Heat poured from the stones and a parcel of intense blue sky jostled its way through the rooftops above the small Venetian market square. The canals oozed a smell that seemed to coalesce on my skin. All around the square were trestle tables, candy stripe canopies and basketed wares. I watched a small moustachioed man drop thin wafers of potato into hot oil and once golden brown, place them all slathered with salt in waxed paper cones. Suddenly feeling incredibly hungry I bought myself one. The crisps were still hot and greasy and the salt made a promise to replenish the stocks I was losing through sweat.
The market was teeming, people selling and buying, eating and drinking. Children crying and running and laughing. Dogs whimpering for the want of some shade and a bowl of water. A small band of buskers singing traditional folk songs scraped their battered instruments in the corner of the square, looking up to thank passers by who dropped coins into the trilby hat at their feet. I wondered whose hat it was or if it was only a receptacle for money? Either way it had its story, battered and covered in dust.
One particularly colourful stall took my eye. A hessian cloth covered the table and mounds of coloured straw were arranged across its top. Nestling in the straw were glittering glass shapes, blown into bulbs of blue and red, orange and yellow. Misshapen and delicate, peppered with bubbles, the shapes cast lights and rainbows on the sackcloth. Little pieces of unused and unusable Murano Venetian glass, being sold by an entrepreneurial young girl.
I would have loved to handle the glass, pick it up and hold it to the sky. My fingers, however, were unfit for purpose in this respect, being covered in salty starchy grease. So, I could only look. As I stood to the side of the stall a tall rangy man, with fingers like twigs, came to inspect the stall. He too seemed transfixed by the glass but did not hesitate to manhandle one piece after another. The girl behind the stall watched nervously, too shy to ask him not to touch. He commented loudly at each piece he inspected “Oh, so pretty” “How do they do it?” “Gorgeous how it catches the light”, his home counties tone giving him away as a fellow Englishman. He seemed mundane and everyday to me, dissonant in the space we were in. The girl glanced towards me and raised her eyes skywards, seeking an ally in her predicament. I suddenly felt very very British, standing there so pink and sweaty, eating crisps. My countryman’s faux pax was a deep and wounding shame.
Licking the last of the salt from my fingers, I shrugged my shoulders and pinned my alliance to the mast. “Che idiota inglese” I said and then, with the grace of a gondola, slid slowly away back to my hotel room for a nice cup of tea.