Perhaps it is the glossy pictures in magazines or the romantic gondola rides featured in films that romanticise Venice. Yet, as I meandered across the canals of the city of water, I struggled to find the romance or beauty in the maze of streets.
So, on my second night in Venice while the setting sun drew in to the clouds overhead, I entered St. Mark’s square. I nurtured the hope of drawing away from the bustling tourist-packed passageways that ran like veins through the city.
The largeness of the space I had suddenly entered birthed breath. An open-air restaurant floated between fairy lights while diners sipped on frosted wine glasses.
I paused and pulled it in.
The pigeons flew up from the pavement like a curtain pulling up on the first nights’ concert, and there I saw them, a man in a black pair of pants and a woman wearing white. He held out his hand and she touched it gently, closing her eyes as she closed the vacant space between them.
The restaurant musicians smiled and played with deeper conviction. I stopped, the diners turned, and the music played for this audience of two. Drawing her leg up beside his, they paused to remember each other’s moves, to remember this moment. The tiny tiles beneath their feet seemed to glide with their Tango, and I watched them, ignorant of the slowed pace of people and pigeons. They clung to one another as though this casual dance was a painful goodbye.
Something stilled within me and my eyes filled with tearful wonder. The unashamed desire to dance together was something I hardly witnessed in the world I inhabited. The music finally stopped and the tiny crowd clapped. Red cheeked, the lovers laughed and bowed, so unaware of their impact and their offering. I watched them leave, breathed in, and knew that I had unexpectedly stumbled on to something beautiful.
The Venetian streets curled and twisted, every alley identical to the one before. The orange lights hung overhead, struggling to stay awake. As I wandered in to the maze of unmarked roads, I marked the absence of ambulance sirens and televisions sets. I was alone with the eerie specter of silence.
I yearned for the beauty of home, South Africa, with its casual cacophony of sirens and smells. I was a stranger in Venice and something inside of me ached, homesick. I promised myself that I would not go further as darkness settled around me, but as I passed in to another street, a burst of happy light smiled on my pulled face.
Boxes of books spilled out on to tables.
An old woman sat on a low chair, reading from a yellowed paperback. Intrigued, I walked over to the foreign works and ran my fingers across the dust-licked, unwanted works of art. I could not understand the titles or the Italian that dotted the covers. Without thought to my hearts honest cry, I began to sing a song about home. A popular Afrikaans South African song.
From behind a stapled wooden shelf, a man in a brown suit popped out, his smile big, his eyes bright. He greeted me with a traditional Afrikaans greeting and his strong South African accent was a symphony. He neared my side and we spoke, he shared the details of his business trip to Venice. I drank in the wonder of how a heart’s raw cry for home can pull home towards itself, no matter how far the distance between body and country. I traced my steps back towards the hotel, my heart refreshed with the ringing sound of home. I felt complete.
The next day, I lay on the bed, tired. The afternoon sun was perfect as it draped across my arm. The gentle breeze sighed in from Juliet’s balcony. It was my final day in Venice and as I closed my eyes, I prayed for something comforting to ease my sleep. My eyes grew heavy and closed in to hammocks of sleep.
Halfway between the present and unconscious, a tender melody licked my sleep. Ave Maria crying on violin strings. I waited there, moved by the sound of the aching violin. I slipped off the bed and on to the balcony, searching for the song’s bearer.
A few meters away, beside a spouting fountain, stood a long-haired virtuoso of the violin.
So meticulous were his movements, so timed were the notes, and so perfect was the prayer resonating from silk strings. I walked out to where he stood and sank down beside the fountain, allowing the sound to rock me.
No one else seemed to notice him, but I noticed the answered prayer: the gift that beauty can be found anywhere, even when eyes are closed. The gift of the sound of an ancient prayer. Offered on the strings of a stranger.
Lauren lives at the edge of Africa, where two oceans collide. She is a novelist, poet and freelance writer who believes in the power of red shoes and chocolate. She is happily married to her best friend, Tim and shares her heart’s songs over at her website, www.laurenjacobs.co.za. Find her on Facebook and Instagram @profuselyprofound.
Have you ever unexpectedly stumbled upon something beautiful? Share with us in the comments.