Venice, oh Venice. The scent of the salty air fills up my lungs as I inhale. I roam around the streets just to get familiar, but the more I walk the more I discover. It’s been almost two week since I’ve settled and all I have been doing is walk walk walk. I can’t get over the beauty of this city. The organization that provided me with the scholarship, prepared me a place to stay, a decent apartment that had a kitchen, a bedroom and a living room. Perfect for one, and I was extremely thankful that I was living on my own. I had already started studying Italian as a language with two elderly couple who offered to help me. I still didn’t apply my papers to any university mainly because I don’t know which university best suits me. I did take a glimpse of the campus of some universities, I jotted down what I liked. But so far, I wanted to discover Venice. I took a small notebook with me wherever I walked, to scribble down what I liked and where the place was. But today, out of all days I felt like I need a cold gelato in this hot weather. Yes it’s hot, nothing compared to Dubai of course, but its humid and hot. The kind of weather that makes you want to wear the lightest t-shirt possible with a skirt or some shorts. I tied my hair up into a ponytail, wore my shades that I bought from some street vendor by Rialto Bridge and took out my sketchbook. There was just too much inspiration in this city, and my mind was oozing with ideas that I needed to tame before it was too late. I bought a cone of frozen yogurt and walked towards the Bridge of Sighs, I took a picture of the view then got out my sketchbook. I needed some acrylic for this, so I mentally noted down that I needed to go to the nearest art store to buy some. I figured that the Bridge of Sighs needed a moment of peacefulness, a moment to silence, and tranquility in its essence. I wish if my parents were here or my brothers, so they could feel what I could feel in Venice.
I finally settled at about 2PM in a coffee shop by Riva degli Schiavoni, facing the docks. I looked at the view it was breathtaking. The gondolas parked side by side, a few boats here and there. It was magnificent, and I knew that this scene was not to miss. I took a couple of snapshots whilst they were brewing my cappuccino. I loved the buzz in this restaurant; I loved the diversity that I was amongst. The different languages, different cultures. Couples sitting beside me, businessmen on a coffee break. There were all kinds of people, and then there was me, the artist. I sketched out a couple of gondolas here and there; I sketched out moving figures with the background. My A4 notebook is too small; I seriously need to buy something larger… Dusk was slowly setting; the different wash of warm colours inspired me to come back again with a set of new paint and canvas. I had to be at the Lombardi’s in a few (the elderly couple who were teaching me Italian). I quickly paid for my cappuccino and headed over to their place, taking snapshots of the views and street names so I can remember how I got here and there.
I rang the bell to the apartment and patiently waited, I arrived at 6PM sharp. Right on time to the appointment. Here’s a quick introduction to them:
Father: Giovanni. 67, retired.
Mother: Francesca. 60, retired.
Elder son: Riccardo, 34, works in Milano. Married, has 2 kids.
Younger son: Pietro, 27, works in a company in Mestre. Lives with his parents.
Ciao Shamsa, come stai? (Hello Shamsa, how are you?)
Bene grazie, e tu? (Good thank you, and you?)
Bene. Come in, you’re just in time for dinner. Where did you go today?
I’ve been walking around. I just discovered the Bridge of Sighs. Then I went back to the usual place for some cappuccino and gelato. How was your day?
Ciao Mr. and Mrs Lombardi. I went over to greet them then sat facing Pietro. We had lasagna for dinner; all these carbs are going to be the death of me (I hope I’m not gaining anything!). Today’s lesson was about ‘what I did today’; ‘Che cosa hai fatto ieri?’ and I had to practice what I was taught the previous lessons.
Ciao! Mi chaimo Shamsa. Ieri, ho fatto un giro da sola. Due ore fa ho mangio il gelato. (Hello! My name is Shamsa. Today, I had a walk on my own. Two hours ago I had ice cream.)
Brava! You’re improving!
Grazie Mrs. Lombardi
The lesson went on. I knew that if this went any further, eventually the Lombardi’s are going to get bored of me, and this is just an assumption. But honestly, I think this is useful but to some extent it need to be practiced on a daily basis more than an hour or two. So I came up with an idea, something so simple.
Mr. Lombardi, I was thinking of applying to a job. Somewhere where I can interact with lots of people and speak Italian. I think this will drastically improve my language.
Bene, but do you have somewhere in mind? I can help, ma I don’t know what you want.
Why don’t you work at that coffee shop? The one you go to everyday. I’ll work with you part time.
Pietro! She is our guest; we must treat her like our daughter- I gasped!
- Sorry to interrupt Mrs. Lombardi. Pietro, you’re a genius! That’s perfect! I can gain so much experience in such a short period of time!
