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.