Category Archives: Europe

Venice – The Assassination Bureau Ltd (1910/1963)

It’s a spur of the moment trip, and this time I’m with my sister. It’s the first time we’ve shared a room since we were teenagers – and the first time she’s been out without the kids in years.

It’s November, so not too warm – but it’s bright. The light here is so beautiful, even now, and there are still a lot of tourists. It must be too crowded to move in summer.

We’re staying at a hotel on the Grand Canal. I can’t stop giggling for some reason – I’m alternately stunned I’m actually here, and stunned I’ve never been here before. Eventually I realise the giggling is partly because my brain is trying to make sense of the fact that there are two Venices – one of day, land, business, religion – and one of night, sea, pleasure…

We window-shop like crazy. It’s almost a sensory overload. Venice is packed with things I love – glass, leather, ice cream, amber, beautiful handmade books – and masks, masks, masks. I want to buy them all, but my suitcase is too small. True, a lot of them are cheap foreign tat, but in some of the shops you can watch people making them on the premises. I’m starting to think I will never be able to choose just one, when a little leather mask catches my eye – it’s a fox, the same colour as my hair. Sold.

We were going to have a ride in a gondola, but the water is choppy – very choppy. I’m used to quiet, well-behaved canals – but Venice isn’t like that. This water is too close to the sea – it will never be tame. If I’m going to drown, I want it to be at the end of a holiday, not the beginning. I decide to settle for a photo of a gondolier, in traditional costume – then realise he’s using one hand to push the pole into the water – and the other to text someone on his mobile phone! I giggle so much I forget to take the shot – this happens to me a lot…

We wander ancient alleyways, in shades of ochre and gold, trying to decide where to eat. I want to look at them all, then decide, but my sister is ravenous, so we choose a little place which serves delicious veal. It’s a quiet evening, so, in an attempt to draw in passing trade, the owner send one of the waiters outside – the hottest one, of course – pony tail, leather jacket, tight trousers… I decide to stay for dessert.

Several Bellinis later…

I dream that the sea is roaming the streets, that Venice has floated away. My sister tells me it rained in the night, but I say no, more than that…

Outside, the sea is creeping in, sucking at the edges of the city. Places where we walked yesterday are now submerged, and the water is still rising. It’s acqua alta – ‘high water’.

We head back to St Marks – yesterday we walked across it, but today we have to wade. Luckily, Venetians are ready for this – platforms have been set up across the square, allowing people to walk across the water. We go into the Basilica – and the water is there ahead of us, covering the ancient tiles of the entrance hall floor, making them glisten like seaside pebbles. And still the water is rising.

This is just a weekend break, and I have company, so I only brought one small book with me – The Assassination Bureau. I brought it because I had thought it was set in Venice, but that was based on seeing the movie some years ago, which is quite different.

It’s by Jack London (better known for The Call of the Wild and White Fang) and it’s about an organisation that carries out assassinations – but only if they believe that the targets are bad people, and the contract is only valid for a year. Things get complicated when the leader of the organisation accepts a contract for his own death, then goes on the run from his fellow assassins.

I’m not sure if it’s entirely successful – this may be because it was started by Jack London, but finished by someone else. It does pose some questions about good and evil, but doesn’t seem quite sure how to answer them. But it’s certainly interesting, especially as a change from the ‘man pitted against harsh nature’ type of story that London does so well.

Soon the weekend is over, and we have to go to the airport. But we’re delayed leaving Venice, due to bad weather – which means we’re late for our connecting flight in Paris.

Never again do I want to go to Charles de Gaulle. When we do get there, it’s not clear where we have to go. The signs for connecting flights point left, right, and up?! We have fun and games with security. I manage to set off the metal detector, even though I’m not wearing anything metal at all – shoes off and everything. Perhaps I’ve been abducted by aliens… But they’re even more interested in my sister.

Never pack marzipan in your hand luggage. Apparently, in its foil wrapping, it resembles plastic explosive. The guards don’t look happy, but eventually they let us through. We’re really late now, so I don’t even bother to put my boots back on – I just knot the laces round my neck and go. We then have to go up a level, and the escalator’s out of order. Ever raced up an escalator barefoot? Don’t. Just don’t.

We make it to the departure lounge to see that our gate (the furthest away, of course) is now flashing red, final call. So we sprint like crazy – but it’s not our flight. Our plane hasn’t even landed yet. We have an hour to get our breath back – and put our shoes back on.

But once we’re on the plane – more fun. Two rows in front of us is a baby who won’t stop crying. And directly in front of us is a man who really doesn’t look right – he keeps twitching and muttering. We taxi for what feels like forever – for so long, in fact, that it seems like we are simply going to drive back to England. Would a plane fit through the Channel Tunnel?

Twitchy man is now muttering loudly. It’s starting to rain – hard. For the first time, I’m seriously considering using the emergency exit.

We take off. It gets worse. I thought the baby was already making as much noise as it could, but as soon as the pressure changes, I find out that isn’t the case. The shrieks are unbelievable – the poor thing must be in agony. And this really seems to distress Twitchy, who keeps clutching the headrest in front of him, half getting up, and looking around wildly. Maybe he just really, really needs a cigarette.

What he really doesn’t need is turbulence. So, of course, that’s what we get. I’ve been through worse – but in bigger planes This is one of the smallest planes I’ve ever been in – we are really jostled around, and there’s not even any movie to distract us. I usually travel alone, but at a time like this it’s good to be able to look at my sister and giggle. It’s a huge relief when we finally touch down. For a ninety minute flight, it felt much longer.

Back home, Venice has made the news. Acqua alta was the highest for over twenty years. Just hours after we left, the alarms went off – 75% of the city was under water. I glimpse the hotel we were staying at on the news, boards across the door trying to keep the water out.

I can’t wait to go back.

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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Europe, Venice