The Grand Old Lady of the Adriatic

Full of tricks, this old girl. Even before you arrive, you are already bound by her demands and caprices. They shall only reach me by boat, she determined, evidently understanding the romantic appeal conveyed by this simple trick. She also insists that you approach her from a certain angle, the light catching her just so during what is a vulnerable moment in the traveller’s suggestible heart. There she sits, devastatingly beautiful, in a pose that is at once demure and provocative, the cityscape equivalent of the Mona Lisa.

She is dressed in the finery designed for her with the natural rhythms of daily life; style and colour coordination cunningly interwoven for maximum visual effect. As well as the long liquid emerald necklace carelessly draped over her body, she is adorned with the treasures created by her many artistic sons. And thus she bloomed like a flower ready for the bees, and after surveying her reflection on the green waters of the Venetian Lagoon and approving of what she saw, she declared: Let them come. And come they did in their droves.

Throughout the centuries, she has ensured that she mingled with the right sort of people: traders and noblemen, powerful families and the clergy. All those years spent in the company of illustrious patrons have given her a charismatic air of intrigue. But all that was a long time ago, in the days when the delicate flower of youth still coloured her soft cheeks. In more recent years, she has had to make do with a different brand of visitor, in unsightly shorts and baseball caps bearing sports logos charging through her streets in a manner which closely resembles a stampede of bulls, digital cameras dangling from their lanyards. But it doesn’t matter to this once high class lady of the night; perhaps not realising that, if anything, her appeal has only increased with age, she decided not to be too picky about the sort of people she receives into her arms – as long as they are capable of keeping her in the manner to which she is accustomed.

And I, who despite being able to see through her array of searing stares and studied gestures of seduction, am no less susceptible to her charms than any other punter. Of course, I fall for the old girl – we all do. I readily surrender my heart and my wallet, throwing money at her with the abandon of a sailor docking at some port after months at sea. But beware: in the morning, still heady with her scent and dishevelled from the previous night’s excesses, and with the insides of your pockets turned out, do not expect her to return your amorous advances – this flighty girl, having hollowed her pound of flesh out of your chest, will have moved on to her next conquest.

Exhausted from all the exertions and expense of getting to know this grand old lady better, I stop on the Rialto Bridge for a contemplative cigarette. I stare out over her liquid emerald necklace, at the tourists trundling back and forth and the bustling industriousness of the Canal, and the pathos of this beautiful old tart hits me. Yesterday I was ready to surrender all my worldly goods and move in with her without a thought for where my next meal would come from. Today I am just another washed-out shipwreck, thinking of a way to avoid the boat that is poised to whisk me away.

I peer behind me at a down-and-out who is sitting on the steps of the bridge. He sits with downcast eyes, smoothing his hair with the last bit of pride that is left in him. Propped up against him is a sign with a message in Italian: no home, no family. please help. Clearly another soul loved and rejected by this fickle lady, hollow-chested and unable to let go. The city is littered with them, and I am suddenly seized by a rush of empathy for the poor bastard. I know how you feel, old chap, I know how you feel

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17 Responses

  1. Wonderful. This is the Venice I saw. You is talented boy with words, amigo.

  2. so well written, sir ed, but enidd won’t be distracted – you slipped a cigarette in there, as it were. no longer on the wagon?

    p.s. venice is even lovelier in winter. not so lively, but cold and clear, certain of who she is. rather like, ahem, older ladies generally.

  3. Venice is indeed quite beautiful. Very nicely described.

  4. Mr.X hopes you didn’t drop your fag end on her. You naughty boy, weren’t you supposed to have depreciated your nicotinous cravings?

  5. Wow, Edvard. I can’t recall ever reading a more beautiful description of a city. I think I near fell in love with her, sight unseen. Even if you did call her a whore.

  6. Edvard Will You Please Write A Book.

    I spotted the crafty cig too. Hope you’re not doing that around Mrs Moonke in her current delicate condition.

  7. Beautifully described, Edvard. As probably the least-travelled person I know, who can only just about manage to put words to the city in which he lives, that makes me want to travel there now. Or at least soon.

    Though I have no ideas how accessible gondolas are to someone on a prosthetic limb. Ha.

  8. What a gorgeous description (I’m saying nothing about the cigarette, having just put one out)

    Also, what Mr Witness said. Mostly.

  9. God, I had no idea Venice was such a slut! Albeit a beautiful one! I’ll have to go pay a visit someday.

    And, um, contemplative cigarettes have just as many ill effects on your body as the vacuous, unreflective ones. Just sayin’. 😉

  10. Venice – beautiful city, but strangely lacking in soul…or perhaps it was I who was lacking in something, but somehow despite the gondolas, the bridges, the buildings, it just wasn’t quite right. Kind of felt like Disneyland to me, like no-one lived there. I half expected the lights to go out at midnight, the gondola rides to stop, and a little man to lock the gates to the city for the night.

  11. Intriguing description…but tell me the truth, doesn’t venice stink in the summer? I’d love to go for the Carnival or even in autumn. Take me with you?? please… and how come you can even afford venice ..are you a man of independent means?

  12. Ahhhhh. Edvard.

  13. Thanks for a great journey!
    But smoking on the Rialto Bridge? I thought you’d given up…

  14. Oh the slippery slope. It is. slippery. Damn it.

  15. clarissa: yes, the wagon is indeed convex in shape and glistening with slipperiness…

  16. Ooh that’s nice. Sorry I’m a bit late.

  17. edvard, your words are so exquisitely honed, so beautifully carved from the finest marble lexicon that … that … it makes me moist. and panting.

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