Three and a half scorching days under the Mediterranean sun have turned the tops of my shoulders and cheeks into the color of ripe nectarines. My hair has remained a mess of windblown curls, liberated by the heat of the sun instead of an infrared ceramic coil of a blow dryer. My feet are enjoying a break from the uneven cobblestones of Prague, but I still managed to break a pair of sandals and detached the sole of my favorite pair of flats (which, in all fairness, have now been superglued back together three times). In this heat, where you can nearly feel the melanin bursting under the surface of your skin, it’s all strapless bras and hair ties.
Crowds congregate near small water spigots, dipping their heads under the cool water and filling water bottles while dogs lick puddles around the drain in their own effort to cool off. A large group of teenage boys are splashing and laughing in a language that sounds like Dutch. One reaches in his pocket for a phone and begins lip synching Marvin Gays, Lets Get it On as it plays from his iPhone. We can’t help but blush a bit and laugh along with them at the silliness of it all. We don’t understand the words, but our shared laughter is universal and unmistakable.
At dinner, we ask for a table outside by the canal so we can watch the sunset. Instead of making us wait, we are brought a table and chairs from inside. We are sitting next to a woman and her son and his grandfather. They speak very quickly, laughing and singing in the way that Italians do when they speak. A man with an accordion comes up to our table and plays, while the little boy dances and gives him euros, one coin at a time, slowly sucking the pulp out of the moment so it isn’t over too quickly.
The next night, we go out with Mei, who we met at the hostel, and have cocktails by the water. She tells us of her travels, her home in Malaysia, and all of the places we must visit in Asia. We ask a French filmographer seated at a table next to us to take our photo. We ask about his work, but he is short and rejects our offer to join us. (He did take a good picture though.) To our left is a man Lauren quite accurately refers to as “Fabio”. He has long Italian features, muscles bursting out of his clothes and a thick accent which he over apologizes for. He has a chihuahua named Papi who we pet and baby talk while we ask him about Venice and share the few words we have in common. I ask how he feels about the endless crowds packing the streets and he says, “Tourism is very good no? Good for Venice” he rubs his index finger and thumb together and smiles widely, his bleached teeth in complete contrast with his dark, sun soaked skin. He picks up our drink tab at the end of the evening, and after our profuse thanking dies down, he touches the tips of all his fingers together and kisses them in a sweeping motion “tourists!” he says.
After the sun sets, we walk toward the center of the city in hopes of finding a lively bar and more friendly Italians to usher us into the early morning hours. We come across one of the few open bars, order spritzers, and take them outside to sit on the steps of a fountain. We are next to a group of college students who are laughing and drinking and passing joints around between them, mumbling and teasing each other and filling the square with echoes of laughter and the rising and falling of the language. I begin talking to a 19 year-old girl next to me who is studying Arabic at the university. Her friends quickly join in after they realize we bought her second glass of wine. And so, our laughter and linguistic twangs blend with theirs and hangs in the air somewhere between the drifting smoke and the edge of the ozone layer. We drink together, share small pieces of our lives, and exchange curse words with each other, laughing and saying them too loudly through the empty streets.
So once again, Italy leaves me feeling full. Full of spirit and life and excited for people and these mini relationships that are fleeting in the physical sense, but linger in my mind. People see pictures of Venice and imagine themselves floating down a canal in a gondola and eating gelato from a still-warm waffle cone. And it is that. It’s sherbet colored sunsets and calzones as big as your head and overpriced cocktails. But it’s also a people, a slower pace, a love for food, and passion for life that no photo or blog can sufficiently capture.