The bus from Venice trundled down the long causeway, carting a dazed load of passengers away from the world's most improbable city. I was one of them that day, weary and delirious on a still-bright July evening after my first day of exploring this odd settlement, this treasure nest, this town built on sticks in a swamp.
It's easy to fall in love with Venice. But for me, it isn't about the picture-perfect vistas or the Guggenheim or the 80 cent prosecco you can by from a kiosk alongside the Grand Canal. OK, it's kind of about the 80 cent prosecco you can buy from a kiosk alongside the Grand Canal. But Venice, with its serpentine lanes and secret bridges and dead-ends, is the sort of place where I feel like someone took a screwdriver, dug into the control panel in my brain where the deepest dreams are stored, and programmed a place just for me. My map was useless. I just gave up, and let myself be led.
Just when I thought I'd succumbed to Stendhal Syndrome -- that condition where you pretty much drop dead from overexposure to culture and beauty -- just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I gazed out of the bus window on the way back to the hotel and -- what was that blur I saw? -- SKULLS! Skull signs! Skull signs on a rusty railway bridge! First one, then the next zipped past while I craned my neck to gawk at these high-speed flashes of silver and rust. A morbid procession of eerie warnings flashed past my vision, an entire typographical ossuary. The Rialto Bridge? Yeah, yeah. Sipping prosecco on a gondola on the Grand Canal? Uh-huh. Whatevs. Whisk me off to Venice and all I'm gonna do is slum for skull signs.
The bus passed over the bridge before I could dig up my camera, carting me off to the Hotel Ambasciatori. There I dragged my luggage into the lobby, checked in, and obsessed. About the skull signs. I knew there'd be no rest in my head till I went back to find them and photograph them. Time and distance can be hard to judge in a foreign city with a fizzy head full of bubbly. I knew this. Nevertheless, I gave my head an optimistic scratch and thought to myself whimsically: Well then, how about I just pop out a minute with my camera and take a little stroll to that bridge over the railroad tracks? How far could it possibly be?
Forty-five minutes later, eyes squinting in the hot sun, I arrived to my destination. Skullbridge. Granted, trudging uphill through the industrialized outskirts of Venice isn't everyone's cuppa tea, but it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon. And granted, skull signs are their own reward. But I do recall the weird feeling as I stood by the side of the road, alone in my derelict pilgrimage, stared at by well-to-do Venetians on Vespas as I angled my camera over the rusted railroad tracks. One reason is as good as any when it comes to collecting images. It was a long slog, yes. But worth it. You do it for the love of the quest.