Saturday, 13 March 2010
Death in Venice (with apologies to Thomas Mann)
Rosie was tired. She couldn't walk another step. Ben escorted her back to the Hotel room and without more ado she put her feet up, lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. Speaking as if drugged she murmured to Ben.
"You go for another explore if you want to, but I really must rest before dinner."
Ben secretly was quite pleased, he could cover much more ground on his own and they wouldn't be waylaid by the host of souvenir and trinket shops that seemed to be placed there just for Rosie's enjoyment.
It was their second night in Venice and they had both fallen in love with the place for different reasons. Rosie for the charming atmosphere of colourful lanes, bobbing gondolas and the ubiquitous shops. Ben on the other hand was absorbed by the people and the textures of the city. He marvelled at the oily reflections in quiet back street canals, the ancient crumbling facades of villas now long past their prime, and at the Venetians themselves, almost hidden in the crowds of tourists, going about their daily business, artisans at work, stall holders in conversation, and porters and boatmen constantly on the move, shifting the goods, luggage, food, wine and garbage that either had to be borne into the canalled city or borne out again. It was a city where no vehicle could enter and where boats and hand carts carried all. Over the cobbles, over the bridges, over the steps, out the present and into the past.
Ben had already taken a hundred shots on the camera, and he had no intention of stopping now. He slipped out of the hotel again and with his Pentax at the ready, wandered off the main shopping lanes, into the quieter, darker, more mysterious side of Venice. He snapped at the angled alleyways, the street signs, the prowling cats, the iron screens and the anonymous windows. He took pictures of churches, bridges, canal steps, statuettes of saints in niches, pigeons on ledges, and vistas that spoke of the city, its past and its people.
Ben got hopelessly lost. But he reveled in the feeling. It was as though the city was taking him over. He was slowly being absorbed into the paving slabs, the worn masonry, the crumbling tiles. The pastel colours all about him were a reflection of this satisfied feeling. He was really part of Venice.
The evening was drawing in. The shadows cast by the buildings were proving too much for photography. Yet as he turned again in to a another alley he found at it's end an opening that led out onto the smallest of docks off the Grand Canal. The old narrow stone steps, worn by feet for hundreds of years were polished smooth into concave shapes. The water of the canal lapped at the bottom steps and the view of the medieval palaces, lit now by the last light of the setting sun were quickly captured by Ben and stored away. He sat for some minutes on the steps as the darkness enveloped the city on the sea. He breathed in the scent of ocean, the sweet smell of decay in the wet stones and the occasional whiff of diesel smoke from the motorised boats still plying Venice's main thoroughfare.
The sun had set. He got up and turned back to the narrow entrance of the alley. The small courtyard away from the main canal was frightening now. It was gloomy and unfriendly. The interesting shapes of doorways, windows and arches were lost and the colours that gave it a beauty only a short time before were transformed into hideous greys and blues and blacks.
Ben walked warily back to another connecting lane. No warm lights shone in windows, no friendly sounds could be heard. He felt very much alone. Again his path turned and took him to another courtyard, but before he reached it he could hear voices. But the voices were not friendly. There was an argument going on. Ben paused a few feet back from the little square. Two men were there. They shouted. They gesticulated. They pushed at each other. One, a small dark man no more than twenty, was very angry. Ben could just see his black curly hair and the shiny olive skin of his face. He was young and handsome and his dark eyes shone in the remaining light, like fire. The other was an older man. Bigger build and balding. He sneered at the younger one and seemed to taunt him. Ben kept quiet, hoping they would settle it soon, so he could get back to a main route with tourists and lights and shops.
Should he walk by them? Hardly. The little square was so small he would have to brush by one of them, at the very least. He squeezed his body back into a corner to avoid being seen. His anxious breath came out in stifled gasps.
The argument had extended beyond the shoving and pushing. The younger man screamed at the other. Again the older man laughed off the abuse. With that the younger one with a speed that chilled Ben to the bone, drew a knife and lunged at his adversary.
The argument ceased.
The utter quiet of death filled the courtyard stones.
As the older man slumped to the ground the young man held him tight. He eased him down and as the other's life expired he cradled the man's head in his arms. When he was sure that it was all over he laid the body gently onto the flagstones, made a sign of the cross and pocketed his knife. He got up, brushed himself down and looked around before he took his leave. His eyes caught sight of Ben hiding in the alley.
Ben froze. He thought that as a witness he would not be allowed to live. His only escape was to return to the canal and to jump in. The young man studied Ben for barely a second. Took in his camera, his clothes and his fear. Their eyes met. Then slowly he shook his head.
He started to walk briskly away. Just before he disappeared he turned and called out to Ben, "Una bella morte."
'A beautiful death'.
Then he vanished into the night.
(Photo of Venice by Author)