Serendipity finds its way though cities in a never-ending ribbon of delightful surprises. For instance, one would never expect to meet a familiar face after 1 am in Piazza Santo Stefano, but it can happen if the stars are aligned.
On our last night in Venezia, as Iole and I stepped arm in arm back to the Hotel Ca’ San Marculoa, we passed a dark-haired young man who gave us a double-take and a wide grin. Walking home from work, Denis greeted us with cheek kisses and easily swept us in the opposite direction for farewell drinks.
After we closed the bar down, we meandered leisurely through the dark alleys, gently lamplit in soft yellow pools, surrounded by a familiar sense of quiet enchantment. There’s another Venezia underneath the one who presents herself during the day for tourists; at night, one finds hidden pockets of life — under bridges, in alleys, beneath arches, flowing through the canals, and in small piazzas where you can stumble on people smoking pot or drinking wine from plastic cups.
Relishing the secret flavor of this last mission, our voices joined others that reverberated off the walls, growing louder and softer we night owls passed each other briefly before continuing on, turning right and left in a great labyrinth.
Like the first night we spent together, Iole, Denis, and I shared beer and cigarettes like old friends. As I held a mouthful of cool, light Italian beer before swallowing it, topics that I have not yet covered in Civita began to play in my mind: I realized that Iole and I were witnessing the interaction of hidden spaces, serendipity, and chance.
…Were it not for a mention from Bonnie last summer, I would never have known of NIAUSI nor applied for this fellowship.
…Were it not for this fellowship journey to Civita, I never would have met Iole.
…Were it not for Iole’s companionship, I would not have traveled from Civita for the Biennale.
…Were it not for a teaching position in Venezia this summer, Iole would not have visited the same bar for her nightly sgroppino (lemon gelato, vodka, prosecco) and met several waiters, including Clevis and Denis.
…Were it not for Clevis and Denis, we would have missed out on a marvelous Never-Never-Land adventure.
The night we arrived, neither Denis nor Clevis were at work; instead, they were at dinner, as Clevis was recuperating from a broken tooth — the result of a punch from an intoxicated tourist. When Clevis learned that Iole was back in town, he invited us to join them for a meal that set the rest of our escapade in motion.
Dinner and several pitchers of vino rosso della casa at Pier Dickens in the Dorsoduro Sestiere were followed by a deliciously long walk to the Cannareggio Sestiere, the location of our hotel. Our trek was further enlivened by Signor Rossi, Iole’s impossibly heavy red rolling suitcase, which earned its name after Denis asked what was inside, and I quipped that we were carrying a man’s body.
Up small bridges and down flights of stairs, Clevis and Denis took turns managing Signor Rossi, whose wheels made loud noises on the stone streets. As we walked, Iole gave us the history of several buildings; as we passed bars, we stopped for drinks, laughing and telling stories in a rapid mixture of English and Italian. Venezia had become our own personal adventure.
Clevis gallantly asked a closing bar if we could use their restroom during one segment of the walk. Later, carabinieri strolled past us as the guys commissioned several chairs that were locked together in order for us to enjoy our beers and cigarettes in a small piazza close to the Rialto. It felt like we had a limitless evening to discover the city together, yet underneath it, we knew that wasn’t true.
We paused at Denis’ jaw-dropping top-floor apartment near the Rialto Bridge overlooking the Grand Canal, where we gained enough strength to finish the walk home after 3 am. Denis and Clevis wouldn’t let us go it alone –especially with the corpulent Senior Rossi in tow– so we set out again together, talking about our lives and bumping into each other in a friendly way, not quite believing how fun we were having as we navigated through the dark city, feeling high on adventure and possibility.
Iole and I felt a revival of that exhilaration before we said goodbye to Denis in the wee hours of September 2. It wasn’t the same without Clevis, but there was still a bit of magic in our meeting. We stopped to talk with a tourist from Cuba who spoke Italian and French, hoping to bum a cigarette, and later met a military brat from California who had rented an apartment on the Grand Canal for several weeks. Upon reaching the piazza near Denis’ house, we hugged him and kissed his cheeks, sad to see the chapter end.
Now just two, Iole and I sighed our way back to the Cannareggio, feeling the pressing decline of our excursion as we paused to photograph ourselves at the railing of the Rialto. Arm in arm again, we reveled at our luck of meeting Denis by chance. We softly agreed at how difficult it would be to return to the world — after all, when one knows that places like Venezia exist, how can there be anything else?
Even after a five-hour train ride back to Civita that afternoon, I still didn’t have an answer. Instead, I chose to remember the warm echo of our collective laughter on old stone arches and the sweet way we fell into each other as we walked, sparks flying. I thought, too, of Denis taking my hand before we separated and giving it a squeeze, fingers pulling together just as we three pulled apart.
As I passed through the Porta S. Maria gate in Civita –with a much lighter Signora Violetta rolling behind me on the cobblestones– I also thought of how serendipitous it would be to meet again.