San Michele, when I was 15 years old
I took another dark red, almost black cherry out of the brown bag and put it in my mouth. The taste was extraordinary juicy. They were the best cherries I had ever eaten. So fruity, it was simply delicious when you bit on them and the skin popped inside your mouth. I could eat them all day.
My best friend Sophie took one out of the bag too.
‘They are soooooo good!’ She said when she took the stone with her fingertips out of her mouth and put it in the second brown bag.
Out of respect for the dead, we had decided not to spit the stones onto the earth of the cemetery. Besides, this was Venice, so you had to be extra careful. Who knew who or what we might wake up? Afterall, Venice was in so many ways a place of two worlds and the bridge between the living and the dead felt more transparent here than anywhere else.
I agreed with Sophie and took another one out of the bag. I looked at the gravestone to my right. It was one from the early twentieth century. A beautiful angelic grey figure stood on the grave. Sophie walked on for a bit and turned left. Our mums were already ahead. Today, we had decided to separate from the main group. Our other friends who had come with us to Venice had gone to Murano, the overflowing tourist island which was famous for the Murano glass. But we had already been twice to Murano on previous visits so our mums, Sophie and I had decided to escape tourism for a day. And now we were exploring a place in Venice that was not on the main tourist route. The beautiful cemetery island of Venice, San Michele. It was north of the city and a wonderful escape when you had enough of Venice’s commotion. Here, only a few Venetians strolled around, visiting their lost ones. We had only come across three other tourists who knew about this beautiful island that held so much Venetian history.
I followed Sophie along the little stone path, her blond hair flowing in the wind. She stopped in front of an ancient looking grave and said ‘1855! That’s the oldest one yet!’
Amazed she turned around and looked at me with her blue eyes that appeared to have the exact same colour as the blue sky above us. It was a warm and sunny day, but a cool sea wind blew over the island.
‘No way!’ I said and had a closer look.
Flowers and bushes had grown over half the gravestone, but the dates were still quite visible, and they clearly said 1855 to 1898. The carved writing was washed away within the stone though. We had no idea whether this person, who probably lived and died in Venice over a century ago was a man or a woman. Somehow the numbers had survived time and the elements of the Laguna city. But it was clear to see that no one had tended to this grave in years, probably even decades.
We went back to the main path and spotted our mums standing by a tree with dark leaves. I didn’t know what type of tree it was. I remembered that I had read in a book that people like to plant certain types of trees on cemeteries. They were trees that, throughout cultures and history, from the Celts to the Romans, to the middle ages and the present, had been associated with death, afterlife, other worlds, bridges to other places, and were trees to fend off the devil. I wondered if this tree was one of them. But then again, Venice itself was a place of multiple worlds, and countless bridges. Besides, its lion sculptures guarded the city from any intruders, anything not- Venetian, anything wicked. So maybe, those cemetery trees were actually not that important here, when Venice was a place of bridges and spiritual protection in itself anyway?
We reached our mothers, and Sophie’s mum, Brigitte, pointed at a gravestone that dated back to the 1820’s.
‘It could be an eight too though.’ My mum said, her dark sunglasses reflected the leaves of the tree and the gravestone.
‘So, either 1820’s or 1880’s.’ Brigitte said.
‘Let’s say 1820’s. That’s so old and so much cooler.’ I said and Brigitte smiled at me.
Our mums walked on and we followed them. Brigitte’s very long dark hair was moved by the wind. She too had a bag of dark red cherries and took one out. My mum turned around and smiled.
‘Are you hungry?’
‘We have the cherries.’ Sophie answered and I nodded.
‘She wants a coffee break. That’s why she asked.’ Brigitte said and laughed.
‘We want a coffee break.’ My mum corrected her.
We continued walking on the main path that led on to the more modern part of the cemetery. Here the gravestones were polished and reflected their surroundings on the dark stone. Although this was a place of death, a place to remember, simply, a cemetery, just like everything else within and around Venice, something that was supposed to appear like anything else was quite different here. This cemetery had nothing in common with cemeteries on land. I could not describe it. I could only sense it when we were there. I could smell the salt water, the fresh wind from the sea, all the beautiful flowers that blossomed on the graves and along the paths. There were sea gulls and no ravens or crows, which you normally expect to find somewhere by a cemetery. It was spring, everything was blooming, and life was here at the place where the dead had come to rest. It was beautiful and quiet, yet, just across a small strip of water, the tourists of Venice took pictures, enjoyed art and ate good Italian food. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the living were just a heartbeat away from the dead.
