SAILING AWAY IN A SALUBRIOUS SHOPPING CENTRE

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“Picture flotillas of Highpoints with lifeboat strap-ons anchored in
 Port Phillip, ferrying easily startled wanderers up the Maribyrnong for a four-hour frolic in the Footscray Market, every day for six months.”

By Angry Train Guy

‘We’re going to Europe for a month,’ Jan said. Well of course we are. After all, traipsing around that kind of money hoover with two kids at foot can only cost…what? $20,000? And that $20k is coming from… where? Down the back of the sofa, maybe? The unlikely success of a Belty-sized
 tip on a dead cert at Flemo? Or somehow defying
the stupendous odds against a collect from the now- crammed Lotto Centre at the Market?

Actually, none of the above. It was from the fastidious squirrelling of two bob here, a fiver there and the occasional fat fifty, over more time than a half-senate election, by a determined and disciplined woman who, for reasons best known to herself, continues to tolerate me sharing her bed.

‘I’m sure there’s some oxygen in this room somewhere,’ she said, clearly not fazed by my flustered gaspery.

Then she said: ‘The kids will stay here with mum.’

Looking like doing

When I regained consciousness, Jan was sitting next to me, laptop in lap, a demented Nigella grin below bright eyes darting back and forth over rolling tabs. I counted
 34 – Airbnb’s, maps, galleries, hotels, more maps, Places of Interest, flights, railway timetables, car hire, restaurants, churches, museums and exchange rates.

Something deep within warned me to fall into line. Words I’d never heard before escaped from my mouth: ‘What can I do?’ I asked.

Nothing core. That had been done. The itinerary was set, accommodations chosen, flights, train journeys and car hires seamlessly linked, activities selected and what events could be booked, had been booked.

A lesser human might have offered up some alternatives, scissor in some personal desires, wishes, ambitions. That person would be a fool for not realising that all those options had already been canvassed and shunned as amateur, naïve, simplistic, illogical and, yes, random, under the fierce analytical gaze of Jan The Traveller. I am not that fool. Except for that crack about Reykjavik. And for that, I’m sorry.

Rows M-Z, please board now

The getting-there bit is tedious. We know it and we endure 
it, because we understand that, at its end, the traveller
 bubble awaits – that delicious feeling of being scooped up by strangeness and thrown into cacophonies of sensory overload, every receptor open and alert.

And that vibe. What is that? The weight of history, of myriad little olfactics teasing latent memories? Nope. Just the suffocating detritus from enduring the accumulated, exhausting, persistent loftiness of the entitled travellers’ interrogations.

Well, that was what Venice coughed up. Like a furball gathered up from a long hot summer of the relentless tide of tourist inquisition. ‘Where is?’ ‘How do?’ ‘What best?’ ‘When time?’ Loud [volume substitutes for understanding] bubbled-traveller twaddle. And Gino, in his stripey stripey shirt and jaunty straw boater, had had about a gutsful of it.

The arks of humans

I love Venice. It’s the water, it’s the weird history, it’s the futility of a city built on mud, it’s the glorious strut of it – an ageing tart that has seen better days, but refuses to go home early.

Like most of Europe, Venice is at her best in early spring or autumn. At least, she used to be. That was before the flotillas of livestock transports pulled into its ancient port and spewed forth bumbagged, birkenstocked, hundred-pocket-panted, multi-camera-toting cruise lemmings in their thousands. Their tens of thousands.

I am not sure what gave Venetians the irrits more. The sheer volume of cashed-up couch tourists happy to be corralled within the bounds set by St Mark’s Square – a bellini, a pigeon cacking on narrow shoulders and a quick sqizz at the Doge’s Palace before returning shipside [don’t be late!] with the requisite number of curated happy snaps and souvenirs expertly dialing out the local wide boys further afield.

Or is it the mountains of shit that these behemoths dump in Venice’s now not-so-pristine lagoons?

Lying doggo

While we waited for nanna to limp back to the good ship Happiness in time for post-drinks drinks, burping pizza fumes [‘not much topping on these…’], we holed up in the Ristorante Pedrocchi in Campo San Geremia, where a Bangladeshi waiter tested our language skills. Thankfully, we agreed on English, and after some good-natured cricket banter, we tucked into the local fare and a splash or two of Nebbiolo. Turns out, Italians make quite a decent red.

There was, however, not enough left in the bottle for us 
to endure the voluble conversazione emanating from four tables away. It seems Babs from Minnesota was struggling
 to prevent an unwieldy wedding guest list from running amok and offending the better part of that city’s A-listers. One of her many friends, Chuck, I believe, offered her some advice he found at the bottom of his wine bottle. It sounded like ‘fugem’, but the shrill, spikey laughs and the sustained applause drowned him out.

We brought forward our plan to head to the Giardini and have a quiet mooch around the Architecture Biennale, themed Reporting from the front.

We reasoned that few sardines would unplug the cocktail drip long enough to unravel the arcane water transport system to discover which global issues architects can contribute to and help solve. We were right.

Hands across the water

But there was one perpetual traveller’s obstacle that remained to be resolved. Sort of sensitive to the stress of put-upon natives, we decided on a delicate, thoughtful request of Gino to help us with some way-finding.

When you ask a local for help, it is oft suggested that if you have some of their language, and are prepared to have a crack at it, this is the moment to deploy it. Folklore insists that they appreciate the attempt.

Not Gino. I can only imagine how his patience had been chiseled away by the relentless waves of yelly tourists [when
I say tourists, I mean Americans] he had been batting off for the previous four months with some erudite map pointing and some exquisitely accented popcorn Italo/English, but he had clearly reached saturation point when Jan’s fractured Italian asked him:

“Excuse me fine servant of Venice, which barge will help me escape you cretins and take me to the Giardini?”

Gino, with equally exaggerated smiles and hand-waving, answered in the only way his exasperated fury would let him: “Mi permetto di suggerire signora che si va a farti fottere!” *

The next morning we left by train for landlocked Milano.

* “May I suggest madam that you go f#!k yourself.”

© angrytrainguy2017

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