Friday 3 August 2012

#FridayFlash - No Cats

It took Henri sixteen minutes and thirty four seconds to decide which mask to buy. Marc stood by the door, checking the football scores on his phone, while she deliberated over feathers, glitter, metal filigree or Swarovski crystal. He'd already bought his souvenir mask the day before, a dark red leather affair designed to look like the type of Christian devil you'd seen in a medieval engraving.

"OK, I've decided on this one."

Henri led Marc out of the shop and into the narrow street. She ignored the tuts from passersby as she stopped to pull the package out of the carrier bag.

"Why don't you leave it wrapped up? It'll be easier to get it home in one piece," said Marc. He pulled on her handbag strap, trying to urge her towards one of the large, and less crowded, squares.

"But I want to show you now! Honestly, it's so cool, I'm going to have to find some kind of excuse to wear it when we get home."

Her fingers tore through the many layers of paper, and she shoved the ball of protective tissue back into the bag. With a cry of triumph, she held out the mask towards Marc. He gave it a glance as he steered her along the twisting alleyways. It seemed Henri had finally gone for her original choice, a half-face mask sculpted to look like a cat, complete with ears, feline nose and plump cheeks. The mask was a patchwork of gold, white and faded sheet music.

"Ah, that one. I told you that was the most 'you' mask they had."

"I know but I needed to be sure. It's not like we'll come back here, is it?"

Henri held the mask up to her face, peering through the eye holes. Marc looked away, unnerved to see his girlfriend's eyes and nose disappear behind the paint and papier mache. She mewed at him and Marc rolled his eyes.

"Do you like it?" she asked.

"Yes. It's very you. Now come on, there's that bridge we have to cross to get back to the hotel."

Marc gestured ahead to the bridge. Wide stone steps led up, away from the busy pavement, and carried the street over the canal. A warren of passageways lay on the other side. He still couldn't get used to the canals, with their bright green water and faintly fishy smell. Marc couldn't guess at how deep they were - or what lurked in their depths. He'd said as much to the hotel owner this morning - Signor Spavento laughed, mumbled something in Italian, and then asked "Why else do you see no cats in Venice?"

Henri scampered ahead and peered over the side of the bridge. She held her hair back with one hand, and the mask to her face with the other. She admired her reflection in the canal.

“Oh wow, I love it! Maybe I’ll wear it at Halloween. I could be, like, a Venetian Catwoman, or something.”

Marc darted up the steps to avoid a tourist with a camera, and stood behind Henri. She looked good, but she was no Michelle Pfeiffer. Not that he’d ever tell her that. Instead he focused on the mask and thought about the fact they’d seen no cats in Venice.

A dark shadow rippled beneath the surface of the water. It lurked beneath the bridge, formless and waiting, like an ink stain caught in time. Marc looked around but saw nothing that could cast the shadow. Henri continued to primp and pose, trying out different facial expressions with the mask, oblivious to the fact that only the lower half of her face could be seen.

“Henri, we should go.”

Marc backed away from the side of the bridge, keeping his eyes on the shadow. Henri mewed, and the water below erupted upwards. Henri shrieked as Marc pulled her backwards, but the cold canal spray caught them with a jet of briny water. Tourists at either end of the bridge squealed in both delight and surprise, and the sound of camera shutters filled the air. Marc ignored it all – he’d caught a glimpse of a shadow within the impromptu fountain. A shadow with grasping hands, and something shimmering entwined in its claws.

Henri pulled a packet of tissues out of her bag and began wiping herself dry. Marc ignored the proffered tissues and stepped forward. He looked into the canal, its waters settling to a gentle motion, lapping at the boats moored either side. There was no sign of the shadow.

“Can you see anything? What the hell was that? Seriously, I’m soaked now.”

Henri appeared at his side on the bridge and looked into the water. They gasped in unison as only Marc’s reflection gazed back.

“No cats in Venice,” murmured Marc. He looked down at the mask in Henri’s trembling hand, and back into the canal.

No shadows, no ripples…and no reflection.

* * *

This is my second Venice-themed #FridayFlash, following last week's Tourists. Some more photos from my trip can be found in this blog post, which includes a photo of the mask I bought (which takes my tally of Venetian masks up to four). Now, it has to be noted, I have no idea if anything weird does live in the canals, but during the whole four days I was there, I only saw one cat. So you never know.

