Day 21

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, June 20, 2007 8:55 AM

6-15-07

CT 6:21
IT 1:21


Venetian Labyrinth and the Sick Whit-Whit

My first day in Venice! So much to tell.

This morning we met at the train station at 8:15 for our 8:37 departure. On the way there, my alarm that I had snoozed and reset continuously started going off in the side pocket of my backpack. I reached around to get it and fumbled it – right onto the pavement. The screen is all blank except for the time and weird strips of LCD. I didn’t let it slow me down (I remembered putting insurance on it) – I was off to Venice.

On the train I rode with Halley, Caitlin, and Kim on my side of the aisle and Rachel, Kara, Megan, and Kate on the other side. We talked initially, but one by one sleep took hold of us until even I had to give in. It was so uncomfortable to sleep that way, as the seats don’t recline, and we all woke up not too long after we had started. We tried to play a game of Spades before we made it to the right Venice train station, but we didn’t have enough time.

When we first stepped out of the train station, I was taken by a smidge of awe. Right before us was our first Venetian waterway. Private boats, water taxis (like regular taxis but with higher fees and… in the water), vaparettos (water buses), and gondolas all converging in some strange superhighway. I got even more excited, but in a weird dreamy way.

Dr. Bane told us about our options for vaparetto passes to get back and forth from our hotel island, Lido. It would cost 30 Euro for a 72 hr. pass that would expire the day after we left, but it would cost 25 Euro for a 48 hr. pass that would expire three hours before we left on Sunday. We decided to wait a few hours and then get the 48 hr. pass and save 5 Euro. We traveled down the first of many winding streets, looking for a place to eat because we were so hungry. Paulette explained to one of the waiters that tried to stop us that we were all poor students. The guy decided to cut us a deal for 10 Euro a person – drink and pasta or pizza. We jumped on it (as it usually turns out to be that much after we split a check), and found out we were perhaps mistaken. Those who had ordered pasta were especially disappointed as it was most certainly a “European portion.” My pizza was bigger but not nearly as big as some I’ve seen. It wasn’t even very spicy for a “Diavolo” pizza, but it was still good. I drank water, so I didn’t get the 10 Euro worth in my opinion.

Afterwards we found 1 Euro gelato and ate it while we watched the pigeons be pigeons. Dr. Bane came and got us after he and Paulette had finished eating dinner. While we were waiting on them, the few art people that had come called us and said that there reservations had been cancelled for some reason and they would probably need a place to stay. I immediately said no, because, as will be seen, I was already thinking about smuggling in two people. We all headed back to the booth, only to find out that we could get a student discount, but that we would have to wait another 45 minutes for that ticket booth to open. It would be the 72 hr for 22 Euro. We all decided to wait the 45 minutes for the 3 Euro difference (counting it in gelatos, of course). I sat on the steps of the train station while others went and shopped. After 2:00, we all met back and waited for the office to open at 2:15. Since we were going to try and sneak people in (Kim and Caitlin with me, Halley and Natalie with Rachel), we had to go together to establish a plan. We all jumped on the vaparetto, not knowing when more water buses would run for Lido island. We made it with less than a minute to spare.

Thus our first look at Venezia began. It was so fascinating to see how steps that used to be above water were now well below, and how doors that had once been portals into houses and shops were now eaten away by the all-consuming Adriatic Sea. There was no mercy for finer art either, as some of the most historic buildings that we passed had two and three steps under water – and that was what we could see from a boat. It was insane and odd to see, but so beautiful.

When we finally got to Lido, we had to pow-wow about who was staying with whom. Halley, Kim, Natalie, and Caitlin hadn’t made reservations, so Rachel and I were going to smuggle two in at each hotel. However, Dr. Bane was able to make a deal for 50 Euro a night for two of them to stay in an extra room at his bed and breakfast (it was more like a condo). Caitlin and Kim, the two that would have stayed with me, took the offer. In the meantime, Rachel was searching frantically for her phone – then we found out she had lost it. Halley and Natalie stayed with her, and I started off toward my hotel. There was a sign nearby that had nearly all of the hotels on the island on it, and it said mine was straight ahead. Dr. Bane had told it was a small island, so I walked. How far could it be?

