Three weeks in Venice is hardly a long time. But, at the start it felt that way. I fooled myself with the illusion was that I'd be there forever—that I was there for good. But, three days later I found myself counting. I was secretly counting the days until the arrival of my sad departure. I shook this diabolical countdown off with a shudder. But, it didn't work. The little clock continued ticking away in my brain and then chimed in again the very next morning.
Approaching the final week there was no illusion of shaking it off any longer. Cold, sad reality set in. I told myself that I had island fever and that I was ready for the mainland anyway—and it is true that Venice can often bring on a sense of isolation after some time. But, I knew deep down (near the spot where the tiny clock resided) that this was just a lie. It was the way that the common-sense part of me would get myself in the water taxi and then on the airplane that would inevitably drag me homeward.
Usually the sadness would nail me on the taxi ride out to the airport. But this time I was still believing the island-fever lie as the taxi pilot helped us into his boat. After he reached the lagoon he subjected us to an unnecessarily jarring ride. He skirted the wakes from the incoming boats in an almost sadistic way as if he were trying to wake us up to the unreal reality of leaving Venice. My stomach bounced up and down, up and down as the airport came into sight.
And then it is all over. We lifted ourselves out to the dock of terra firma. Our too-heavy bags followed us. Soon we were in our plane seat and then we were home. A familiar bed is often the best part of getting home. But as soon as I drifted off to sleep, the ghosts of Venice started to haunt me. One after another, snapshots of revealed Venetian scenes hit me as if flashbulbs were going off in my brain. I woke up sweating with severe jet lag and tried to shake it off. It was no use. As soon as I closed my eyes again the snapshots returned.
"Too many photos," I told myself. "I made too many photos on this trip and now the act of clicking the shutter 10,000 times has rewired my brain."
The snapshots lasted only three nights but the daytime melancholy grew thicker and thicker, as if it were the fog of the Veneto that rolls in from the plains into Venice. It gripped my bones in the very same way. I simply could not shake it. Looking out my dining-room window I surveyed my suburban landscape. It was lush and garden-lovely. But, I missed the sound of the morning vaporetto. I missed the sound of footsteps on the hard Venetian pavement. Instead I heard the sound of leaf blowers and garbage trucks and the dog barking across the street.
A few days later I was getting annoyed with myself so I figured that an early-morning photo expedition would surely cure me. Living near one of the world's spectacular cities, I drove with a fellow photographer to the northern tip of San Francisco on a cold, foggy morning. The fog hung low on the bay like an immense expanse of cotton candy. I gasped at its beauty as we made a detour to the Marin Headlands. From there we could see the glowing-red expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge as it pierced the fog. Ships passed beneath us. Foghorns belched their unique and homely sound. Other photographers had the same idea. Visitors from around the world were with us, speaking a dozen languages and making a thousand images.
This was certainly one of the planet's most glorious spots. I reminded myself of this as we cross the bridge and descended into the city's fog. Soon we were at Fort Point, the famous location in Hitchcock's Vertigo. Technicolor apparitions of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak flickered in front of my truck as we wound our way to the old, brick fort. The fog was so thick that the bridge above us could hardly be discerned. It was stunningly dramatic and exquisitely picturesque.
This would surely cure me of my melancholy, I thought to myself. This was every bit as magnificent as the view of the Venetian Grand Canal. I clicked my shutter as a squinted to see a group of surfers in wetsuits who looked like bouncing seals in the distance. I took a deep breath and then the Venetian ghosts returned. To haunt me. To rattle me. The flashbulb-snapshots of Venice came back, this time in daytime while I was supposedly awake. I shook them off. And then I shook them off again. It was useless. So I cursed the ghosts instead. And I cursed Venice—though only halfheartedly as I secretly began a new countdown. This time the countdown would be a happy one as I counted on my fingers how many days it would be until I'd be in Venice again.