Celtic Illumination, part 137, Salvatore, Casanova and me.
I followed Carol and Karen, but mostly Carol as she knew where she was going. I was mesmerised with the way the buildings were hobbled together and how the arches and paths seemed to get narrower the further we walked. In fact it made me think of Alice in Wonderland. We were welcomed into a house and it was all very Italian. Lots of hellos, and hand gestures, and hugs, and smiles, and pleasantries. We were shown a room and the bags were dumped on the floor.
From the way people spoke, and reacted, I assumed that I had been relegated to bag carrier. We had a light lunch and then Carol asked me what I wanted to do, as she and Karen were going to see the shops. I explained that I wanted to see the real Venice and I think this was explained to the family. I could tell from the positive gestures that something had been organised. Carol explained that Salvatore would be along and he would take me on a tour of Venice. She then left, with Karen.
I did feel quite odd not being able to communicate with these people but after about twenty minutes Salvatore came in. He was about thirty years of age and wasn’t smiling. I immediately felt that I had inconvenienced him and felt terrible for the imposition. Salvatore indicated that I should follow him and I did. We went outside and started to introduce ourselves to each other. His gruffness began to subside and Salvatore began to talk soccer. I think I must have been a huge disappointment for him for I knew nothing about soccer.
We walked for a while till we came to a small bar and we stopped for a beer. Salvatore spoke reasonably good English, much better than any Italian I could muster. He asked me what I would like to see and I explained that I wanted to know about Venice. How were the bins emptied, did the postmen wear scuba gear? For some reason Salvatore seemed to understand what I was interested in and began to show me Venice. I would point to something and he would explain in detail what, why, when and wherefore.
There are lots of little courtyards in Venice and as we passed through one I explained that I was pleased with their symmetry and the way the rain gutters ran into the street and the fountains. Salvatore then explained to me that these were not cosmetic structures but practical. He showed me how each courtyard was actually designed to collect rain water into a main tank. Something I had never thought about, I mean yeah they were surrounded by water, but it was salt water. We came across a section of canal that was being repaired and Salvatore was able to show me the inner workings of the canal system.
When we got back to the house that evening I was so excited. I had learned so much about Venice. It was as if Venice was some sort of magic show and Salvatore had shown me behind the mirrors. I was starting to see how the city worked and was so happy. The next day Salvatore and I set off early he introduced me to the Vaporetto, the water bus service, where I discovered that for a few pence I could travel the length and breath of the Grand Canal as many times as I wanted. I was quite happy to stay on the boats and simply steam around Venice, like a dog with its head hanging out of a car window, but there was more Salvatore had friends, many, many, friends.
Salvatore seemed to know everyone in Venice and I felt as If I was a guest and not a tourist. I don’t know how Salvatore introduced me, perhaps he was saying here is a crazy Irishman smile at him please or he will do something embarrassing, but everyone was most welcoming and friendly. We didn’t have to queue for anything or wait for service. In fact I managed to have my coffee in Saint Marks square with my good friend Salvatore and we did watch the world pass us by. It was his city and he was so relaxed and comfortable, it was an honour to have him share it with me.
He took me into the Doges Palace and I think we went through the staff door. He showed me around and seemed to be quite knowledgeable about the art works and history of the building. He spoke of the artists as if they were old friends or neighbours. He even showed me a section of the palace and explained that Casanovo had been imprisoned there. I was so excited for Casanovo was such a hero of mine. Not because he was rumoured to have been a womaniser but because he was an adventurer. He was also a writer and produced a highly documented account of his life where, admittedly, he did go into detail about his many lady friends.
I couldn’t imagine someone sitting down and writing about their adventures for all to read. I mean can you imagine trying to explain, to a stranger, your ham fisted attempts at relationships or cock ups you had made on your travels. To write about all his feelings and failures too, he must have been some fellow. There was a good chance that I was going into cultural overload as the art works were blurring into each other so Salvatore took me away. We walked through tourist free streets and alongside small canals. We passed through numerous courtyards which seemed to have been placed in time warps and then Salvatore stood and pointed, across a canal, at a house.
“Tintoretto,” he said, as if I should have known what he meant. I shook my head and Salvatore began to explain. This was the house where the artist Tintoretto lived, the fellow who had produced some of the paintings I had just been looking at in the Doges Palace. I smiled, for Salvatore had found the vein. He had connected the old, the new, the historical and the fanciful, for Tintoretto wasn’t some dusty old painter anymore, he was a neighbour, he was someone Salvatore knew. In fact it felt as if we could have sat down and waited for him to come out for a stroll.
But there was more, for we were now in the Jewish ghetto and I really hoped I would meet Shylock. There were markets and shops and cafes. It was magical. As we went home that evening I knew I could never thank Salvatore enough for what he had shown me. I was exhausted but so happy. Carol and Karen were talking about some handbag they had seen. I jumped at the chance when Salvatore suggested we go to the local bar to watch the football rather than have to sit and listen to tales of extreme window shopping.
It was as I was going out the door that Carol spoke to me. “Don’t be late,” she said. “Yeah,” said Karen, clearly excited. “We’re going to Trento tomorrow.” “Trento?” I asked, knowing that that is where Carol lived. “Yes,” said Karen. “We’re going to stay with Carol for a while. It’s her birthday on Friday and her students have planned a big party.” The Italians all shook Carol’s hand and hugged and kissed her while wishing her a happy birthday for the Friday. I said nothing; it might have been my birthday on Friday too, but Salvatore’s tour had been the best birthday present I could ever hope to receive.