at the turisti!

The whole crew.
Ellie, Corey, Parker, and I.

View from the bridge leading to the train station.

One of my favorite things in Venice, other than some of the views, was the fish market, because it seemed like a part of the city that was still living.  I also very much enjoyed taking pictures of all the slimy sea creatures.

After we had had enough of Veniceland we hopped back on the train to Bologna, making a quick stop off in Padova to visit Genna.  Back in Bologna we made dinner and walked around the city a bit.  The next day involved some more serious exploration, as we headed outside of the walls to check out Blu's murals at XM.  We even found a few more that I hadn't previously known about on our walk back towards centro!

Parker admiring some large-scale street art.

After all that hiking around la periferia (the periphery), we grabbed some falafel from my favorite kebab place and sat on what I like to think of as "the beach" a.k.a. Piazza Verdi, the major student hang-out in the city.

The Opera House.
"Un popolo senza teatro è un popolo morto."
("A people without theatre is a dead people.")
-Federico García Lorca

Just the usual.

Parker and I chatting with my friend Vittorio.

That night we headed back up to XM for a "concert," which turned out to be a screening of a 1911 silent film version of Dante's Inferno accompanied by an experimental jazz quintet.  It was completely unexpected ("imprevisto" is becoming a bit of a buzzword in my life these days...), but incredible nonetheless.  I would highly recommend the film if you ever happen to come across it.

The next day Parker, Ellie, and Cory left Bologna for Florence.  After leaving them at the train station I headed over the Questura (an immigration office) to (finally) pick up my official permesso di soggiorno (permission to live in Italy...which is apparently not granted by a visa alone).  So I'm finally officially living in Italy legally and have the card to prove it!

Whew.  That was quite the post.  Props if you made it this far!  Here's a reward: an awesome music video to a song that you cannot move without hearing most places in Bologna.

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