A curious thing – a writing challenge prompted by this photo:
A task that takes me straight back to my schooldays, and an English lesson that begins silently with a starkly white opening line on a squeaky clean blackboard (such as): Some might call it luck that she had taken a turn down this street.
So this feels like something I’d ask my children to respond to with their youthful and fertile imaginations. But it’s my turn after stumbling across this Creative Writing Ink Prompt … I decide to give it slightly awkward whirl.
Europe comes to mind, and more specifically, Italy. And slowly I return to the last few days of July 2014 and Venice.
Valentina meets us from the vaporetto. The midday sun sits high in the sky above, and our sandalled feet feel the heat rise from the sun-baked paving slabs the instant we step onto terra firma.
Elegantly Venetian in loose-fitting cream, Valentina welcomes us first in Italian and then in perfect English, and invites us to follow her.
She glides along slowly by the water-edged walkway (fondamenta), dips down alleyways (calli) and crosses bridges (ponte). We sweat in tourist shorts and vest tops, trailing heavy bags through this lovely labyrinth. We are aching with thirst. Valentina smiles and assures us our apartment is close by, then sails on, relaxed and unrushed.
Turning a corner into the quiet of a residential fondamenta with a canal so small it’s called a rio, Valentina points up to the balconies that grace our rooms.
An ancient key jangles open the door. My sun-blinded eyes blink to absorb an apartment that seems as old as the city itself. Loftily majestic connecting rooms are centred by a great mahogany dining table that appears to wilfully ignore an antiquated air conditioning unit thrumming with practised purpose.
An easel takes pride of place in one of the children’s bedrooms. The earnest details of its painting are harmless enough, but its sombre presence lingers even after we angle its face away from view at the pleas of our youngest child. He stares at the now obscured painting and the imposing easel on which it rests. I draw him away from its sinister threat, and know we must rehome the painting (and its stand) before bedtime.
My daughter rescues us with a call from the other side of an open glass door. A breeze plays with the sheer curtain framing it, and we hear beautiful shouts of Italian resonating from the boats on the rio. My daughter crouches motionless on a tiny balcony, gazing intently at the everyday life passing her by – water taxis, goods weighing down boats, a mother trying to avoid holding her child’s outstretched hand that is smeared with dripping streaks of chocolate gelato.
Directly opposite, an old lady emerges onto her own balcony, basket in arms. She stretches and shakes each item she’s washed, then pegs it onto an ever extending line.
Our eyes follow the laundry, then drift further to the luminous amber light bathing the bridged gap where our modest rio opens up to the greater width of the Canale delle Giudecca.
Which is about to be swamped.
A sudden skyscraper of a cruise ship muscles its way determinedly, inevitably eclipsing our glorious chink of light, and dwarfing the grand fragility of the old buildings of Venice with its ugly might.
Jarred out of my Italian reverie, I give up the balcony to my awestruck kids. I need a drink.
The kitchen is a surprising 1950s find – tidy and compact with neat curtain-covered shelves, curved coloured glasses, and patterned plates. It’s a study in Italian-style vintage. But best of all is the view.
It’s above the kitchen sink, unavoidable and tantalising. A mere metre from where I stand is the outline of the next door neighbour’s (also) open kitchen window. I glance away, strangely nervous. But I can’t resist firing a proper eyeshot, and see a wooden table laden with the messy remains of a meal, finished up with good Italian coffee (I assume from the aroma). Sing-song voices louden and I duck my head, make mumbled Italian-sounding excuses and dash out of the 1950s.
I check with my youngest that the ship monster is gone, then rejoin him for a rerun of our more authentic taste of Venice.
The old lady’s washing is drying beautifully.
The sights and sounds of Venice are something else. Time to explore some more.
I’m not the only one who’s not so keen on the cruise ships that plague Venice – read more here.
I never knew this before today, but the term terra firma is deeply rooted in Venetian history. Plainly, I misused it.
And I admit that I cheated with the historic English lesson’s opening line. My memory is not that good. Have your own fun here.