With my suitcase rumbling against the cobblestones behind me, we darted through the darkness of hidden alleyways, crossed time-worn bridges and passed glittering canals. Little did I know that Venice already had me under its spell.
A good luck kiss, a flick of a wrist and my application letter to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection was Venice-bound. I told myself it was up to Italy now--the land of pizza, pasta, wine and disgustingly good art--to decide whether I was worthy enough of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Ninety days later, the heavens aligned. I was moving to Venice for three months to be an intern at one of the world’s most beloved museums. No matter how hard I tried, it never sunk in. Me: someone who had learned to love art only through yellowing old textbook images would soon be a mere 30 centimetres away from a real Picasso.
I arrived in Venice in the early hours of the morning where Enrico, my flatmate-to-be, was standing in the middle of Piazzale Roma to ensure I didn’t miss him. Beyond this busy square of buses, taxis and street merchants selling kitsch souvenirs, I finally saw glimpses of the city that I had dreamt about endlessly. With my suitcase rumbling against the cobblestones behind me, we darted through the darkness of hidden alleyways, crossed time-worn bridges and passed glittering canals. Little did I know that Venice already had me under its spell.
I’ll never forget the moment I opened the curtains of my bedroom the next morning. Looking across the canal outside my apartment, I saw the terracotta hues of Venetian palazzos with their oriental façades peeking through the morning mist with the inhabitants’ washing strung against them. I laughed to myself wondering how a stranger’s straggly underwear could look so photogenic. I tucked my camera in my coat pocket and set off to explore the big unknown before me. In hindsight, I probably should’ve taken a map that first morning. I got lost--so lost. I think I walked past the same pharmacy about 20 times in an attempt to find St. Mark’s Square.
Besides working in the museum by day and drinking Aperol Spritz in the bars at night, walking the streets and ultimately getting lost was what I seemed to do most of all. It became a ritual on my days off. I would drink my morning espresso and spend the day meandering the never-ending fondamente and calle. For me, it was a way of discovering the ‘real Venice’--something which is sadly becoming a thing of the past--and I saw so much by simply wandering around. I stumbled upon a library which stored all of its books in gondolas so that they would stay dry if acqua alta were to occur. I explored the Jewish Ghetto--full of graffiti on 15th-century buildings. I discovered a pottery studio where the artist made glazes from gold leaf. I found a cult-status bakery that made way too many delicious pastries for my own good.
It soon became a joke between us fellow interns. We’d ask, ‘How many times did you get lost today?’, and we’d say something along the lines of ‘Oh, only about 5,234 times.’ One wrong turn of an alleyway and you were done for. I remember we were having a dinner party one night, and we couldn’t even find the way of getting to the supermarket right behind us.
Even after living in Venice for three months, I got lost on the way to the airport. My suitcase filled up with countless new pairs of leather boots, old books and art prints that weighed a ton, so I tried to plan a new route which involved walking over fewer bridges. My friend and I laughed and laughed because even though we were quasi-locals at this point, we still had to shamefully pull a map out to redirect us. I concluded it was a way of Venice saying that I shouldn’t leave. I should just stay there forever and keep getting lost in its wonder.
When I returned home, people would always ask me what it was like living in Venice. I’d say that it felt like I got up every morning, but I never woke up from one long, continuous dream. Everything about that city was other-worldly: the morning fog that made everything seem mysterious, the intricate web of old squares I had to pass through on my daily commute, the out-of-this-world art I saw during my time there... I wonder now because it felt like an endless fantasy, was I actually sleepwalking those streets all along?
Until we meet again, Venice, you’re still always in my dreams. I’m forever spellbound by your majesty.
Author - Jodie Botica
Jodie Botica is from Stuttgart, Germany. She is a German/Serbian/Kiwi twenty-something who loves art, culture and spending quality time in each city she visits.