“So that is the way I first entered Venice, on foot, much like the pilgrim who enters a holy place, as a seeker, stirred with expectation.
Perhaps this was because of the Tarot cards’ prediction of lions roaring against a backdrop of crashing sea waves. Or perhaps the restless rustle within me was only due to the desert zephyr, then blowing slightly, so as to be almost imperceptible except as a breath of warmth upon my face. It could have been the unique fragrance of Venice: a perfume of flower blossoms, rendered mysterious with the scents of sage and anise, with the salt air of the sea as its base. In any case, the alchemy roused my being; my soul wakened to soar and merge with the sun’s setting. It was late afternoon, that crack in time when the day is being swallowed by night. The light of day was surrendering to the encroaching darkness, shooting fire into the sky as its parting gift to the Earth and its creatures, before disappearing into the void.
MacGregor led the way, passing through a row of closely planted young palm trees. Behind him, the robust, overlapping fronds closed neatly, granting no vision of what lay beyond. I paused to reflect upon this gate of palms. Seemingly, the trees were standing as guards or divine sentinels to monitor my entry into Venice. Could it be that even nature was in a conspiracy to keep the essence of the city a mystery? I still feel that not until one pushes through barriers, real or imagined, can one enter Venice completely and whole of heart. Perhaps in this way, Venice would remain a true experience, rather than a postcard. It was time to stop my musings and catch up to the others.
The sky above was ablaze; the canal below glowed with echoing hues of transformation. I stood transfixed. We all did, as men and women have stood since the beginning of time and will probably continue to stand until the cessation of time. Standing there, in Venice that evening, I knew I was adrift within that awe. On the canal lagoon, a few gondolas floated. A soft melody played, but perhaps it was only that capricious zephyr serenading itself by trilling over the strings of an unattended gondolier’s mandolin.
MacGregor was intent on his business and led us on a pathway along a canal. It seemed deserted, though spacious homes, with tended greenery and flowerbeds, lined the waterway. Blooms of exotic flowers and roses crept up trellises, apparently completely unaware it was winter; Chinese paper lanterns tossed about in the breezes.
Apparently the magic I was experiencing in Venice had not been sufficient to keep the plague away. Here too, the deadly Spanish Influenza was holding its sway.
As if reading my mind, MacGregor explained that unlike usual, there were very few people in Venice because the State of California, as a precautionary measure against the flu epidemic, had closed down every one of the city’s entertainments, restaurants and bars. I will accept that the closing of Venice was the literal explanation as to why so few people were there the day I first entered Venice, but I always make spaces for my own explanations of the coincidences that occur in my life. For myself, I will always believe there was no one there that day so that I could feel Venice’s soul, purely and without disruption.
MacGregor had guided us to Windward Avenue, Venice’s main thoroughfare. My waking dream, begun at the threshold of planted palm trees, now continued on without interruption. Mediterranean buildings of white plaster, flicked with gold, were bejeweled with thousands of tiny white lights. We walked beneath vaulted arches and colonnades. From the top of the columns, god and goddess sculptures with luxuriant tresses, bewitched by sea breezes, gazed down upon us as witnesses to our passing. Besides these plaster deities, there were few people to encourage or discourage our odyssey.
But seemingly not wild animals. A troop of three elephants, quite loose, raced down the middle of the street, trunks extended eagerly, eyes alit and wide with their adventure. Behind them, three very excited men, obviously their trainers, also raced, shouting at the elephants, and shouting at us. They waved their arms to indicate safety inside the buildings.
“The Tarot has brought us to a very strange place,” whispered Grandmother Lena. “There seem to be no people in Venice, just wild elephants running in its streets.” Mother giggled happily. In the Circus of Cairo, elephants had been her charge, and her very favorite of creatures. As for me, I toppled head over heels in love with the place.”
Lions and Gondolas