I was looking back at some of my travel journals and thought it might be fun to rewrite parts of them in novel format. In this piece, based on my visit to Venice, the characters and situations seemed like something out of a Charles Bukowski novel and I found myself borrowing some of Bukowski’s bawdy and direct writing voice. It was interesting how taking on another writer’s personality freed me up in my own process and led to the piece almost writing itself. Here’s the first installment.
The train from Bologna to Venice only took an hour. As I walked out of Santa Lucia Station the view of the Grand Canal knocked the breath right out of me. Real pretty. Like the first time I saw the Grand Canyon, all wide open, and sort of shimmering. The next thing I noticed was hoards of tourists rushing around everywhere, up and down the footpaths and over the little bridges. JEEZ, what’s the hurry I wondered? They looked like they were trying to get to a business meeting or something. Their faces were dead serious.
I was too excited about being in Venice to care about the tourists and jumped in there with them. I strolled over a bridge, still pulling my suitcase, imagining I was the only one there. Enormous grey seagulls with vicious looking beaks sailed right over my head and boats PUTT PUTT PUTTED along the water down below. Mighty pretty. I had the odd sensation I was inside a picture postcard! I could have stood on that bridge for hours just breathing it all in. But it was getting late and I had to find the campsite. Besides, people were telling me I was in the way of their shots and it was starting to tick me off.
Finding the campsite wasn’t so easy. The bus ride over to the mainland was ok but from there my map reading skills totally failed me. It should have been a short walk but I ended up going back and forth along the same side streets forever. I was at my wits end. Then this young guy with a colossal backpack walked by. He was reading a map and I could see he was lost too.
“Going to Jolly Campsite?” I asked.
“Yeah, I sure am,” he said in a Southern American accent.
His name was Ken and probably the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. He also seemed to know statistics on everything, like the exact distance from New York to Los Angeles. Me, I wouldn’t know how far it is from my bedroom to the bathroom door. We were really hitting it off, but were no closer to finding the campsite, we had just become two lost people instead of one. In desperation I walked up to two ladies getting into their car and asked for directions. Not only did they know the way to the campsite but they drove us right up to the gates. How they managed to fit Ken’s backpack into their tiny trunk I’ll never know.
Boy I was glad to be there at last. I gave the receptionist a huge smile. Do I want to upgrade from a tent to a cabin she asks. I always think these are trick questions, so I thought about it for a minute. The tent seemed like a fun option when I booked it online and I was up for some adventure.
Jolly Campsite wasn’t like any campsite I’d ever been to. Not that I’ve been to that many but I don’t remember any of them having a swimming pool and Jacuzzi. I’m moving up in the world, I thought. That was, until I saw my tent. It was just a shack. Four walls of plastic sheeting and transparent windows. It didn’t look fun at all. It looked quite depressing actually. I went back to the office.
The cabin was much better. Cozy in fact. It was like a little house with a separate bathroom and porch outside. There were twin beds but I was the only one there. Very cozy. My own little house in Venice. Things were looking up. I unpacked my suitcase and went to check out the restaurant. I was dying for a cup of tea.
Never get too excited about anything. If you get too excited someone’s going to come along and drop a big lead ball on your foot. It’s the law of the universe. Me, I’m always getting excited by things, I never learn. When I got back to the cabin there was someone there. I knew it had been too good to be true. KAWUUMPP! That’s the sound of a lead ball landing on my foot.
He was unpacking his clothes onto my bed. Better keep things polite, I thought and introduced myself.
“Heyyyyy, I’m Gaston,” he said holding out his hand.
Gaston was from Buenos Aires. He had a cracking smile, I had to admit. Ear to ear. Extremely warm. For a second I forgot all about my bed. He also looked just like the actor Vin Diesel, complete with bald head beneath his baseball cap. Then Gaston let out a terrific sneeze.
“Bless you,” I said.
“Thanks man. I kiss a Malaysian girl in Rome and she give me this,” he replied, while wiping his nose with a tissue and shaking his head.
I had to feel sorry for the guy.
In addition to his movie star looks and Latin charm, Gaston was a mean ukulele player. He pulled out a little ukulele from his bag and played the theme song from The Good The Bad and The Ugly. Boy, he could really play. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It had probably done the same for the Malaysian girl.
I decided it was time to bring up the issue of my bed.