It actually ended up being 30-45 minutes of walking for me to get there. We had been let off at Santa Maria Elisabetta, and I had to get to the very end of Via Lepanto for my hotel. The way I went turned out to be the longest way I could have possibly gone, but that’s what I get for following the sign. I was fine with it because I got to see a good portion of Lido on “walking tour.” It was so quiet. The loudest sound I heard on my walk (besides people) was a bicycle’s tires on the pavement. That’s it. That’s why the city is called Venezia Serenissima (lit. “Very Serene Venice”). The address for the Hotel Meridiana was 45 Lepanto, which seems like it wouldn’t be very far away. Turns out that all of the buildings on Lepanto at least are numbered with letters (i.e. 33a, 33b, 33c, 33d). When I finally made it to the hotel (which happened to be the very last building on the street), I felt a mix of disappointment and relief that it was all over. But the day was getting hot very fast, so I headed in anyway.

Check-in was rather uneventful. She asked for my passport as collateral for the key, but I shook my head. They’ve put the fear of God in me about these passports. She took my license instead, which was just fine with me. She told me “down the corridor, 3rd floor” for my room no. 35. I went down the first corridor and up to the third floor without even looking at the numbers. When I got up there, all of the doors were numbered in the 20s. I looked at the key, then back at the doors. Key. Doors. Then I thought, “Oh, maybe she meant what the 3rd floor would be in America,” (if you didn’t know, the floor you walk to from outside is usually ground floor or Floor 0 in Europe). So I went back down from what could have possibly been the 4th floor to the 3rd floor. Those numbers were in the teens. I was getting really frustrated, but then I remembered at the Hotel Tiziano in Rome that the first floor that had rooms was numbered in the 600s. Maybe the first room floor was actually numbered as the highest. Proud at my pulling of information from my experiences here, I went down to the first floor and saw single digit numbers.

Aggravated to no end, I went back up to the third floor (the European one – 3rd piano in Italian) and tried room 25, hoping that it was just a typo. No luck. Then I went back down to the second floor and tried 15. Then the first and tried 5. I was at an utter and complete loss of what to do. I went up and down the stair cases a couple more times before I swallowed my pride and stupidity to go ask. When I got down to the ground floor, I looked next to the stair case that I had just come down and saw another corridor. I went to this area and traveled down a few corridors until I found another staircase. Figuring why not, I went up to the first floor. Sure enough, there were more numbers. I kept climbing and got to the third floor. A man was there, singing in Italian and fixing something around the ceiling. I excused myself by him and his ladder, then had to excuse myself back through. There was no 35. The last number was 34. I had been so absorbed in finally getting to the third floor that I had totally ignored that there was another section of stair case, which spiraled up. Suspicious, I went up the staircase. Sitting at the top, as pretty as you please, was number 35. I was on the fourth piano – the one that didn’t exist in the other part of the hotel. After about 10 minutes of struggling to open the door, I burst through exhausted. Thus began my stay at the Hotel California.

I called Dr. Bane (I only had to push down because his was the first in my phone book) and he told me to meet them where we had been dropped off, but that I could use the bus because the vaparetto passes included bus fare. So I asked where the nearest bus stop was (Via Sandro Gallo) and hit that mother up. The bus that came just happened to be the Circulolare or something to that effect, and it made (*gasp*) a circle around the island back to S.M.E. I hopped on, started reading Italo Calvino for class (I was trying to impress the Italians that I was reading one of their major authors), and rode straight to the S.M.E. Dr. Bane was there with crew in tow, but Rachel and Halley were gone to go get something of Rachel’s. Because one of them had forgotten something, we missed the boat and had to wait 30 minutes for another one. Dr. Bane was not happy.

Anyway, the boat ride back over was rather uneventful. Dr. Bane told me about the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which is the oldest in the world, and that he would take whoever wanted to go. I was all for it (of course), so we made tentative plans to go on Saturday. When we got back to Venice, we went straight to the most romantic spot in the world – St. Mark’s Square (or Piazza San Marco – the only piazza in Venice, actually). It was still daytime, but Dr. Bane said that at night there are string quartets and bands playing all around the square and they light the whole thing with soft white light. He also said that’s where he proposed to Paulette (which everyone AWWed at). The other thing St. Mark’s is known for is the pigeons. There are those places in major cities across the world where feeding pigeons is entertainment. This was where the pigeons would fly into the hand to eat corn. It was awesome. Though I think pigeons are freaky-looking birds (red eyes?), I was excited to be able to feed them. They don’t hurt because they want yellow stuff not pink (that’s the scientific explanation – ask the people with blond hair how much fun it was and they’ll give you a different answer).

