Friday, August 28, 2009

Incongruity and Despair in Venice

Okay, okay – Instead of taking pictures, I’ve been whining all week about having nothing incongruous to post today. So I’ve decided to make my entire shootout incongruous by posting a bunch of “un-incongruous” pictures I took in Italy in 2006. I can’t think of a good reason for this except that I’m lazy and I just wanted to.

In the summer of 2006, Karen and I spent 3 weeks in Italy (Rome, Florence, Tuscany, and finally Venice). We had planned the trip when I first discovered that I had prostate cancer because I needed something positive to work for. My actual goal was to have surgery, overcome initial incontinence, and urinate in a controlled fashion in a public restroom in Rome.

I have to say that Venice is my favorite of any city I’ve seen, except for the hoards of tourists. Primarily because it is so different (or “incongruous” to use a word that I will never again utter after this post). But the first day we arrived, the differences almost did us in! Have patience with the story (or ignore it and just look at the pictures) – the pictures don’t really have any relevance to the first day anyhow. But y’all know me, that I can’t help but run off at the mouth.

BUTLER: “Yes we know. And if Bagman was back from his Dorothea tryst, he’d be leaving again.”

So, our train from Firenzie was late and it was already getting dark when we pulled into the Venezia station . (I drove Karen crazy on that trip by trying to be cool and referring to the cities by their Italian names). It was 6:00 p.m. and we got off the train in a panic because our reservation said we had to be at the bed and breakfast by 5:00 because the proprietress went home after that.

We walked out of the train station into the most beautiful, romantic purgatory on Earth. It was another world. It was also the hottest day or Italy’s record-breaking 2006 heat wave. It was also raining.

We were also lost with only an address on a print out from the Internet.

We were also carrying five tons of luggage despite the good advice from all our friends to travel light. Each of us had one huge rolling suitcase and a second medium sized suitcase lashed to it. I had a laptop bag and a camera bag and since we had been in Italy for two weeks by that time we had 37 plastic shopping bags of treasures, none of which I can now remember.

With determination and blind faith, we wrestled out bags across the plaza to a sign that said “Taxi” which is Italian for “Taxi.” It was a boat. Duh. I mean, I knew that Venice was a city of canals but I always thought it had roads as well. Nope. Just a huge incongruous maze of canals, bridges, and alleys.

I show the boatman my printout from the Internet showing the address. He looks, shakes his head, and rattles off a batch of Italian that I pretend to understand but only get enough to figure I'm supposed to cross the bridge and find a telephone and call the hotel.

The bridges in Venice are truly incongruous. They are more like steep vertical stair-hurdles. And rolling suitcases don’t roll on stairs.

By the time we get across the first bridge, I am drenched from the inside with sweat and from the outside with rain. I go to the public pay telephone with the hopefulness of someone climbing the gallows. I fail miserably, as I knew I would, to figure out how to use it. Finally I am stuffing Euros without counting into the thing and punching random buttons with more and more force, slamming the receiver down and uttering words I hope Italians don’t understand.

I’m also watching Karen, who is stopping everyone walking by and asking everyone directions in ever louder English which we Americans use on the theory that louder somehow means easier to understand.

Eventually we learn the biggest incongruity of all in Venice. Street addresses don’t follow any order. 2006A Casa del Molena does NOT mean a specific place on the even side of a road between 2004 and 2008. 2006A is simply a number randomly assigned in a district called Santa Croche. I look at a nearby door and see number 769. It doesn’t help at all and I get a strong desire to weep.

So we start walking aimlessly looking for a number in a haystack, soaked rats from sweat and rain. Not really walking either. Because every 100 yards we come to another bridge and have to carry our luggage like pieces of furniture. I regret that the fact that the only thing we forgot to bring was a forklift.

Oh yes, and rain gear.

I keep looking at the soggy map I bought in Firenze and discover another incongruity. Maps of Venice bear no relation to the actual layout of sidewalks and canals.