For a moment they just looked at Pietro, and I could tell that the mother was furious from the inside, as if she was about to hit Pietro with the bowl of salad. They spoke in Italian, words I couldn’t comprehend.
La mia bella figlia… You know God, come si dice in inglese, ah. Not give me daughters, only boys. Pietro give me age and white hair. I don’t want you to go, stay here. Come visit us everyday. We teach you Italian you teach us inglese.
Oh Mrs. Lombardi, you’re my Italian family that I never had of course I’ll come visit you everyday. And besides, if Pietro is going to join me I’ll be visiting you all the time.
After the conversation and after dinner, I helped clean the dishes and Mrs. Lombardi taught me the names of the cutlery. Spoon is cucchiaio and so on.. Then we planned out the timings and what we’re going to do tomorrow. Pietro said he’d pass by my place at around 7AM. That’ll give us enough time to have breakfast together, then look at a couple of restaurants close then apply to the one that best suits us. I went back home at 9. I called mom and dad, we spoke for around 2 hours then I went to sleep, I was exhausted.
Pietro passed by my place at 7AM, as promised. We went to apply for the restaurant that we both thought suits us best and they were delighted to have us as a part of their family. I loved how everyone treated every one as a family, not as strangers, not by their features, but by their souls. Yes, people did stare at me at first because of my eyes, but they didn’t treat me differently. I put on my apron on top of my white shirt and black trousers, and started serving. I was hesitant at first, speaking in Italian and taking orders but by the 5th customer it became much easier. On occasions I did speak English to some customers- non Italians- or Italians who knew I wasn’t Italian. I got my coffee break at around 2, Pietro had left for work earlier, and he said he’d be back at 4 to work on his shift for the day. I sat by the docks, real close to the extent my legs were dangling down centimeters away from the water. How much I miss swimming, how calming it was to me. I wrote down a couple of notes in my small notebook that I had with me back in Dubai, bits and bob of inspiration is what I call it. I’d write down a couple of quotes or sayings, or whatever poetic comes up in my mind. I couldn’t help but doodle on the side a gondola, or the face of a fictional person.
Ciao, sei una artista?
No… Sono umm… Waitress? Io non parlo Italiano, ma parli ingelese?
You’re very talented. You should start selling those; you’d make a fortune. He sat beside me. Leaving a small distance between the two of us, not so much personal space. Suddenly I felt uncomfortable by the distance. Mommy told me not to speak to strangers, in fact she warned me about them. I made simple quick mind notes on his appearance. He wore an old parka that had holes, he smelled of cigars and of leather car seats, which was extremely offbeat. He had tattered jeans on, no watch, his shoes were plain black not too old yet not new. Perhaps he was homeless, a beggar, or that’s how he dressed. He had his hoodie on so I couldn’t get a glimpse of what he looked like, but I could see just his jawline peeping out. He had an unshaved dirty, quiet long beard- about two centimeters long. Fingernails weren’t trimmed. He had a strange accent, he spoke fluent Italian that I can swear to you he sounded Italian. But the instant he shifted accents he sounded so unbelievably American. So I couldn’t make judgments based on his accents.
I stood up about to leave, because talking to strangers wasn’t my thing and mommy warned me too.
It was nice talking to you, miss-? Nice try, but I won’t give you my name mister.
It was nice talking to you too. Good-bye. I said, smiling. I left him where he was, but something in me, something deep inside told me to go back. To talk for a little longer. As if talking to him was the right thing to do. But I couldn’t, I had work to do. I looked back after reaching the restaurant, he disappeared. I looked in between the crowds but he wasn’t there. It was like he vanished into thin air… Once I got back into work, the busier I got with the customers the busier my mind got because of him. Maybe he needed my help, he looked like a person who needed help and I refused to do so.
I went back to Pietro’s after our shifts were over; we had dinner together with his parents. I helped clean the dishes then went back home, on the way back I was talking to my parents on the phone. I unlocked the door to my apartment, changed into pyjamas then sat on my bed with my journal opened. I wrote down the date and began describing my day; I did a few sketches here and there using my biro pen. I kept on scribbling until I fell asleep.
A week has passed and things were, gratefully, moving on smoothly. My life with the Lombardi’s and the restaurant is all I ever wanted and more. It was like living in a movie. I wonder how life would be like if I was in Dubai, with my classmates… I hated how I craved the need to be accepted, accepted by my classmates so I can feel a sense of belonging. But nothing fulfilled that except for sports and studying. How can you want society to accept you, when you yourself can’t even accept yourself?
Quote of the Day: “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”