Palazzo Vitturi

by Michele Costantini 

The dove flapped its wings, along with the rest of its body, clumsy and panting, weighed down by fatigue.
It could feel each fiber of its body stretching, twisting in a desperate attempt to escape the enemy.
The two seagulls were chasing it, a deadly pair, their giant white wings spreading out in a few elegant moves.
Those screeches were just as frightening as any sharp movement: their eyes shined satisfied, knowing the dove was almost theirs, a few centimeters away from their curved, yellow beaks.
The runaway bird’s swift changes in trajectory, its twirling through covered walks and ever narrower alleys were now in vain.
It was over.
After squeezing in that dark and long street with the descriptive name, as was common in Venice, of Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, the inescapable hunting grounds reopened: suddenly the sky, a midday bright blue blew up in its eyes once more.
The shocking bright light blinded him.
Another acrobatic twist and a hard turn on the marble cone, the bell tower’s top resembling whipped cream, and the way out was right there, in front of him.
A possible way – perhaps the only one – to escape the ravenous fury of the seagulls, sucking air from under its wings, was to slip at full speed into the entrance of the red brick Palace, the same one it had seen a thousand, happier times, during its morning flights.
Though now, with both the high speed and the intense light, it could barely get a glimpse of it.
It seemed almost impossible to reach that white marble lair, set like a precious jewel in the fourteenth-century red wall.
The passage led to possible safety, to an inside once used as a bottega, a small shop, which was a common custom in Venetian aristocratic palaces.
The dove, with huge effort and in pain, strenuously managed a few more wing strokes, almost heading blindfolded towards the Palace.
Its hooked nose and the rest of its body and also the two seagulls just behind it had ceased their deranged flight almost in unison, in a deafening, disordered thud, hitting the glass door invisible barrier.
“Welcome to Palazzo Vitturi!” the funny Director whispered from the reception with a grin.
The two seagulls had already recovered and had begun to restore the natural order of things, their beaks ripping the frail, soft flesh of the dove apart, its body almost paralyzed.
The Director, who had witnessed the whole action from his seat behind the reception desk, made a sign to draw Florencio’s attention.
They often communicated with gestures, being that the guy spoke very little Italian, despite having spent a big part of his life in Venice after having migrated from the Philippines when he was very young.
His stubbornness to maintain a certain linguistic distance was dictated by an ill-conceived love and nostalgia for his homeland.
He often spoke of his hometown and of his wish to go back there, before his parents had become too old to finally enjoy the beloved son’s presence.
He could certainly live off the small fortune he had managed to acquire in Italy thanks to a couple of rice plantations he had bought years back.
The owners of the Palace’s kind help allowed him that purchase.
This was the reason why, from then on, he had stayed so loyal.
Florencio’s role in the hotel was one of dean.
He had been the first hire.
He had gained access to the building, as a cleaning attendant, well before any other.
Since the previous Director’s transfer to the US, he had become the custodian of the hotel’s recent history, the joining link between property and personnel.
Over the years his role had taken on an almost abstract meaning: his presence was requested – even when he wasn’t there! – anytime there was a problem, especially if it implied a tiny bit of physical effort.
Even before the Director made the usual gesture to invite him to ‘solve the problem’, Florencio was already in action.
As an old grain vendor from Piazza San Marco had taught him (a profession that became extinct, after a notice from the mayor a few years before banned the sale of corn for pigeons in the Marciana area) the best way to repel the bold seagull and its increasingly lowering fear of human beings, is to mimic its wingspan by pretending to be the largest bird.
Indeed, as soon as the two seagulls noticed Florencio running open-armed run towards the glass door they recoiled and disappeared in a matter of seconds.
The smile for the amusing scene soon vanished from his lips.
He took the dove in his hands.
It had managed to drag itself backward, reaching the inside of the hotel, in a desperate attempt to escape the seagulls barbaric feast.
With both grace and determination, he placed the animal back on the outside of the door.
He was certain he was doing the Director’s will, who had to be thinking that the sight of the dying bird inside the hotel might disturb guests.
In all conscience, he would have done more for the unlucky bird.
Only a few moments went by before his gaze crossed the Director’s once more.
