Venice Revisited

There are places that a camera simply can’t go, sensations impossible to capture, moments never meant to be preserved except in the capricious synapses of memory and in stories, which hang like thin wisps of smoke after they’re spoken.

How else to capture the deep, growling laughter of long-lost friends, Klevis and Denis, the brush of their freshly-shaven cheeks during hello kisses, the flush of reconnection that suddenly blooms from a dormant wish held static for months by continents and oceans? Those delicate joys don’t flower on film, but appear as simple happiness: common and absent their full weight of magic and significance.

Photos can’t readily describe the depth of experience in the path from Campo S. Stefano to Campo S. Margherita — the colors and window shapes of each building, Africans selling Fendi bags on blankets, the crush of couples making the evening passagiata, the path over the Accademia bridge, and its splintering heft, which feels both formidable and fragile with each step.

Carafes of spritz might look like any happy hour with cheerful orange slices, speared green olives and dishes of potato chips, rather than a reunion or a thanksgiving for temperate blue skies and lighthearted conversation, the kind the Italians describe as buffo.

Only the power of story comes close to commemorating and communicating the details, like learning the difference between nave and barca because you were invited to clamber inside a small motor craft that makes its way past golden palazzi on the Grand Canal.

The captured proof of that experience is only a collection of pixels dominated by blues and blacks cut with twinkling yellow lamps and day’s last light shimmering white on the water — a slice of time that suggests that there was once an evening boat ride in Venice, rather than revealing how rare the opportunity is to be so close to the lagoon without the press of tourists, the jarring clunk of a vaporetto against the dock, or the swooning call of “O Sole Mio” from a gondolier.

Into the evening and the night, no machine can describe with justice the warm, familiar feeling when hands and arms entwine or when restaurants appear around unlikely corners, blooming with spaghetti con vongole, shrimp scampi, and white tablecloths. …Or what it feels like to press a scuffed metal button that opens a secret portal into an underground club where American dance music thumps behind what seemed from the outside to be a random door in a shadowy alley in the midst of a maze, closed for the evening.

Those moments appear on film like dinner and after-hours dancing with drinks in plastic cups, throngs of German tourists, and aged, tanned bar maids who lay out on the spiaggia at Lido every chance they get, their shocking platinum hair in contrast with their fleshy, bronze shoulders.

Likewise, pizzas rolled into heavenly sandwiches called involtini look like late-night food held in crisp white paper, easily transported over the Rialto to a non-descript palazzo. Beyond that slice of imagery, they are a 2 am snack that lasts until 2 in the afternoon through hours of conversation and cigarettes, cat naps and early morning restoration work that jars everyone in the house awake, tempered only by rich espresso con zucchero in dainty white ceramic cups.

Then, there are farewells at the vaporetto stop. On film, they look like any type of parting —baci e abbracci— but they are tinged with the sting of departure, the bittersweet realization that there will be no more adventures, two silent waves of contentment — and the quick disintegration of exactly that.

To the viewer, they are just a series of goodbyes in flat light.

Then comes the contemplation of a yellow-blue Venetian haze, the kind that alternates tropic gusts of air, some too cold and others too warm to be comfortable. In that humid miasma, skin sticky with day-old salt, amidst the tinkling of cellphones, of children’s outbursts and bar conversation below, of waiters serving tables saying, “Dimmi,” there is a silence that isn’t particularly sad, but wistful and insular from a small balcony in the Castello Sestiere.

Even in my desire to preserve and share these moments, I think it’s folly to attempt to possess them; no reproductions can do them justice, no arrangement of colors or forms can extoll their tenderness. Better to leave them to the fading nebula of a mind over time, where they’re best recalled when retold to friends across dinner tables decorated with dancing candles and bottles of wine.

Which is why, at each instance when I was tempted to unholster my camera that evening, I didn’t.

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