How to get a bird in the hand (or even five, as we were soon to see):

1. Put corn into both hands.
2. Shake hands to let a little corn out so they birds know that you have some.
3. Wait patiently.
4. Don’t scream when they land on you. Apparently this is harder than it sounds. I witnessed those with difficulty.
5. If you want them to leave, do a “falconer”: move your hand down and then thrust it upward. The bird will get the hint and flap its wings. I say flap because the damn things were so fat they couldn’t fly but a few feet.

We all fed the pigeons and had little red marks on our arms from the bird claws, but they went away within the hour. There were literally thousands of birds in the square. It was so odd but very awesome.

After St. Mark’s we decided to go find something to eat. Dr. Bane led us as usual, but this time we found ourselves lost within the first few turns. We got to see the Rialto Bridge and do some window shopping, but we weren’t meaning to sightsee. We were trying to find a restaurant that was cheap, but none of them fit the bill. We had already spent 10 Euro, so it felt stupid to spend more than 20 on two meals when we had stuff at home. Paulette really needed to eat, so we finally found a place with decent prices. Paulette and I were discussing Italian cuisine, and she said Venice’s specialty would have something to do with seafood. So I got the seafood pizza (Frutti de Mare). For your own safety, do not do this. Paulette ordered pasta with black sauce. Afterwards, she was wondering what it was and I quoted Cooking Mama’s Cookoff, where black sauce was squid ink. She nearly hurled right then and there, waved the waiter over, and changed her order. I should have done the same.

The pizza came and I’m surprised every bit of seafood wasn’t walking or crawling off of my plate. The clams and mussels came still in the shell but baked into the pizza, along with shrimp and calamari (evident by tentacles). It was the Pizza from Hell, and I had to eat it or I would waste nearly 12 Euro. So I began by digging all that I could out of the shells and putting those aside. I then bent over the pizza to eat it, but found I couldn’t breathe in the fumes or it would make me sick. That many pieces of seafood are not meant to mix, I soon found out.

I ate most of the pizza, but I couldn’t a) look at the pizza, b) smell the pizza, or c) eat the pizza properly (I had to role up the pieces so I didn’t see what I was eating). I should have taken those three signs as divine intervention, but I could not manage to convince myself not to eat it because of the money. Anyway, my meal came out to 20 Euro, which is about 30 USD (it doesn’t take much to spend all your money here). I felt fine when we left, but soon my body retaliated with a vengeance.

Everyone else wanted dessert. I agreed to walk with them, but as we were walking I started feeling sick. When we sat down at the table, I wasn’t even able to look at food. At this point my stomach wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t enjoyable either. After everyone ate dessert, we left for St. Mark’s and the vaparetto dock. By this time, I’m getting extremely sick and don’t know how long I can keep walking. I tried to sit down, but my stomach fought me. I was reduced to pacing in a circle, never stopping. My entire chest cavity felt like a swirling mass of sick, but I wanted to wait. Maybe I could get back in time. We walked through St. Mark’s at its most romantic, lights turned on and five or six string quartets playing different pieces in this beautifully dissonant swirl of sound, but I couldn’t stop and listen.

We found out the bus was going to a place called Lido Casino. None of us knew where it was. It was deemed too far from where most of us lived, so we didn’t take it. And it was another hour at that dock for one going to Lido S.M.E. I could not wait an hour. I still didn’t know if the mass was going to go up or down, but I knew I had to find a bathroom or I was literally going to die, or a facsimile thereof.

While we were still trying to figure out where to go, a lady in the square pulled out a mouse marionette and was making it dance to music. She made it dance really well to techno music, but then played Sinatra’s “Amore” and made him dance to that. It was really cute, and I got video of it even though I was, again, dying. I heard Paulette ask where everyone was, and I pointed behind me. I thought all of us were watching the puppet, but when I looked up, everyone was gone. I looked both ways up the dock and didn’t see a single soul I knew. I was extremely upset and didn’t know what else to do, so I went to a restaurant and said, “Table for one. Do’ve bagno?”

