Venice

My time trapped inside a crowd­ed and wet Salzburg hos­tel had tak­en its toll, and, for the first time since leav­ing home, I was spine-quiv­er­ing­ly ill. Which was per­fect tim­ing, real­ly, giv­en that my next des­ti­na­tion was one of the most longed-for of my entire trip…

Shiv­er­ing and splut­ter­ing, I board­ed the train from Salzburg, Venice bound, an oth­er­wise won­der­ful voy­age through pris­tine Aus­tri­an coun­try­side that hap­pi­ly afford­ed one last oppor­tu­ni­ty to be trapped in a con­fined space with mid­dle aged Ger­man hik­ers wear­ing yel­low shorts too small for their five year old grand­chil­dren… Such a beau­ti­ful coun­try, such small shorts.

Venice arrived as promised, or rather, I did, my fever allow­ing me to enjoy an actu­al slow-motion run along the plat­form to greet Tim, who had coor­di­nat­ed his arrival per­fect­ly. Nei­ther of us looked quite the same as when we last met, the night before I fled Syd­ney. I was wear­ing what was left of my Greece and Turkey burn, idly earned on beach and yacht, and he was wear­ing his Thai­land tan, not-so-idly earned in the pur­suit of a bet­ter world, teach­ing Eng­lish to chil­dren. After the eupho­ria of friends reunit­ed, the awful real­i­ty hit. I was not well. And, despite the life-sus­tain­ing delight of my first jour­ney along the Grand Canal, I col­lapsed in a fever­ish pulp on my bed, unable to appre­ci­ate the fact that we were stay­ing min­utes from San Mar­co itself.

“Stend­hal Syn­drome”, named for the author, describes that feel­ing of dizzi­ness one gets from too much sight­see­ing. It essen­tial­ly refers to that com­bi­na­tion of too much cul­tur­al sub­lim­i­ty, mixed with the neg­a­tive health effects of always look­ing up – at sun­sets and cathe­dral roofs and tall women – such as neck strain, reduced blood flow to the brain, and dif­fi­cul­ty appre­ci­at­ing Jack­son Pol­lock. Well, com­bine that with Salzburg Syn­drome, and you have an enter­tain­ing­ly orig­i­nal per­spec­tive of Venice’s trea­sures, and I passed out, or very near­ly, in front of every one of them. For catch­ing me, help­ing me eat, and gen­er­al­ly Flo­rence Nightin­gal­ing, I com­mend poor Tim­moth, and promise to do the same one day.

Appro­pri­ate­ly, the first day I felt well enough to enjoy my morn­ing cof­fee – rather than regur­gi­tate it – coin­cid­ed with one Fes­ti­val di Reden­tore. This time­ly hol­i­day is when Vene­tians com­mem­o­rate the Almighty’s deci­sion to spare them from total Bubon­ic anni­hi­la­tion dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages, but not, unfor­tu­nate­ly, to spare them from bad Frank Sina­tra imper­son­ators, employed by every cafe, bar, and restau­rant from San Mar­co to San­ta Croce to enter­tain cus­tomers with man­gled ren­di­tions of “My Way”, and thus – with­out any trace of irony – cel­e­brate the demise of one rat pack with the abu­sive mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of anoth­er.

The day end­ed just as it should, with the grotesque mar­riage of Ital­ian clas­si­cal music and tech­no beats, boat­loads of Ital­ian week­enders cel­e­brat­ing on the Grand Canal in their boats to strains of “I Will Sur­vive” (per­haps anoth­er Bubon­ic gag?), as fam­i­lies, friends and mis­cel­la­neous oth­ers (such as us) piled into San Mar­co to sit – in our case right in front of the Palaz­zo Ducale – and watch an extra­or­di­nary fire­works dis­play, ignit­ing over the Grand Canal. Just the sort of night one wish­es one had a girl­friend. What I did have, how­ev­er, was Tim, my health, and Frank Sina­tra. Which, in a city like Venice, is more than enough to thank the Redeemer for.

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