Finally after an hour of aimless, sweat-drenched, and desperate trudging through this jigsaw puzzle of unmapped alleys, canals, and random numbers, we stop at a hotel that we wish we'd booked in the first place and we throw ourselves on the mercy of a desk clerk who is willing to look it a competitor on the Internet, if only to get us out of his lobby.

He brings up a map on the screen. Incongruously (again) he can't print it for some reason I can’t translate. But I decide it doesn’t matter anyhow because the map on the screen bears no resemblance to the wadded map in my fist. And neither map bears any resemblance to any actual streets or canals anyway.

But the desk clerk does provide a clue. He draws two circles on my map - one indicating generally where I am and the other indicating generally where we think we want to be.

For the first time since I bought my wristwatch three years ago I find an actual use for the incongruous built-in compass that I thought was cute but has suddenly become a real survival tool. We also kept chasing down people who thought we were homeless vagrants and asking directions. And finally we found a door marked: 2006A Casa d'el Molena!

We ring the bell.

No-one answers, of course. We’re three hours past the registration deadline.

I consider sitting down in the rain and dying on my luggage like a Samsonite Samouri.

But finally we decide that Karen will stay behind to guard the luggage – although by now I’d pay someone a hundred euros to steal it. I slog back into the maze to find a small tobacco and magazine shop we’d seen -- to plead for help. I stumble into the store like a derelict wino or the ghost of a martyr – St. Mark of the Rolling Trunk -- and place the dripping pages of my internet confirmation in front of a portly woman and moan something like, "Nobody there! Please call." She either takes pity on me or just wants to get me out of her store, but calls the number. Soon she is talking to someone I assume to be either the bed and breakfast landlord or the policia, and I hear the word "Americano" several times. I am relieved to know that probably explains everything...

When Karen bursts in and announces, "They're here! We're in!"

"Thank God!" I exclaim. “Grazi il DioI” exclaims the saleslady backing away from us.

Walking back I ask hopefully if our luggage has been stolen. Unfortunately it is still there, guarded by our new landlady for a week, The Untameable Shrew Witch of Venice…but that is another story.

BUTLER: “This was supposed to be a photography post, you know. Not an entire novel.”

“Yes,” I reply. “Kind of incongruous, isn’t it?”

Things did eventually get better, of course


  1. How could things not get better in Venice?! Just being there is amazing, relaxing (as long as you stay away from the other tourists), beautiful.
    One minute you're in a crushing crowd, then you step sideways into a street off the beaten path, and you're in a quiet square with nobody around but a scrawny cat and two old men playing checkers.

  2. Wonderful story, fantastic photos. The fact there is no relationship between the two - just .... incongruous I guess. Or too funny! Love it!

  3. I love stories like this. More, more!

  4. Adventures from hell, before you even check in. I have been on those trips as well. Our Venice trip was more normal. That one photo you have of the 4 men sitting in chairs is calling to me since I have a very similar one with my daughter standing in the foreground. Must post that sometime.

  5. Lucky you and your wife, such a great holiday in Venice.
    I like the third photo, the columns look like pipes of an organ.

    Today seems to have the word Cancer following me every where. it is Daffodil day here, as the 4th Friday of August. How's your prostate cancer?

    Have a good weekend.

  6. Whow, great story Mark. I mean it can't have been pleasant to live through, but (incongruously) it makes for a great blog.

    Only you can't leave it there. Tell him Bagman,he has to finish this tale!!!

  7. B&B
    You have given me so much joy this week as you stewed over the posting. Your posts have been hilarious. We should make them tough for you every week!
    I can't imagine what you went through in Venice, trying to find your hotel. At least you arrived safely. Your pictures are gorgeous. The city scapes, the people, the theatre masks.... just stunning.
    I found Snow White's witch to be incongruous in this setting, but I am taking from your story that she represents the manager at your hotel. I do want to hear about the rest of Venice.............

