4 July 2017
The city appeared petite as I flew above it, staring out of the hazy airplane window. I had this feeling of sparking bugs in my stomach, like the fireflies I had seen for the first time at my aunt’s house in New York the previous night. Excitement, I believe is how we would have labeled this emotion. All I wanted to do was crawl out the window and sprout my own wings to get a better view of the painted city. Water crawled like fingers through the beige and green marshes, curious as it interacted with the precise mess of stone in its midst. Its fluid tendrils inspected every corner of Venice’s brick and stucco edges that it could find.
The Colombian woman next to me asked how long I would be staying in Venice. We had bonded during our short flight from Paris over our thrill to be away from our own familiar worlds. She was on vacation, and would be staying on the beaches of Lido, absorbing what sun she could before she returned to her work as a nail technician. With an odd mixture of English and Spanish pushed through the stale airplane air, I told her I would be staying for three weeks in the heart of Venice. She nodded. I stuffed the chocolate fudge brownie the AirFrance crew had given me in my mouth.
Something about chocolate and dreams of adventures through old cities. It was a good afternoon.
I already had my exercise for the day two hours before: running through Charles de Gaulle with my densely packed backpack and purse, passport precariously gripped in hand, desperate to catch my flight to Marco Polo. My flight from JFK had been delayed by an hour and a half, inciting my worry that I would miss the connecting boat ride my university had arranged from Marco Polo to Venice. I had to catch my AirFrance flight.
I had sprinted off the Dreamliner that had shuttled me from JFK, hesitating as I read the signs pointing to the AirFrance terminal. One train and a passport stamp later, I was talking to AirFrance airport attendants in the baggage check section, asking about getting on that connecting flight. I checked the time: 13:30. The plane was gone. I needed to get on a different flight. The last of the four attendants with whom I spoke finally gave me good instructions, directing me to the check-in desks at the far end of the white linoleum gallery. I darted through the rolling bags and clouds of French and got in line.
They put me on the next flight, free of charge. Bless.
I ate my hard-earned French baguette sandwich and chocolate croissant on the floor of my new gate’s waiting area, breathing steadily. I was going to make my boat connection.
After a short flight with wonderful views, a fiasco comprised of a nearly dead phone and trouble finding the Italian woman who was supposed to meet other students and me in the airport, and a cordial meeting with said woman and fellow students, I was bouncing along in the back of a speed boat through the murky marsh water I had admired from above only 45 minutes before.
The city of Venice is an island among many in the marshes on the northeast side of Italy. One bridge connects the city to the mainland, and the only cars and buses in the city are found at the end of this bridge. As such, boats are a necessary part of the city’s function. The city’s public buses are boats, their taxis are speed boats like the one I was riding that sunny afternoon, and their ambulances and trash trucks are boats. Venice is a city of boats and feet. If you do not have a boat and you cannot walk, good luck, buddy. Stairs and wheels do not go well together.
We flew past a few small islands. One of them had tall, red brick walls encompassing its perimeter, punctuated by white Gothic trim, gargoyles, angels, and dark metal gates. I found out later that it was Venice’s cemetery. I wondered how many layers of bodies could be found in its soil’s depths.
The salt air flowed through my nose, the sun warmed my skin, the slap of water against the boat side filled my ears, and my body vibrated in tune with the boat’s motor. My fellow classmates chatted light-heartedly about their journeys and what was to come. The north end of Venice soon emerged before us. Buildings and cobblestone walkways bordered the water, mixtures of beige, off-white, stone-grey, and brick-red hues. It was both exciting and underwhelming. They were just buildings and stones after all, bricks and paint and plaster. Boats of plastic and oil and motors. Water of salt and algae and goodness knows what bacteria. Tangible things.
Magic is not tangible. It is in our minds. It is in the stories we tell, whether out loud or in the whispers of our thoughts. We travel to hear new stories, to find new magic, and to see the magic in our own, familiar stories. My trip to Italy is a story of my search for magic in stones, food, art, and tradition. I hope that you, my reader, find connection with me through this story, and perhaps even an eagerness like mine to find magic of your own.
Until Day 2!