It is midnight in St. Mark’s Square in Venice and the entire piazza is under water. Special tidal conditions and a full moon have caused the water levels to rise a metre and give the impression that one of the world’s most beautiful cities is sinking. A knee-deep flash lagoon covers what Napoleon referred to as ‘the drawing room of Europe’. The still water reflects the small lights of the surrounding buildings and an eerie silence has replaced the normal cacophony of the day. We are the only people here. While the rest of Venice avoids the flood our group of backpackers and hostel buddies has traipsed through deluged streets and alleys with plastic bags on our feet to experience the spectacle.
At the entrance to the piazza the water is too high and so we stop to take off our shoes and roll up our pants. We know the water is not clean but our excitement overcomes any reservations. As we exultantly wade into the middle of the square we spot chairs and tables from a closed café and take them with us to the centre of this impromptu lake. We form a big circle and pass around bottles of cheap, crude wine and toast to the adventure, to our discovery that seems exclusive.
We are the typical eclectic mix of nationalities, backgrounds and personalities in a European hostel. There are two very likable Aussie guys, a ditzy illustrator from Cornwall, a travel agent from Vancouver, three English teachers from Ireland living in Berlin, two wild Polish girls, a Scottish long-term traveller, a quiet Chilean girl and a handful of Americans who are studying abroad. I work at the hostel and see all types of travellers passing through every day. We are easily drawn together by this spontaneous adventure, this unique shared experience. Young travelers all seem to have the special ability to focus on similarities rather than differences and quickly become friends because of that. It is our most endearing trait.
These open and easy friendships have, however, lost their sheen with me. Into my second year of backpacking I seem to have grown desensitized to the thrill of new friendships, bitterly aware of their inevitable end. Working in a hostel this is magnified and only on rare occasions do guests spend more than three days in Venice. It is indeed a difficult task to continually make friends but to never keep any.
The piazza normally swarms with tourists. They line up to the impressive Doge’s Palace and San Marco’s Basilica, take photographs, eat gelato in the cafes, feed the pigeons or try to make sense of their maps. Souvenir salesmen float amongst them offering their wares while locals dart in between intent on quickly passing through the chaos. Tonight as the moon raised high and the water with it, this day-time hive of activity is transformed into its own perfect contrast. The signature commotion of the day is replaced with a tranquil calm. As our group discusses the wonder of this unique phenomenon we grow merrier and our laughter echoes in the otherwise silent square.
While we lounge in the middle of the shimmering lake, some drift off on their own paths splashing and wading and joking in the water. It feels as if the rest of Venice is sleeping, as if this is our own little secret and our eyes glimmer like the water surrounding us, knowing that it is.
We eventually finish the wine and decide to leave. As we tramp out I look back and revel in this special night. By morning the water will be gone and the crowds will be back, like nothing ever happened. In the next few days all of the backpackers will set off in different directions never to meet again. Should I resent both for their temporary natures?
I realize that the fleetingness of both is inescapable. The uniqueness of the flooding is what made it so special and maybe that is how I should see the passing friendships. These special moments and brief companions are small aspects of what makes travel and exploration what it is. I realize that instead of wishing it were different, I should enjoy it for what it is. I should appreciate that it has happened at all. With that in mind I take one final look, turn and leave.
About the Author: Matt is a drifter under the guise of going home when he finally decides what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He happily ignores the topic and keeps on drifting.