HAS EVERYTHING ABOUT VENICE TRULY BEEN SAID? EVENING MELANCHOLY IN VENICE. A CITY OF LOVERS. THE WORLD OF THE PROVINCE AND THE MODERN WORLD.
“You want to talk about Venice?” said my friend. “Whatever’s the matter with you?” she added, “when all has been said, and nothing left unsaid! You must be mad!”
But I could remember none of the things that others had said! Arriving in Venice by night, after initial discussion with the station porters, I am guided by one of them who carries my bags to the unassuming house where I have rented a room. The landlady, who knows me vaguely from my brief stay there long ago, is out. A note on the doorbell instructs me to go to the lady next door, who has been given the house keys, and so I find the whole house at my disposal and wander through the empty rooms looking for my bedroom. I find this trust in my discretion moving and totally unexpected at times like these.
I leave the house to make my way to the square, the famous St. Mark’s Square, where the beauty of art and the picturesque setting come together to create one of the most beautiful views in the world. The crowd strolls around as if in some immense hall. As people encounter each other time and again, they seem to form a close mutual relationship. Foreigners mingle with the locals, united by their shared love of the city.
Newly-weds come here on their honeymoon and engaged couples come to spend moments of illusion and how many of them there are! Young students and workers joke with the girls in their company, bound in amorous companionship. I do not know, neither can I imagine, whether their relationships are set become more intimate, but the better-acquainted among them seem to feel no need for it. Their faces have a pleasing look of frivolity. Perhaps they have no real awareness of their own being, but such sweet oblivion is lovely to behold.
I am alone with no friends or girlfriends to keep me company. I think of the others, the many others like me, and the happiness, the dreams of happiness which cannot be mine fill my heart with melancholy. This city is for contemplation. Its beauty and peace invite you to reflect on the ups and downs of life. Whoever starts thinking cannot help but feel melancholy, for I do not believe anyone is wholly content with their lot.
Yet how sweet this melancholy is! You feel it lift you up above life’s wretched concerns, you feel you cannot mix with the oblivious masses of brutish mankind.
At times, such melancholy may become too poignant to bear, or so say many who fear the solitude of their own company. Not I. I almost enjoy it.
My thoughts turn to a courtesan last year, who looked so much like a friend of mine who had gone astray. When I saw her, my heart started beating with love’s tumultuous throb. She was a tall, dark-haired woman, with the face of a fiery she-wolf, lined with sad resolve. I saw her several times, leaving with one of the many friends she spent her time talking to in the square. She noticed me and this time too I saw her brush quickly past people, attempting to attract attention. She scrutinised me and for some reason, though I wanted to see her, I looked away.
This is Venice: a city where a stranger can meet up again years later with a distant acquaintance, knowing nothing about them, yet wanting to see them again! In short, it is a city with a human dimension, where living side by side is not an oppressive burden, providing mutual comfort instead.
I went to the bar to see if the kind girl who had served me so politely was still there. She stood there in front of the steaming coffee machine and seemed not to recognise me. I said nothing, not wanting to force her into telling the lie which I could certainly have got out of her for my own satisfaction, or maybe not. She might have said frankly that she did not remember me, but with such sincere regret that I would not have been hurt, such is the refined candour of manners in this city!
The Venetians go to relax and spend their free time in the small cafés, not even realising they are surrounded by foreign admirers of their city, who feel as if they are at home. Then, late at night, in the narrow alleys, cats take over the city, more numerous than people. Anyone who walks alone, worried about getting lost in the fine labyrinth which winds endlessly through the picturesque semi-darkness that changes the appearance of things here and there, thinks how safe it is in this city, where crime rarely makes its tragic appearance.
At the Lido, the Casino is bright with lights and Christian Dior presents his Paris summer designs to a stylish crowd of men and women with money to spend. The games rooms are filled with the silence that precedes life’s decisive moments. I look on in admiration and do not risk even two hundred liras.
I prefer to return home on the vaporetto, which gives landlubbers a taste of the joys of nautical life. Then, from high up in my lodgings, before I fall asleep, I hear the voices of lovers from a motionless gondola on the canal, singing as if to serenade me too in the cool spring night.
Mario La Cava
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