If you want to get lost in Venice, take a left at your hotel. Cross the bridge, but watch out for the couple with limbs intertwined, their beating hearts kept sheltered in one another’s arms. Don’t catch your sandaled foot on the stone step. It is ancient and strong, jutting out to remind you it belongs here, ever-buoyed by the waters, while you are a passing shadow in this city.
Don’t follow the thoroughfare. Instead, slip into the alley so narrow you can touch both walls with outstretched arms. Curve around the buildings and follow your fancy when the way forks this way or that.
Stop for a moment to catch the dripping gelato from your cone. Stop for several to stare at the masks behind reflective glass storefronts.
Press your body against the cool plaster wall as a crowd of camera- and hat-laden wanderers ambles by, chirping in a language you almost recognize but cannot understand.
Push open the shining door of a cafe. Nudge your way to the front of the counter and order a scalding, fresh espresso, a tiny act of rebellion against the damp warmth your forehead. Sample a pizzette too. If you’re lucky, lay claim on an empty stool and rest your feet, the ones you did not prepare for a full day of walking.
But walk is what you will do. Exit the glass box of the bakery and venture forth. Across the Rialto Bridge, through a maze of shuttered pathways, to a little stone peninsula sprouting clusters of teenagers eating sandwiches and drinking red wine. You will stumble on the lip of a flagstone, then right yourself, trailing your fingers along the wall as you walk. Left. Right. Left again.
You will step into a courtyard with a tree. A sign will say “WELCOME to the most beautiful Bookshop in the World.” Inside, patrons will not glance up as you pass through the air, thick with the perfume of yellowing pages. So keep walking, straight thru to the other side, where a staircase of books — their tattered bindings quite worse for the wear — leads to a banister over the next canal. Climb carefully, steadily, to the top and marvel at the worlds you’ve crushed beneath your feet.
Hop down now. The setting sun is golden on the water. The restaurants are open wide, waiters depositing little candles on tiny tables in the tapered streets.
Stop at the one where the maître d’hôtel seems untroubled, light on his feet as he watches you watch him while your companion reads the menu. There is good wine. Local too. There is a charcuterie and pizzas and tiramisu. What more could you want to close this day in the impossible, floating Italian city?
When the strands of twinkling lights illuminate the bottom of your wine glass, the waitress will sidle past with an open bottle. With a splash of red in the bowl and a knowing smile, she will say, “You must have drinks with your dessert.”
When all you’ve left are crumbs, do not ask for the way back to your hotel. Reach for the map in your mind (guidebooks are no good here).
A warning: You will be unsuccessful. You will cross one bridge, then another. Accordion music will entice you down a dark street, which will dead-end at the water. Little waves will lap at the ledge. You will stare mesmerized into the canal until bells of laughter pull your gaze upward, down the waterway to boat-bound revelers transfixed by their gondolier’s song.
You will tread back from where you came. Though you seek your room, you will find yet another square, this one with Hebrew banners flying softly in the breeze. It is quieter. A pigeon will watch you with its eye, wondering how you’ve spilled so far from the crowd.
Gaze around now. You are lost. You have done it. With a surety you’ve drummed up in your wine-softened mind, you stride this way, then that. You slink past the perfumes and masks and shops with little blue-striped dresses that make you smile with memories of seasides and windswept beaches.
You forget your way.
But then, quite suddenly, you join a troupe of holidaymakers. En masse, you wander toward sleep, so sure of yourselves until you burst onto Piazza San Marco. A band strikes up a tune.
Off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see…
Men and women, boys and girls dangle arms round one another’s shoulders. A pair of newlyweds pauses in a pool of lamplight for a picture. The gondoliers gather by the rocking boats and light matches for another cigarette.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end…
Pausing, you look back at your companion and lift your hand. You melt together. Beneath the Doge’s Palace, you two are mirrored, a mirage fragile as glass. But for a moment, at long last, you’ve found your way. Buona notte.