Venice was a long way from Mississippi. Yet, Venice was where Jeff had longed to be since he was a teenager. It would also become the place of his greatest epiphany.
While there were opportunities for the arts in Mississippi, Jeff always felt his accomplishments undervalued. He participated enthusiastically in school plays. He submitted poetry for local competitions. He shared some of his writings with family, friends and teachers. But in the end he was disappointed with their evaluations. Sure, their words were always kind and full of praise, but Jeff could tell that they would all have been more impressed if he were an athlete on the football team or a skilled hunter.
Jeff chose instead to continue writing. He longed to one day write in Venice like many of his favorite authors. Ernest Hemingway and Robert Browning both spent time in Venice, as had Charles Dickens. However, it was Mark Twain’s account in chapter 23 of The Innocents Abroad that most influenced his desire.
As a young person growing up in Mississippi, Jeff spent plenty of time on local rivers and streams. The tales of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had served as a launching point for Jeff’s imagination on many occasions He often imagined himself on a grand adventure as he set out in a canoe or flat bottom boat. He knew, though, that his adventure would not be complete until he was writing in Venice.
That was several years ago, before college and a brief stint as a junior reporter with the Vicksburg Post. Today, as Jeff glided along he barely noticed the tall buildings towering out of the narrow canal. He paid no attention to the balconies or the odd shaped windows and entranceways. Instead he felt a nagging sadness.
He could remember a time when he was enthralled by these surroundings, but that was when he first arrived. He would ride the canals for hours absorbing the history and architecture. Venice had been every bit as inspiring as he had envisioned.
He made friends quickly and soon felt quite comfortable. His Italian had not improved much since most people chose to speak to him in English even when he initiated the conversation in Italian. He had picked up a little Venetian from some of his friends, but that was about the extent of his language learning.
Jeff’s main problem was that life seemed to get in the way of writing. He had written several short stories which he was still hoping would get picked up by a publication somewhere. He had two half-finished novels that he had not touched in months. His mind was filled with stories and ideas but they never found their way to physical or digital form. From his years of pretending to be Tom Sawyer, Jeff had always envisioned himself as becoming the next Mark Twain but that was not happening.
Jeff was jostled from his thoughts by the sudden appearance of another gondola rounding the corner. The gondolier, obviously a rookie, had turned the corner too fast and too close to the building. Jeff switched his oar to the other side of the boat, leaned slightly and maneuvered around the back of the oncoming boat. Jeff had a very natural ability for navigating the gondola and considered himself among the best in Venice.
Casting a sour glance at the other gondolier to ensure he realized his error, Jeff had an uneasy realization of his own: No, he had not become the next Mark Twain – he had simply become another one of Twain’s characters. He could see the line from Chapter 23 in his mind…
“The gondolier is a picturesque rascal…”
Footnote: The photo accompanying this post was provided by Icy Sedgwick as a photo prompt for the story. You can find more information here: http://blog.icysedgwick.com/2011/02/photo-prompt-21.html