Saturday, June 21, 2008

In Venice I spent most of my time getting intentionally lost. Venice is a good town to get lost in, since you're pretty hemmed in by water, and even my not-so-keen sense of direction was able to keep me in line. Venice was the midpoint of my trip, and a climax of sorts, and being lost on purpose and on foot nicely mirrored the whole point of the vacation. I was wandering the crystalline forests inside my own head, trying to find my way back to some place better at the same time that I was stepping softly in the rain down the streets of this grandly decaying city. And in Venice, each turn leads you farther away from the Rialto--San Marco corridor, closer to the alleys where damp laundry hangs against the pinks and yellows of the buildings, where cats prowl lazily along the edges of balconies, where people sing next to open kitchen windows. Closer to being a small dot on a big map, a total alien in a place unfamiliar and yet the opposite of hostile. Venice, for all of its disapproval of my solo trip, was beautiful and welcoming.

Eventually, I turned enough times that the noise in my head quieted to match the gentle lapping of the water next to the streets.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the sounds in cities under water. Floods happen in dozens of ways, covering whole towns under feet of water--dams are built or break, things cave in. And all that's left is sometimes the spire of a church that breaks the surface when the summer is especially dry. Pompeii taught me that a place that was once bustling leaks silence from its stones after being buried long enough, and I wonder how water muffles the sounds that used to ring through those damp streets. Does a city under the water still sound softly of laughter and shouting and gunshots and traffic and cooking and crying? Or have the ghosts of those noises quieted to match the soft silence that surrounds them? I have been wondering what it would be like to stand on top of that church spire and listen down.

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