I wanted to be Indiana Jones, kissing a gorgeous Nazi in an amazing apartment overlooking passing gondolas. Not that I’m into kissing Nazis, don’t get me wrong. Particularly after Sunday. But Indy didn’t know she was a Nazi at the time. So neither would I. Actually in my version, she wouldn’t be a Nazi at all. She’d be a pianist. And a painter.
I didn’t particularly want to be Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now, except of course, for that one scene, but the whole drowned daughter, spooky old lady, Little Red Stabbing Hood scenario I could do without.
And as for Dirk Bogarde, let’s not even go there.
But then again, I didn’t particularly want to be myself. Not at that moment. Those moments, those two or three hours, in Venice.
Getting there was fun. Kind of. A claustrophobic sleeping cabin with a lugubrious Russian and cheerful chicken wrangler from Bristol University. (Actually he didn’t actually wrangle chickens, but he did work with them, so on occasion, there may have been some wrangling involved.) Then a couple of hours on a bus through the Alps, which was staggeringly beautiful.
Being there, however, in Venice, was not so much fun. In fact, for a city so utterly beguiling, Venice is a strikingly cold-hearted place. It’s hard, unfriendly and extremely rapacious, particularly – I’ve no doubt – at carnival time. Which doesn’t seem right. It isn’t right. It’s dreadful.
I had a list of hostels recommended to me by a woman who worked in one of the tourist information cabins. She’d marked three of them as woman-only hostels, so I chose the cheapest of the rest and set out to find it. I figured there was a good chance there’d be space as lots of people were heading out of Venice after the first full carnival weekend. It took me just over an hour to find it.
Venice is not like other cities. Although it has ordinary streets, they don’t function like the streets in other cities. Which is to say, if you’re looking for ‘Santa Croce, 561’, as I was, don’t expect to find a street called Santa Croce. Rather, Santa Croce is an entire area of Venice, with a couple of thousand numbers. And so, in order to find 561, you have to trudge through the whole zone. It’s like the whole city is designed to cause problems for strangers. And when you ask for help, no matter how friendly and smiley you are, no matter how desperate you are, no matter how well you speak the language, people are generally dismissive, if not outright rude.
Eventually, however, I found the hostel I was looking for. It was directly opposite the train station where I’d started out, on the other side of the canal. There was no sign. There was just a number, above a large open door. Inside, in a little box, was a nun. Not like a shoebox, but a tiny reception, with a desk and a phone and some files. The first thing the nun explained to me was that this hostel was for young girls only. Ah. She said that most of the hostels in Venice were for young girls only. Ah. She said there was a place on the other side run by the monks, but she didn’t think they would take me. She said I should have booked ahead. By telephone. Or, she added, the internet.
In Venice, I am reminded, internet cafés charge six times what they charge in Madrid, four times that of Bologna. Six euros for one hour. That’s on a par with BT. A couple of places claim to have wifi, but in the one place I tried, it didn’t work. Hostels, the nun explained generally charge about 60 or 70 euros, which is four times what they charge in Madrid.
I love Italy. I lived here for four years and often think about moving back, but at times, there’s no getting around it, it’s like living in the Dark Ages.
You can’t use an internet café or buy a SIM card without handing over your passport. Anti-Mafia, they say. Or anti-terrorism. Depends who you talk to. Either way, it makes no real sense.
You can’t enter a church with a rucksack on your back.
It’s difficult to find a single room in Italy where all of the plug sockets take the same size plugs.
When the nun – who was by far the friendliest person I spoke to in Venice – chastised me for not having used the internet, it was then that I thought, no. Carnival or no carnival, Venice is not the city for me. Not now. Plus after an hour of having been there, it had started raining. It always rains in Venice. It’s like Manchester. But less friendly.
So, after less time than I’d spent in Auschwitz, I caught the train back to Bologna, where I was informed that Venice is famous for being the unfriendliest place in Italy. Worse even than the dodgiest areas of Sicily. Apparently, there are two Venices: the Venice of the Venetians, where everyone speaks the Veneto dialect and is charged one price; and the Venice of the outsiders – which even includes other Italians – where everyone is charged a different price and is kept very much at a distance.
This made up my mind for me. I am now prepared to say it, loud and proud: I don’t like Venice. I just don’t like it. Like the Nazi in the Indiana Jones film, it may be beautiful, but it has a cold, inhuman heart. That’s all there is to it. Basta. Done with Venice.
Next stop, in two days’ time, Ivrea, and the oranges of death.