I have just left Venice. It is without a doubt, the most beautiful city I’ve been to. It is also my least favorite city I’ve been to. Venice exhausts me. I originally planned to stay longer, but I couldn’t stand it.
In the day, Venice is overcrowded with tourists. At any given time, more than 60% of the people in Venice are tourists, and almost all of the rest of the population work in the tourism industry. No matter where you go, the streets are flooded with tourists, windowshopping for refrigerator magnets and coffee mugs as trophies of their travels, eating at overpriced and under-portioned Italian restaurants. I want to say that they are trespassing, but the reality is that there is nothing really to trespass on. One could say that Venice doesn’t belong to anyone anymore; it has no life of its own. It exists only as an image, and everybody who lives in Venice works on the upkeep of this image. Well, the truth is, as much as I want to say that Venice doesn’t belong to anyone, it’s probably truer to say that Venice now belongs to the tourists. It breathes only for them, and so they are right to treat it as they do.
But the strangest experience is to wander Venice at night. Because Venice is powered purely by tourism, by about 10PM everything shuts down as the old people start retiring to their ripoff hotels. By midnight, even the most famous and enchanting streets are completely empty. For a moment then, Venice becomes yours. How strange. At the strike of midnight, to inherit an entire city. It is eerie and beautiful to imagine all of the midnight strolls through the history of this city must’ve looked just like this. Not a soul in sight. The duces, the priests, the kings and the slaves all saw the same Venice if they ventured out into the night. To me, it is at night then when Venice comes alive. When I can see clearest through the eyes of history.
Nevertheless, I had to leave. The city drains me. Venice in the day is a facade, and there’s only so much wandering at night one can do before the mosquitos start to get bothersome. I did however see the island of Burano, which is famous for its brightly colored houses. Visually it’s beautiful, and less crowded than the mainland of Venice.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of this journey. Why am I traveling? Where do I think this path will take me?
When I was in Split, a friend of mine told me this. “Haseeb, stop worrying so much about finding yourself or figuring stuff out. There’s nothing to figure out, and nothing to find. Just have fun, party, meet people, and enjoy your time in Europe. Stop thinking so much. It doesn’t help.” I nodded at him, paying my respect to the advice he was giving me. But as he said it, I thought to myself that he is wrong. And that his advice may be right for someone else, but not for me. I am a thinker, a loner. There is much that I have yet to think about.
But it has occurred to me that perhaps he is right. That in thinking and in isolation I will not learn who I am, but instead will learn the version of myself that I choose to see. But in doing, in relinquishing myself and my self-understanding to only what I do, what I accomplish, what I effect in the world, then I will truly know who I am. For some reason I have been avoiding this almost obvious conclusion. I am too comfortable in silence, too at peace in solitude, that I believe there must be some great and important piece of my puzzle somewhere in that darkness. That if I don’t come to know that piece of me, that it’ll always be incomplete. But the truth is, it wouldn’t matter if I did got to know that piece. It changes constantly, and trying to grab hold of it in one moment is like trying to grasp an ocean in your hand.
There are only two things that I need to know. The first is who I want to be. And the second is who I am. I can only know who I want to be by meeting and interacting with enough people who I respect and who hold in themselves qualities that I would like to embody. And the only way to know who I am is to do enough, vitally and passionately enough, that I know through what I do who it is I am in the world. It is through my engagement in the world that who I am will be reflected back to me. The world is a mirror, and through one’s actions, one’s self is reflected back.
Right now I can put this into words, but I don’t know if I truly believe it yet. Perhaps that’s just a matter of time. I am not half the man I like to think I am, but in some ways I am much more as well. There are times when I despise myself, and other times when I feel blessed to have the capabilities that I have. It wil probably always be that way. And in some way that piece of myself that is in the darkness will always be in the darkness, and when I’m twice my age I’ll still struggle to understand it. That journey never ends.
I am in Padua now, and I like it a lot more than Venice. I will write more soon, about a guy I met a few weeks ago named Alex. I’ve been putting off writing about him and my interaction with him, but I shouldn’t any longer. I will be here in Padua for about a week. I will try to meet people and immerse myself into the life here.