When I came back from the bathroom, I was still not feeling much better. I had to order something, though. So I chose to get what the waiter called a mousse (it was a flan, the filthy liar) and a water, thinking I might need it. I couldn’t finish the dessert or the water. I got the check and it was 10 Euro. I left the water 1.50 because he had to wait on me. What does that mean? I spent 12 Euro to use a bathroom.

I used it again before I left (on principle – I had just paid a small fortune to do so) and headed back to the dock. It still said Lido Casino and the boat was going to be there in less than 10 minutes. I decided to risk it, hoping the Lido meant that I would at least be on the right island, and hoped that I was going to be okay.

When we pulled up to Lido Casino, I looked at my map and found out that I was less than two blocks away from my hotel. I could have gotten back with no problem whatsoever over an hour beforehand. I went in the door at the hotel and the clerk stopped me. With his broken English, the following conversation too place.

“Ah! You!” I come over to the desk.
“Yes?”
“Ehhhhh… They call for you!’
“Who called for me?”
“I donno. But they call.”
“Okay…”
“Ehhh… sign here.” I sign and he gets frustrated. “No! Here too!” I sign twice and he gives me back my license.
“Thanks…”
“They look for you!”

It was obvious who had called, but I was confused on how they found my hotel. So I hurried as fast as I could and called Dr. Bane. He answered with, “Where have you been?” I explained that I was back at the hotel and that I got sick. He said that they were on their way to go file a police report, Paulette was crying, everyone thought I was sick, dead, or mugged. I was surprised that had called my parents to say I was MIA.

Dr. Bane explained that while we were all watching the puppet, Paulette had come back to say that she had found us a boat that would go back to Lido S.M.E. Dr. Bane had called her over and Paulette had gone, thinking I was behind her. When they realized I wasn’t with them, they went to find me and couldn’t. They went all over Venice and were about to go file a police report with the Carabinieri near the dock when I called. He said that they called everyone trying to find out where I was staying and the best anyone came up with was “Mariana.” They called Jennifer Rospert, one of the art professors who went to Venice, and she got a phonebook. The closest one was Meridiana, so they called and the clerk wasn’t very helpful. I then told him what I had done, and Dr. Bane handed the phone to an upset Paulette so I could tell her I was okay but sick. We wished each other goodnight, I apologized, and hung up.

I decided to go take a shower because I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed. I turned on the TV to “7 GOLD” beforehand. When I came back in, there were nude people on my screen. My first thought was, “Oh my God, I’m paying for this.” But then I realized there were no nude men, and only topless woman – which is classified as “partial nudity.” Then I realized it wasn’t pay-per-view or anything like that, but a really cheesy, over-the-top, poor quality, Lifetime-esque early 90s movie in Italian. When I realized all of this, I decided to watch anyway – simply because you would never see anything like that on American television. The plotline was great, too: a woman seduces a man into a life of sultry and sordid sexual escapades. She even convinces him to invite another woman into their bed. However, for everything she did for him, she made him do spectacularly uncharacteristic things of this upper-middle class businessman: steal from a jewelry store, fence the same jewelry at a clandestine location, and agree to help her out when she needed it. When they guy goes to fence the jewels, he has a quick interlude with the female fence, and his girlfriend goes haywire (since she was waiting in the car the entire time). Anyway, it turns out that the guy’s crazy girlfriend is not just schizo (he looks it up in a medical dictionary, so I, the viewer, could understand his thoughts) but a witch as well, and she had murdered the girl that she and the guy had slept with. She finds out he knows, ties him up, punches him in the shoulder and the groin with a sharpened stiletto and beats him with a fireplace poker. He gets loose from the ties and has a fight with her. There’s a knife involved, the guy gets stabbed in the shoulder, they tango out to the balcony, he screams for help (a woman who wants to be involved with him suspects something when he doesn’t show up for work or some such nonsense, and calls the police over there), the girl comes after him, and he launches her off the balcony. In a cheesy three cut sequence, we see her begin to fall, a body falling through mid-air, and a body on the ground. Then the movie ends.

I said long-story short, and I only lied a bit. I left out lots of juicy details. But yeah, it was one of those movies that simply watching and not knowing the language told you as much or more than the dialogue would have. I even forgot I was watching in Italian once or twice.

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