This is from a friend, Philip Gwyn Jones. Phil lives in Venice, teaches English a bit and writes novels. He is not exactly your standard writer living in a garret; four of his books have sold well, the fifth is on the way.
Phil and Caroline live in an apartment close to the San Basilio vaporetto stop.
Two days ago I went to buy a newspaper, a sandwich and a book. Things that would have seemed banal at the beginning of March now seem like a bit of a privilege. I needed to stretch my legs and so I walked along the Zattere to what passes for Walter’s edicola these days. You might have heard about Walter. His newspaper kiosk was washed away into the Giudecca canal by the acqua grande last November. It’s since been recovered but, until it’s properly patched up again, Walter’s operating out of a space belonging to the church of the Gesuati on the Zattere.
I stop by Al Bottegon to pick us up a couple of panini for lunch. They’re famous for some of the best cicheti in Venice, and do some of the best filled rolls as well. Getting to the bar is usually akin to a contact sport, but there are no such problems today. The floor is marked out with tape, indicating the obligatory 1m of distance, but the bar is quiet anyway. It would be nice to stop and have a drink, but Caroline isn’t with me and I don’t think it would seem quite right. The first drink outside our apartment in ten weeks is something, I think, we really need to do together…
Libreria Toletta is the largest bookshop in this part of town. They’ve never stocked my books, but I forgive them (it’s an issue with the Italian distribution system, and there’s nothing they can do about it), and so I think it would be nice to stop off and browse. One door has been marked out as a dedicated entrance, the other as the exit. There are no formal restrictions on numbers, just a request to be patient and respectful. In the event, there is just one other customer. We dance our way around each other, leafing through books as best we can in our thin latex gloves, always mindful of maintaining a minimum distance from each other. I buy a book by Gianrico Carofiglio that I haven’t read – I don’t know why, but there’s always a book by Gianrico Carofiglio that I haven’t read – pay (contactless, of course) and make my way home along a not-quite-deserted Calle Lunga.
That evening we go out with a friend, for a Spritz at Nico’s on the Zattere. It’s a slightly odd feeling. Everything feels normal and yet – like everything else today – anything but normal. We are at liberty to remove our masks. The waiter, however, is not, which makes conversation between us feel just a little awkward, unequal. A family of five are seated on the adjacent table, positioned, of course, exactly one metre away. The three little girls wander just a little bit too close to us, and mamma arrives quickly to chivvy them back to their seats. Most of the customers unmask as soon as they sit down, other stay masked as long as they possibly can. Everybody, evidently, is having a good time, enjoying the early evening summer sun in that blessed period before it becomes too hot. And yet, it’s evident that things are not quite as they should be.
That’s to be expected, of course. Things don’t feel normal. Not yet. That’s going to take some time. But things are, perhaps, normal enough for now. And that’s enough to be going on with.
And it was also a hell of a good spritz.