This year, for Valentine’s Day, Jean-Baptiste and I decided to go to Venice. Not because we felt drawn to the romantic image of the city, but because we felt we needed to go there. We felt that something needed to be healed in regards to our connection to Venice.
When I travel I’m not really interested in what I read in tourist brochures or on the explanatory signs in museums… What is interesting to me is what I feel, what a certain location awakens in me. I am passionate about feeling the energy of different locations and sites: each place is inhabited by its history and we tap into it with our intuition, translate it through our emotions. For those who know how to listen, each place has a message to communicate and a lesson to teach us. What is Venice trying to teach us?

Venice is the city of secrets, of whisperings, hidden meetings, contracts that are negotiated behind closed doors, of trade deals conspired in dark corridors, treason because of opportunism, of intrigue. Everything in the city has been built to impress: immense marble palaces decorated with rich tapestries, intricately carved furniture, golden paintings, high ceilings decorated with impressive frescos, etc. All has been thought out to intimidate the visitor, showcase power, show superiority.
All that is dirty, ugly, painful, has been hidden away. The Bridge of Sighs being one example where prisoners were carefully guided from dingy cells to the Doge’s Palace without being seen by the public. Another example is the most famous person of Venice: Casanova, who stayed trapped in our collective imagination as a great seducer. We associate him with love, while he spent his days taking advantage of innocent souls, lying, swindling. If he represents love, it is love of money, love of admiration. Another, even more emblematic, example of this is the carnival of Venice which is uniquely opulent and rich. Dresses and costumes in precious fabrics, embellished with lace, pearls, silk bows, golden masks with precious stones. The carnival of Venice doesn’t resemble other carnivals, there is something austere about it, it lacks spontaneity, it gives off the impression of a tightly rehearsed choreography. There is a scent of nostalgia that surrounds the carnival, which gives it a certain sadness and the people whose faces we don’t see are somewhat terrifying. When we look into the history of the carnival, we discover that it has been put into place to allow people to “go beyond the limits of acceptable behaviour”, to transgress the limits of what was legal, and behave in the way they wanted, without being recognised. Scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” come to mind. The glitter and the gold leaf are a coat of varnish hiding less glorious intentions.

Venice has certainly played an important role in the arts: Vivaldi was born here, the first cook book was written here and in the 15th century Venice was the printing capital of the world. But the history of Venice is above all the history of trade, conquest and money. Three concepts that have become inseparable since. Venice was the first financial centre in the world, it financed and impulsed crusades and used the banner of religion as a political tool to obtain commercial advantages and destroy its rivals, like the infamous fourth crusade that brought the mighty Constantinople to its destruction and that launched Venice as the first maritime power on the Mediterranean.

Venice is a caricature of the old world, the one that is currently disappearing and our coming here allows us to mourn this world, to make peace with our past contributions to this world of conflict, of inequality, of money before life and appearances before truth. We have come to say goodbye to it, one last time, to this city, to this world, before it sinks into oblivion for good, say thanks for all that it has taught us. Inform it that we have chosen a different path, one that no longer requires we wear a mask.

It is interesting to note that I am writing these lines in a place that could be mistaken with an ongoing carnival. When I head out into the street, I meet Vikings, pirates, witches, fairies, hippies. Some visitors of Glastonbury don’t quite understand or mock what they see here, most are in awe. It’s true that certain creatures are particularly inventive in their attire. But what makes all the difference is that I feel that the persona that is on display on the outside often largely corresponds to the spirit and the soul of the person underneath the costume. Even if the visual aspect is often exaggerated. As if the people here felt the need to have a strong visual identity to shout their true selves, to break the mould of conformity and uniformity that is so prevalent today. I can feel a lot more acting and make believe from people who are supposed to be “normal”, who step into a role each morning to go to work, who strive each day to make their lifestyles correspond to the persona they think they have to play in life, who are putting every effort into trying to fit a mould that doesn’t suit them. Every time I return to “normal” society, I am struck by its sadness and its lack of authenticity. In the end, the girl with the rainbow-coloured hair who dresses like a unicorn, is more authentic than the career person pursuing void ideals and accomplishments, killing their soul slowly by refusing to listen to their desires and dreams.

Photo by Rebe Adelaida

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