The idea came to me on seeing a photograph of the Bridge of Sighs. I had to get through another three months of chemotherapy having more or less supported the first three and the moment when the hair loss becomes so distressful that you decide to go to a discreet hairdresser and ask her to shave your head. I brought a wig and a Bardot felt hat to wear on the trip and started searching for accommodation.
I wanted to live like a Venetian, discover the city on foot, take boat rides to the smaller islands and not stay in a hotel. I could afford to stay ten days from the second week in March departing the week following my last session when the prices were still low season plus a discount for the longer stay. I had the chimo to shrink the tumour before the operation so I was coming back to that prospect, plus a full month of radiotherapy after that but it seemed to me like a celebration, a release from life being dates on a calendar all involving the hospital.
I found the perfect place. A venetian style studio apartment not far from Rialto. The kitchen looked down onto a small courtyard, the studio looked spacious with venetian red chequered tiles and a venetian mirror over a pretty dressing table. I planned to shop early in the Rialto market and buy freshly baked Panettone for breakfast, cook pasta in the evenings as I have a dread of eating out at night alone, especially perhaps in Venice, a place so associated with lovers. The days I would wander aimlessly, sip hot chocolate in piazzas when I needed to rest, watch the changing light in the sky and on the colours of the stone reflections rippling over the water as life passed by on the canals. Window shop, take photographs of course and perhaps sketch if I found a suitable spot along one of the fondamentas. I had not realized how cold it would be or how physically weak the treatment had left me.
The apartment however was cosy and I quickly added a beautiful hand loomed wool wrap and a quilted sleeveless parker to wear under my inadequate coat. At the last moment a friend had proposed coming with me, sharing the expenses and perhaps feeling more inclined to experience Venice at night in her company, I readily agreed. She sensibly turned up in a fur coat and happily spent hours in the Academy and touring the Doges palace while I sat on the terrace in Peggy Guggenheims Palazzo sketching, sipping my hot chocolate and writing up story notes in my diary. All those steps, climbing bridges exhausted me but there were so many wonderful places to sit and rest, so much to contemplate, to taste, such visual richness, I saw the advantages of not rushing around with the constant crowds or standing hours in queues.
One day we walked as far as the Biennale Giardini marked by the stone lion. The sun shone and somehow that day I was not tired. We found a family restaurant open onto a narrow canal and sat on long benches in the warm interior while the proprietors wife served us generous plates of Spaghetti al nero di seppia with a jug of red wine. It was the plat de jour and it seemed the only thing on the menu , I had never tasted it before, would in all likelihood never have chosen it otherwise but I will never forget how delicious that meal tasted nor how much we enjoyed it.
I imagined myself living permanently in Burano, opening a small gallery until I remembered the cold winters. There were so many houses for sale; I could see the romance of it, a place to write to open my shop in summer. Perhaps in another life, another time and space. I had to get back, return to what lay ahead but I knew a story would come out of this and that one day I would like to return, when the weather was warmer yet not in the full heat of summer. My prognosis at the time was as uncertain as my prospects so this seemed unlikely yet I had I felt, achieved what I had set out to do; I had lived like a venetian in Venice for 10 days, leaving lots to be discovered but discovering much. That the myriad facets of its face like its jewelled seas have to be discovered slowly, revealed in glimpses at first, savoured then treasured away to be drawn upon and guarded like the stone lions enigmatic smile at the gates to the Biennale gardens.