En route to pizza
We met Paolo- wavy-haired, scruffy and broke- at Paris Austerlitz train station. Aida and I were checking train schedules when he walked up to us with sad, pleading eyes. “I have no money to go home. Do you have some money?”
We gave him 10 euros (we were students).
Home was Venice, and Paolo had the loveliest accent. “Here is my Mama’s address in Venezia, come and visit us. This is her new house. I will pay you back and I will ask her to cook dinner for you,” he said, scribbling on a piece of paper. “Maybe pasta, or pizza.”
Okay. I can live with that, I thought, as he walked away.
France was the first stop in our train ride through Europe. We planned to do a loop into Spain, back into France and only then enter Italy, so although it would be a while before we would reach Venice, dinner sometime next week sounded like a good idea.
That night, we boarded our overnight train to Cordoba, the first of many.
Our last stop before Venice was Nice. The train was about to leave Nice Ville station when two medium-sized backpacks flew in from the platform through the window. Two- one after the other – bang, crash, onto the floor.
Seconds later, two tall guys walked into our compartment. “Is this where we threw our rucksacks in?” the dark-haired one asked. His friend saw their bags on the floor and said, “Oh, there you go. Yeah, this is us.”
Simon and James were from Leeds, England, and like us, were on their way to Venice.
As soon as the train left, they showed us how to tie our rucksacks to the luggage racks. “You never know who’s going to come here late at night and nick your stuff,” James said.
Simon added quickly: “Not us, though. We’re okay. We’re good lads, aren’t we, James?”
Later that night, Simon took off his shoes. He then peeled off his socks and waved them in the air, stinking up the compartment like nothing on earth. After a few minutes of earnest sock-waving, he hung the nasty things near the entrance. Seemingly inspired, James did the same. Now we had two pairs of smelly socks near the compartment door.
“This is all part of a big plan,” Simon confessed. “This is so that no-one will come into our compartment. It works every time.”
“Yeah, it does. Why don’t you girls hang your socks up as well?” James said.
We did, and nobody dared to walk in.
The address that Paolo had given us was wrong. There was a block of flats where he said there would be, but there was no 6th floor. We had been walking in the scorching heat from the train station for nearly an hour until it occurred to us that in the rush to buy his train ticket home, Paolo had either written his mother’s address wrongly or he had done so on purpose.
A bearded guard sitting forlornly in his hut shook his head when we showed him the address Paolo had given us. “No, no,” he said. He turned to the block of flats and pointed to each floor. “No”- he spread out six fingers and shook his head. “Cinque, si,” he showed five fingers and nodded vigorously to make himself clear. The building only had five floors.
Aida didn’t take this too well; she doesn’t usually. She fumed and raved and stomped in the baking sun, kicking up dust with her shoes, much to the guard’s amusement. I was pissed off, yes, but when I get angry, I just walk away.
“Where are you going?” Aida yelled, hands on her hips, when she saw me leave.
“To cool down.”
Venice had always fascinated me. It didn’t start out as part of present-day Italy; the city had established itself as the capital of an independent Republic of Venice in the 7th century AD, when it flourished as a port and trading centre. Venice survived attacks from the Ottoman Empire and conflicts with the Vatican for centuries, until it lost its independence in 1797 when Napoleon conquered the republic.
Soon after, Venice went under Austrian rule, following a treaty which Napoleon signed later that same year. After Napoleon’s defeat, a subsequent revolt and the Third Italian War of Independence, Venice joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
Aida and I wandered off -she, complaining loudly about how hot it was and I, simmering in silence. We ended up at Plaza San Marco, which was full of people. There was a large group of army officers hanging around, looking busy, although I suspected they were just spreading themselves out to check out as many girls as they could.
There was no way to contact Paolo or even Simon and James, the English guys we’d met on the train, so we decided to look for a place to eat.
In the end we stopped at a small gelato shop. No pizza, no problem. “Otto,” I said, referring to the number of scoops I wanted. The vendor stared, then shrugged and scooped out eight mounds of ice-cream in different colours into a takeaway container.
We found a small canal nearby. It was a nice, quiet spot with houses on both sides and an old bridge up ahead. All the benches were occupied, so we sat down cross-legged to eat.
We were starving and this wasn’t real food, but we were okay. We were in Venice and eating gelato by a canal, for crying out loud.
“How’s your ice-cream?” Aida asked after a while. We’d split the eight scoops between the two of us.
“Good,” I said. “Yours?”
“Amazing! So much for Mama’s pizza and pasta, eh?” she laughed.
So much for pizza.
*Photos courtesy of RambleAndWander. For more of his photos and posts on Italy, go here.
© 2013 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.