Two gents of Venezia.
We’re catapulting through Tuscany on a bullet train, but our carriage is utterly still. My father occasionally motions for me to pull out my headphones so he can point to the digital indicator that’s clocking our speed. I grimace at the kilometer/hr reading, still unable to convert it.
“Unbelievable,” my father whispers in amazement.
Our train slows and clatters over a long bridge, water sloshing on either side, the sun reflecting shimmers off the dancing caps. We pull into Venice station. I pull out my GPS, answering one of every three questions my father peppers me about where we’re going. We exit the station and descend a wide staircase into the sunlight. Several ferries dock and depart from the river hub. Europeans swish by en route to hotels and cafés. We decide to haul our bags across town rather than take the ferry.
My father carries his identical gym bags at either side, his strides much smaller than my own, the bags looking large beside his short frame. I ask him why he brought two half empty bags rather than one full one.
“You told me bring two bags,” he says defiantly.
“I said a small bag for valuables and a large bag for clothing, not two of the same-” I catch myself, “It doesn’t matter,” I mutter, following the blue line on my map.
My own backpack is now fifteen years old, and the wear-and-tear is more than evident. The right strap, which I instinctively clutch first, has been reduced to a thin strip of cloth, the padding disintegrated. Where the strap connects to the body several bare threads threaten to separate, the adjustments already ripped and tied together from a previous, forgotten injury. If I pull out my clothes and look directly at the bottom of the largest compartment I can see the ground below perfectly, the material has been sanded by so much international pavement. Zipping the bag is an exercise in futility, as an enormous gash now resides exactly where the zipper once closed. I stuff my towel here in the hopes that thieves won’t covet the usually half-wet item. As we walk, my right strap burns into my shoulder. The pressure has already rendered my neck immovable without a sharp shooting sensation. I tell myself it’s a good pain, like exercise. It isn’t.
We cross several bridges and wind our way through thin walkways, able to touch buildings on both sides. Gondolas float passengerless with their strapping Italian captains texting in boredom at the bows. The gondoliers all wear horizontal black and white striped t-shirts, threatening to rip at their well-toned biceps. They’re waiting for romantic honeymoon fares, not giving me the courtesy of a single glance. It’s for the best. I’ve had enough sex for the moment.
We drop our bags on chairs in a square of pedestrians and order lunch. I’m still reeling from last night, my head swimming with a hangover. Pigeons beg at our feet. A musician plays a romantic tune on his accordion. There are couples everywhere. It occurs to me that Venice is not a place for fathers and sons.
We finish our pizza and hike the rest of the way to our hostel. This time we’re sharing a room with several other guests. It’ll be my father’s first time enduring such an experience and he questions me about the average age of hostel-goers. I tell him I’ve seen men in their sixties plenty. In truth I more often see guests much younger than myself, and when I have encountered older guests it’s always been a source of relief. One can only endure inane drinking games and teens with little social awareness for so long.
We check in and I plop down on a couch to cut into a deadline for work. I’m writing for ten minutes when my father shouts for me from the kitchen. I set down my laptop and follow his voice. I find him with a middle-aged Argentinian woman who happens to be staying in the next room. He’s trying desperately to communicate with her, but she doesn’t speak English. I spend the next couple hours trying to work while translating between them. If I didn’t have a deadline this would be my idea of a good time.
The three of us go for dinner and I order a Campari spritz, because Venice is known for it. My father and the Argentinian woman have never had it, but are good sports and add two more to the order. We chat about life and I do my best not to leave either of them out of the conversation for too long, finding myself taking up 80% of the conversation explaining what one has just said to the other. At around ten-o-clock everyone is thankfully tired, and we retire to the hostel.
My father and I spend the next two days eating and drinking around the city. There’s nothing else to do in Venice except to get lost in a labyrinth of cobbled sidewalks and bridges full of tourists snapping photos. We find a casino and my father bankrolls me for some electronic roulette, which goes uncharacteristically well.
In the morning I take my father to the train station and point out his train on the electronic board overhead. We hug and I board my own train for Slovenia.
I take my seat and it’s eerily silent. When you spend a week talking to someone you’ve known your whole life, it’s a tough act to follow. I speak to no one for my ride to the Italian border.