Brutta Nottata

When one dreams of an Italian vacation, one typically conjures the romantic image of a table lit by a candle housed in an old wine bottle; the table is set with silver cutlery cradled in a burgundy napkin; a waiter sets down a sumptuous plate of orecchiette ai cime di rapa and you, in true Italian fashion, wind the pasta into delicate curls.

So can someone please explain to me why I am walking down a dark, deserted road in mainland Venice, hungry, tired, and afraid?

“My data sucks out here. Are we close?” Maya asks. She is my friend, travel partner, and at this moment the only thing keeping me calm.

“It’s a right at the next street and then it should be straight on for a bit,” I reply. I was walking incredibly fast, determined to get to a main road where there would be street lights. I inherited my mom’s intense paranoia–(in Morocco it only took me a record 42 minutes to conclude that my dad was no longer taking photos of the market and was instead lost or perhaps even hospitalized by a rogue cobra)–and there was something about walking down an unlit street at night in a foreign country that made me anxious. Finally we round the corner where a fluorescent lamp lights up a neon-yellow wall covered in demented black and white cartoon characters with their eyes popping out. Of course.

The following street is full of shops…but all the signs are in Chinese? All closed. We finally enter the one restaurant that seems to be open and happen upon a large dining hall with just two long tables in the back full of Asian people silently eating their spaghetti as if not to disturb the abandoned atmosphere outside. No staff in sight. I round the corner of the room to catch the hostess and the waiter whispering to each other, drinks in hand. They see me.

“No, we closed” the hostess says, shewing me away sleepily.

“Oh, okay. Sorry!” I respond. I hastily lead Maya out the door.

“That’s so fucking stupid, Yelp says they stay open until 10,” Maya says, furrowing her brow. We continue on the empty street, block after block with no open shop in sight. A bus barrels past us monstrously. Finally we find what looks to be another restaurant. As we enter, we are embraced by the comforting sound of human interaction. We spy an empty table in front of us, but when the hostess spots us, she hurriedly comes over and says, “We have no room.”

“Okay, thank you,” I say once again. I have a habit of masking my deviation with gratitude.

“Can we wait for a table?” Maya asks. I can tell from her curt tone that she is pissed.

“No. We have no more room for dinner.” She huffs.

Again I reply “I’m sorry” to the now very upset Italian woman.

“Well I’m not,” Maya says as we leave. I more than anything hate the transition from the lively restaurant to the alien wasteland outside it.

We walk on an see up ahead what seems to be a grocery store with its lights still on. I make my way rapidly up to the window only to see a young man sweeping the floors. He looks out at me, shakes his head no, and continues.

This is when panic set in. Until this moment, I have never in my life been unable to get food if I really wanted it. Ever. Being hungry is certainly an issue, but more than anything, I feel abandonment and powerlessness. I look up and down the desolate road and feel like I am lost and more than ever wish I was in my bed in California.

“Maya, what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to go to bed hungry tonight.”

Those words solidify my fears. If it was not for two Asian girls walking down the street rolling their small suitcases, supplying the street with some proof of life, I probably would break down and cry.

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