My Search for a Story in Venice

By Murissa Shalapata

I find whenever I intentionally go on the look out I never find what I am looking for. When I keep my eyes open, however, I find pleasant surprises and things, it turns out, that I need at the time. I asked myself last night what route I should go in telling my journey to Italy. Rather than focus on the country and the amazing scenery I have decided to make it the backdrop or catalyst that brought art history enthusiasts together. Another question I asked was whether I should put out my ideas and insecurities that I knew I would experience in a group of strangers. As a writer I must say SCREW INSECURITIES! I came to the conclusion that as a writer my responsibility is to reveal such things not just for entertainment but also to establish a connection with the readers. If I left these portions out the post would suffer.

As I have said previously I found something that I needed. I went on this trip in search of a story as I also acquired knowledge about the Renaissance in the Veneto region of Italy. For quite some time now I have been struggling with creating an interesting idea for a novel. When I travel I tend to discover interesting story potentials and I made the conclusion that Italy for one month would be no different.

This is a view of Capri from the chairlift we took to the top of the small island. My favourite spot in all Italy.

I had dreams of writing a novel about an old Italian woman living in Capri amongst the ruins of Tiberius. Or that crazy lady who runs the popular cafe in San Gimignano. This idea went no where even after visiting the beautiful island as I now believe that I cannot accurately write about the Italian culture through the perspective of an Italian as I do not have contextual access to the culture and the people, the way they think or even understand the language. No, I wouldn't write the book in Italian but as I have come across in my linguistic class, language influences the way one thinks. I also discovered that I didn't understand the people, why they yelled so often when they spoke, why so many littered, why they hated the French (my country I have longed for so much more so than Italy). So within the first week of my trip I gave up writing a novel about an Italian person at all and am confined to my perspective as a North American, as a Canadian, as a nomad of British Columbia.

My first ten days of my trip, as my boyfriend and I traveled from Rome, Naples, Capri, Florence, San Gimignano and then finally Venice where my class would begin, I had decided to settle in as a tourist drinking wine every day, multiple times a day, and eating perfect idealized Italian meals, observing the historical past, touching what the city would easily allow me to on the surface.

When it came time for my boyfriend to leave Venice and as I watched him sail away in a noisy vaporetto airport bound, I was alone. My room was not ready in the religious institution my classmates and I were booked for and so I roamed the streets avoiding the run-in with the class group as long as I could. I sat at a reasonably priced hole in the wall with amazing food and drank white wine slowly in the incredible heat. I watched a well dressed man fish crabs out of the canal with a steel frame and a net. I stared at statues of lions and churches while questions in my head were my only comfort from being alone away from home.

This is one of my favourite statues in all of Venice

The fact is I am used to being without close friends in close proximity. In a clicky town with many bleach blonde morons who discuss the state of their tans or abs, I moved from any real friends years ago and try to stay in touch but it doesn't seem to work out. But there on a different continent with no one was uncomfortable.

When the time came to finally meet everyone I wasn't too worried as the wine was working itself through my veins and I had always found myself humorous and thoughtful as a companion. I knew I would be fine.

The first week was awkward as everyone was settling into their own groups. Watching people divide was as peculiar as watching bacteria multiply. I remained a sort of cell, floating around them never getting too close but interacting with all of them.

This is a photo of the Peggy Guggenheim of the Grand Canal

Then one night at the Peggy Guggenheim everything changed. Our entire class was invited for a couple of drinks at the Guggenheim museum in Venice. Our group of 30 had reservations and so we skipped the entire line which was long. As we entered the courtyard it was relatively calm.

Below is the entrance to the balcony of the gallery on the Grand Canal

Not ten minutes later the courtyard (which was between the two gallery spaces) turned into a club with music and lights, drink tables and young 20 year olds. Again, as soon as we got in, groups were divided and I stuck with whomever was closest. Fate had intervened and the girls I was with turned out to be art loving, Aperol drinking humans!

As we toured the gallery during the party, others were fantasizing of Italian guys at the party. As we analyzed a Jackson Pollock in the flesh and sipped out Aperol, it was bliss. As we discussed Picasso, Duchamp, Dali, others forgot where they were. American music pounded through the speakers in the courtyard while no one danced, just stood around trying to attract each other. To each their own, but I craved something different than the party scene I can observe from home at any club.

At this point it doesn't matter if I never again see or speak to those girls with whom I was inseparable for the rest of the trip. Something had been given that was much more tangible than an idea. One of them turned out to be an important influence during my trip as we visited churches throughout the Veneto. I would notice that she would go away from the group and sit in silence. There would only be her on an empty bench among 40 benches or so and she would be in awe of what was before her. I tried this and every church was even more special as I interacted with it rather than being a tourist.

The Frari church in Venice. My Favourite church in Venice.


  1. Hi Murissa: Lovely post. What a wonderful experience to spend a month in a city and learn its secrets. ;)

    I love visiting churches when I travel as well - to sit peacefully and take in the beauty - listen to the echoes - smell the scent of burning candles and incense -all of it.

    Hope we'll get another excerpt of your travels in your next post.


  2. Wonderful post - would love to do that some day! I loved the honest observations.

  3. Really enjoyed your travel post, Murissa. Especially:

    'I would notice that she would go away from the group and sit in silence. There would only be her on an empty bench among 40 benches or so and she would be in awe of what was before her. I tried this and every church was even more special as I interacted with it rather than being a tourist.'

    Sometimes it's renewing to interact with fellow travellers - and sometimes its heavenly to let the place itself speak to you.


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