Venetian Escape

by Alyna Poremba

A leap into the unknown Italy


In daylight Venice is an amusement park. Cruise ships bring hordes to parade about. Masked entertainers dress for carnival, lines form for gondola rides and gift shops span the Rialto Bridge. Even mooring posts are candy-striped. Best of all, its winding streets are a built-in maze with endless chances for discovery. But come darkness the kaleidoscope of paths becomes a sinister labyrinth, one I found myself trapped in when I wandered too late into the evening. I know the dangers of exploring at night as a solo female. Yet I can't help but try for a moment free of all but the sound of distant traffic. Bare of daytime chaos and stripped to a structural shell of skyscrapers, streetlamps and sidewalks, I can see a place at its most vulnerable. I breathe in the night air and for a second it's all mine, a city opening itself to me. Alone in Venice I feel its walls closing in, not letting me leave. I round infinite corners through poorly lit alleyways desperate to find somewhere familiar. A woman has already turned me back the way I came, the canals are all looking the same, and didn't I just pass that fountain? I know it's as much a faux-pas to expose my lost status as it is to be out alone at this hour, but I pull out my map. As I spin to align it with my surroundings I hear a whistle. A man is walking my way making a `come hither' motion. I bury my nose in the paper and am disappointed when he fails to walk past me. "Signorina, where are you trying to go?" His voice is soft and warm with an accent I can't place. 'The bus station.' He nods. "I am heading that way. Come." The last bus will leave soon. Do I have a choice? He clutches heavily-laden grocery bags, dark curly hair apparent but face in shadows. "I am from Morocco originally, but I have been living here for 36 years. I know this city like the back of my hand." It shows in the speed at which he navigates the passageways that confounded me, though I keep my eye out lest he lead me anywhere I deem too dark or narrow. Before long we reach a wide square. He lifts his finger towards a corner. "You follow signs like that, you get to bus." I squint to read "Per Piazzale Roma", my destination. I turn to thank my aide, eager to glimpse him in brighter light. He's not there. I circle and scan for him, but he's gone, swallowed by the very city I thought would succeed in trapping me. One of its own has foiled its plan and I have barely escaped. In the empty piazza, I breathe in the night air once again.