A quick glance and the reflection of those silvery glasses at the nod of the head had him realize that he could fix this matter in a more proper way, his own way.
Actually, the Director, who was a bit of a hypochondriac, was focused on something else.
He was confused by the fact that, after touching the dove, the custodian hadn’t washed his hands.
Of course, the constant request to the staff to use disinfectant gel to repel germs after each ‘contact’ hadn’t been followed often enough.
Still, a quick soaping and a scrubbing at least, that had to be done!
Florencio retrieved a carton from the garbage dumping room and built a small shelter for the sick bird.
Inside the box, wrapped in a soft cloth, sheltered from bad weather and ravenous gulls, the dove would have certainly regained its strength.
In fact, only a few days went by before it recovered.
In those days Florencio had continued polishing the Murano chandelier bowls in the hall on the second floor: from there he could observe the less and less unsteady movements of his little friend.
Then, one day, he was forced to let him out again.
After a few uncertain steps the dove was in flight.
With a smile he watched him disappear over his head.
Only a few weeks passed by, and the bird was in great shape.
Flying among the Venice canals, he had become specialized in getting extremely close to the water.
That was the best angle to see it glaring: he liked what bouncing and constant movements did to the water surface, distorting it and providing a completely different perspective.
Sometimes, he would launch himself from high up into phenomenal dives from one of the many bell towers in the Castello area.
He was particularly into the stocky one bordering the Arsenal, overlooking another red bricked construction, the San Martino Church.
It wasn’t an opulent building, certainly not one with blazoned crests like those found in other districts.
The dove particularly enjoyed catching the parish old ladies’ amused looks, who would often rather chat than manage their own flea market stalls.
He would dive in amazing zigzags in between the Arsenal walls decorated edges, going from San Martino to the northern Lagoon.
He seemed much more agile in flight than once.
This was perhaps the result of gained experience, or maybe because of that ugly blow against the crystal door.
Truthfully, it was his perception of life to be changed: since birth, his eyes had split everything in half, and until then they had forced him to turn his cheek towards one direction only.
Now, they had taken on a new purpose, allowing him to experience a whole new dimension he wasn’t used to.
It felt like now he could see everything, the whole horizon, not just half of it.
He had unwittingly put behind him that Manichean habit to perceive everything as black or white.
Before him now Venice appeared ‘whole’. His was probably the same bird flight De Barbari had pictured centuries before.
Was it nature that gave him that gift? Was it experience?
Or was it all due to skill, to constant repetition, as if he had spent some time in a dark room, able to “develop” ideas, maybe piecing together data gathered in his everyday life, or possibly concepts he had only imagined?
In any case, he had managed to build his ‘own’ Venice, so unique, unreal and at the same time ‘true’, crucial.
Those things he had added, even the negative ones, they had contributed to making the beauty he saw even more gorgeous.
It was then that he understood what he desired: that place, the city of Venice itself had begun to feel tight.
On clear days, during long flights, he had noticed mountains and even some patches of water behind the horizon, scattered throughout the green countryside, throughout the hills beyond the lagoon.
Sometimes visions of this kind had appeared in his dreams.
He had started to imagine things, more and more.
He never could do it before then.
His imagination had grown ever more fervent, taking him to further and further destinations.
The more he thought about it, the more his will to travel crept deep into his soul.
A traveler was born and had grown inside him, and had taken over his whole body.
The evolution was complete.
Florencio had stood at the doorway each morning, seven days a week, waiting for him, gently caressing with his eyes his tiny friend. Still, it was clear that that would be the last time they would see each other.
The dove pushed a key towards him with his beak, one he had spent the whole night dragging down the alley next to the Palace.
Throughout that long night, the sparkle of the golden key and its jingling had kept him company, cradling his gentle thoughts. He had pictured the wide smile of his man-friend as soon as he would figure out that the gift meant “Thank you for saving my life!”
With a pompous gesture and an expression full of gratitude, Florencio put the key in his pocket and walked away, without turning around.
The dove was now ready to follow his destiny, to discover a world beyond the Lagoon.
“Thank you for your stay and have a nice trip!” the funny Director exclaimed loudly, with a much more affectionate grin, almost as if he wanted to be heard by the traveler dove, now in flight.