I arrived at night, and Venice was empty and spooky and magical. From the tip of a little pier by the deserted Rialto Market, I watched the moored gondolas bob mournfully on the twinkling, black water.
The next day I got up and ventured back out. Everything was completely different. It was TEEMING, with tourists. Every nook, every bridge, every hidden little campo was mobbed. It was inescapable.
Where are the locals? I kept asking myself. There aren’t many left. And the ones that are, don't seem very happy about it. It probably has a lot to do with the monstrous cruise ships I saw bearing down the Giuedecca Canal.
For the next five days, I did what all tourists to Venice do: to search for some deluded romantic idea of authenticity, of normality, of regular city life. But for every local bar, there were ten kebab shops. For every family home, a dozen hotels. A relentless assault of tacky souvenir shops, and selfie sticks.
For all its beauty, and it really might be the most beautiful cit on Earth, it felt like a floating fridge magnet.
My last day there was foggy and cold. I took a trip out to Torcello – the first island on the lagoon to be settled. Now, it’s home to a crumbling cathedral and about a dozen residents. A symbol of decay. And a poetic reminder of the ephemeral.
I climbed on the Ponte del Diavolo, a narrow stone bridge without a parapet, and looked around me. Venice is disappearing. Standing on that bridge, looking around that tiny island dotted with ruins, everything shrouded in a ghostly mist, it hit me.
Then I heard a water taxi chugging towards the bridge. As it passed underneath me, I saw the driver, at the wheel, counting an enormous wad of 50-euro notes.