Jeff Hampl

Escaping Spirit, Venice

A first-time visitor becomes bewildered in the Italian city of canals and gondolas

By Jeff Hampl

My reflection in a storefront window pane really was the first indicator that Venice was sizzling. 

The mirror-like window revealed my sweat-drenched T-shirt and matted-down hair. I had one day in Venice, and in my rush to see it all, I hadn’t given the summer’s temperature a chance to drag me down

Jeff Hampl
Gondoliers prepare for a day’s work.

Truth be told, I didn’t even recognize myself at first. Odd how that happens—I certainly know what I look like—but for a fraction of a second, my brain interpreted the image as being another man.

Then I figured it out. Definitely me. 

And not only was I soaked with sweat, but I looked tired. Exhausted, come to think of it.

That shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I had flown from Phoenix to Venice, with an arduous six-hour layover in Philly, without a wink of sleep.

I hadn’t felt haggard, though, until my reflection caught up with me. Then Venice started shifting fast.

My alone-in-a-new-city adventure faded into the realization that I was quite lost. My swift stride over canal bridges slowed to a crawl.

Jeff Hampl
Venice’s churches and other buildings seem to grow out of the water.
A museum’s empty stoop offered the closest respite. And although just a momentary breather was my intent, my body—spurred on by my faded reflection—had other plans.

A jerky gondola ride. Marveling at a thorn from Jesus’ crown. Treats of gelato and made-in-Italy pizza. Those were my plans for Venice.

Instead, I slept.

On a curb.

In full view of everyone who passed by.

And I couldn’t do a thing about it.

By the time my eyes opened again, the shadows in front of me had shifted. My first view of Venice—brilliant papier-mâché masks, eclectic glass jewelry—had faded.

I was still tired.

I was still lost.

Alone in Venice.

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The Cronkite Zine showcases the coursework of individual students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.