Monday 30 July 2012

Photo Prompt 96

New prompt available!

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The 96th prompt is Beached Boats.

Beached Boats

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!

Sunday 29 July 2012

Venezia 2012 trip

According to Blogger, this is my 500th post! So congratulations to me for managing that much waffle, and well done to you for putting up with it!

Anyhow. I got back from Venice on Tuesday and I figured I should probably actually put some photos up on here and tell you how the trip went. Well it all began on Thursday when I got the train down to London, since we were flying to Marco Polo Airport from Gatwick. Travel to Gatwick on Friday was fine, flight was fine, arrival in Venice was fine...and you have to admit, a view like this takes some beating.

Santa Maria Della Salute on the left, then the Doge's Palace and Campanile on the right
We caught the water bus, or vaporetto, for the airport to the Rialto Bridge, which is one of Venice's busiest areas, and most well-known tourist spots. It's also one of the few bridges over the Grand Canal, and has shops lining the bridge, selling all sorts of tourist treasures. You can see how packed it gets from the people lined up.

The Rialto Bridge
We eventually managed to find our hotel, which was just round the corner from the Rialto Bridge, but hidden down a rather narrow street. Nice place, really. Clean, comfortable, all the stuff you'd expect. I'm still a little flabbergasted that I managed to find a hotel in such an essentially central location at such a reasonable price - thank you, Expedia!!

Typical view while walking around Venice
We spent Friday afternoon and evening just wandering around, acclimatising to Venice and enjoying being out of England. Still a little baffling that I could walk around in a vest and shorts at night, but then the temperature only went down to around 24°C.

View down the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
Saturday was our "doing stuff" day. I'd wanted to see inside the Doge's Palace since I was in Venice in December 2006, and we'd bought advance tickets online before we went from VivaTicket which meant we could jump the queue (hurray!) The Doge's Palace, or Palazzo Ducal, is a fantastic confection of Byzantine architecture, from a spectacular courtyard to the sumptuous rooms inside. The Palace is linked with a nearby prison block by the famous Bridge of Sighs.

The Doge's Palace courtyard
After that, we explored St Mark's Square, or the Piazza San Marco, which is sort of Venice's equivalent of Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square. It's home to the Campanile bell tower, the Basilica di San Marco, the Doge's Palace, and the Museo Correr. The last one is pretty much three museums in one, and entry is covered by the same ticket we used for the Doge's Palace. They have mummies!!

Piazza San Marco
The rest of Saturday was spent wandering, and we popped into the Hard Rock Cafรจ (just behind the Piazza San Marco) for dinner. Venice is definitely a city which caters to walkers, since the gondolas and water taxis are a bit pricey. But if you're prepared for many steps up and down the bridges over the canals, and you don't mind exploring twisty, narrow streets, then you'll be fine.

So pretty!
On Sunday, we decided to go looking for the church featured as a library in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Paul tracked it down online, and we went looking for the Church of San Barnaba in the Dorsoduro district. The exteriors were filmed in Venice, while the interiors were a studio set at Universal. After walking past it twice and even eating lunch outside it, we finally realised we'd found the place! Good job we didn't go looking for the Grail too.

Church of San Barnaba in the Campo San Barnaba
Dorsoduro was probably my favourite of the districts, as it's by far the prettiest and quietest of the five. I could imagine spending many lazy Sundays here, even if it is fairly easy to get lost. It's also where I found my Venetian mask souvenir, but more on that later.

Typical Dorsoduro view
We ended up spending a fair bit of time just exploring Venice, and the Piazza San Marco at night is well worth a look, if you can stand all the tourists and street sellers.

Piazza San Marco at night
Monday ended up being a chance to take one last look around, and we set off to make sure we had plenty of time to catch the vaporetto back to the airport in time for check in. I certainly enjoyed Venice, and I was glad I'd gone back for a second visit. It was nice to explore its labyrinthine streets, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as expensive as I'd been expecting. Plus, in terms of souvenirs, Venice can't be beaten with its fabulous array of masks...

More traditional masks...
Cyberpunk masks!!
And of course I had to get my own, didn't I?