  8. a sign that said “Taxi” which is Italian for “Taxi.” You ain't right!

    I loved, loved these photo's from your trip. I need to go there today!

  9. I have to come back to enjoy the photos. They are beautiful, and so out of place with your story. See? I did not say the 'I' word.

    I have never been to Italy. You make we want to go, so you certainly succeeded in the "town" part of the shoot out. What a wonderful travel brochure you put together.

    Having never been to Italy, I only know how to ask this question the way I would it if I were in other countries I have traveled in, "Why you get lost? Why you not give paper to taxi driver?" Oh, and "Why you travel like camel?"

    Gotta run. I have 3 assignments to cover today. I will look forward to returning here to enjoy the beauty of Italy.

  10. I enjoyed the tour. I really would like to visit Venice, but probably never will. After all those photos I don't need to.
    I was very very tempted this week to do a post on our Incongruous Congress, but decided that politics are too incongruous for normal citizens to understand.
    Thanks again.

  11. I'm assuming that the last photo is a close up of a relaxed and beautiful Karen, though it does cross my mind that Bagman might have been photographing random women as he's wont to do. Your photographs are stunning. I've not been to Venice for 13 years, but I am longing to return. Especially now that the camera world is digital and I don't have to worry about carrying and paying to develop film. Digital makes all the difference in how extravagantly you photograph, doesn't it?

  12. You are hilarious! Loved this post. The photos are gorgeous and the story is so can look back on this and laugh, can't you?

    I have updated my post...I had forgotten to post my most incongruous find! Check it out :)

  13. Your photos are postcard perfect.

  14. Your photos are gorgeous, and makes me look forward to a possible trip to Venice next year. Sounds like we don't really need to invest in a map, though, huh? After all of that, I am glad to hear it is your favorite city!

  15. Awww you just took me back to our trip a few years back! Hubby had his GPS which he ordered the Italy download, but in Venice, well he almost ended up in the water a few times when the GPS told him to go straight... I wonder if it was reading my mind at the time, as he dragged me up and down every corridor and tiny alley way...

  16. Oh, How I loved Venice - the water, the smells, the people! This is where I got hooked on espesso!

  17. Great pictures. My boss is leaving for Rome tomorrow, so it was perfect timing!!!!

  18. Delicious incongruities here. Looking at these serene, humanity-filled but totally natural, cavernous but open-to-the-sky, get-away-from-it-all by going to a crowded space with no maps, dream-like and so substantial, while reading your narrative that reminds me of so many dreams where we can only hope to wake and never get there--the phone, the maps, the endless lugging of baggage, the longing for liberation....this has so much to digest and delight in. This body may never get to Venice, but I fell you've taken me to the There there, and now I can go about my day Here and hope to really be here. Thanks so much!

  19. I wasn't going to read it all. Too much. But then I started reading, and it was so enjoyable that I ended up reading your entire saga of the week, an incongruous week for sure. And then after that I even read back through your last weeks post about signs. I also struggled all week trying to find something worthy of posting. In the end I failed, as you did. But you failed much more magnificently than I! Good job!

  20. I'm not part of the Our Town group, but as far as I am concerned you are off the hook with the "I" theme. What ever you write will come out good. I saw a lizard in my house this week I don't think I could take Venice. Florida is bad enough for those critters, as far as I am concerned.

  21. Love all the photos and now really want to visit Italy again!

  22. This week's challenge seems to have brought out the rebel in several people. I'm glad you decided to post your photos from Venice. I'm in love with that first water taxi (the one just poking its nose out from under a bridge) - and the whole post was great fun.

  23. I think Venice is my all time favorite - I have also been there in July. I went out to take photos about the time the sun came up in order to miss the 10K or so tourist that come off the big ships. did you ever find out that there is an information center inside the train station that would have taken you internet printout, made your phone call, told you what 'bus' to catch and where to get off, and a good idea of how to find the place.... drawing circles and such.

    if you've time visit
    hugs from Brasil

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