Somewhere by the Piazza di San Marco, when I was 5 years old
I followed my parents and my sister who were walking ahead of me. We walked on an alley in a side street close by the Piazza di San Marco. I remember there were so many pigeons and so many people. The street was grey and the buildings around us where white. They were marble, some with dark patches in between but most of them shone pure white like snow. There were beautiful figures guarding the entrances to the buildings and I was walking behind my family because I wanted to look at every one of them and always stopped while following them. There were lions and lions with wings. There were people out of marble. Back then I didn’t know, but they were Poseidons, Aphrodites and some other immortal figures.
Then my mum took me by the hand as we were about to go on a busier street. She smiled at me with her brown eyes and I smiled back. We stopped. On the left wall of a stone building there were two big white marble lions. My dad wanted to take a picture of me and my sister. We climbed on the lions’ backs. They looked so fantastical! My dad took the pictures, we jumped off the lions and laughed. I took my mum’s hand again and looked back at the lions before we turned onto the next street. The two lions smiled at me and waved goodbye with their big stone paws. I waved back at them. I lost sight of them when we turned onto the next street in Venice.
A Sunset by the Lido, when I was 12 years old
My family and me sat in a café on the Lido close by the main Vaporetto station. The sun was setting and had turned the horizon into a glowing orange and a blood red. I could see the Isola San Giorgia and the southern side of Venice getting darker and darker. More and more lights went on. Soon, glittering electric lights would brighten up the Laguna city.
On the water that now turned from green to grey I could make out all the green, orange and red lights of the Vaporetti and the other boats. Blinking, going on and off, left and right, this was how they navigated and communicated in the water when the world turned black.
But right now, daylight was just enough before the oncoming night would change the face of Venice. It was that magical hour, that time of day, when Venice itself became a place of two worlds, not only within architecture, land, water, history and art but within time itself. For some moments, Venice would linger between day and night, blue-green and black.
My parents enjoyed the sunset and were lost in conversation about work. My sister stood by the bar and was talking to two Italian girls. Within half a year, she had taught herself some Italian and she was quite good at it.
I took a sip from my Aranciata, a fizzy orange juice I always drink in Italy and looked out into the Laguna. The light and water had now turned into a glowing blood red and would soon fade into pink and purple. After that, the darkness of night would take over and the cold light of the moon would take its place.
For a moment, time appeared to stand still, I could still hear the buses behind me, the Vaporetti in front of me, the Italian voices all around me, but all of that faded into one when I spotted a dark fin rising from the water. There she was, out there in the Laguna, probably twenty metres away from us. I could not move, her fin appeared golden red in the sunlight. I could make out her silhouette. She had very long curly hair. She was just there for a moment, but I am still certain she was really there. Then she dived down again, back into the glittering water, and was gone forever.
A Hotel’s garden on the Lido, I don’t remember how old I was
I remember the white garden bench. Everything around it was blossoming. It looked so beautiful and bright. My grandma sat on the garden bench and read a book. It was probably a crime novel. She liked them best. Behind the bench and on the left side, from where the sun shone through the leaves and made them glow bright green, red roses grew. Red roses and a white bench. My grandma turned a page in her book. Her brown hair was short. It’s always been short since I could remember. It didn’t touch her shoulders and framed her pretty face and eyes that were focused on the book. Everything seemed quiet. I climbed onto one of those white heavy garden chairs and sat down. I was hungry. We were waiting for breakfast.
I also remember how my family and me picked up my grandparents from the Venice train station the day before. I remember them standing by the stairs in front of the entrance of the station. They didn’t fly because my grandpa was afraid of heights and flying. My grandpa wore a white clean shirt and beige shorts. I can’t remember what my grandmother wore but she always looked stylish. She liked natural colours. I remember running towards them, my grandpa spreading his arms, ready to pick me up.
A waiter came down the stairs with a plate loaded with breakfast food and put it on the table. My grandma closed her book, looked at me and smiled.
‘Are you looking forward to another day in Venice?’
I nodded eagerly and smiled.
All of this was over 20 years ago. Since then, everything has changed. One of those changes was my grandpa dying. Life, places and memory are funny things. Most of them fade away quickly, like snowflakes melt on your face and never return. Some of them remain and must be treasured. So much has changed, yet Venice still stands but is already fading and eventually will disappear like an old memory. And she won’t come back.