, ,

Friday was a long journey from Munich to Venice, finishing with a slow “vaporetto” (water bus) journey to the far end of Venice.

We had booked a place through airbnb; ‘urgent maintenance’ meant that at the last minute we were moved to a place in St Elena, the furthest edge of the island; it was a bigger, more expensive apartment, our host reassured us. He met us at the vaporetto stop and took us through a park loud with all the local children playing to the house.

The apartment was a shrine to a dead man.


The dead man was a doctor, a paedetrician, a plaque in the entrance told us. Inside, the apartment was surely much as he left it when he died nearly ten years ago. A good collection of novels in Italian, frozen in the early noughties. Knick-knacks in the cabinet from his travels around the world – a boomerang, even. The atmosphere brought to mind the house of my dead grandparents, and that of my wife’s dead grandparents: the accretions of a life centred on the late 1950s. Old furniture mixed with new. A green kitchen with odd crockery and cutlery only years of living could produce. A smell of many years of living in that one place.

In the spare room, on the wall, his framed degree remains on display.

A tour guide told me there is no room to bury their dead on Venice. They take them out to an island and bury them there for a decade or two until the gravesite is required again and the bones are transferred to a communal ossuary.

Yet this doctor, even as he lies in the ground on the next island, has a great shrine right where he always lived. Tourists come and live in his shrine each week, as if on pilgrimage. The apartment awaits his return.