Venice, May 31, 2011—AS MENTIONED THE OTHER day, we were at first not allowed to go out the second gate from our apartment here, which was an inconvenience: the first gate leads to the fondamenta and then, over an asymmetrical wooden bridge, to a street leading right to the broad main pedestrian street leading to the railroad station. It's convenient if you're going to the station, or beyond it to the Piazzale Roma where buses stop, and cars can be rented: but if you're going into town it forces you to take a long and boring way around.
The back gate, on the other hand, lets you out quite near the Canale di Cannaregio and its restaurants and bars; beyond it lies the old Ghetto, then the rest of the Cannaregio, on quiet streets much more interesting and relaxing than the main Rios terà S. Leonardo and Maddalena and the Vie 28 Aprile and Apostoli which the tourists walk, through markets and past trinket shops and the like, on their way to Rialto.
The second day we were here another resident of our apartment complex volunteered to let us through the back gate with her key, but I wanted one of our own, and asked our rental agent about it the next day. He decided we could be trusted to keep quiet, and gave us one, but cautioned us to be extremely quiet when we used that gate.
I have since found out the reason for all this caution, a story so grotesque and yet so banal it could only be truly Venetian, or Venicely true. I found out as a consequence of an adventure yesterday: F___ and I had forgotten to be utterly quiet on returning from an outing, and were conversing as we approached the gate.
We were quiet as I put key in lock and turned it, quieter as we swung the gate open, utterly hushed as we noiselessly returned the gate to its place, easing the bolt home. Still, when I turned around after closing the gate I was confronted by a small dark balding man frowning from underneath the fringe of hair over his eyebrows. He seemed to be dressed in pajamas and a cardigan sweater, and wore a large crucifix on a chain around his neck.
Glaring at me, he hissed at us to be quiet. Have the courtesy, he whined, not to annoy people as you enter their cortile. Had he been any bigger he'd have been menacing; as it was, he was hugely irritating. Still, he was right: we had been conversing, and we'd been warned not to do that.
But what was the reason for all this? It turns out that the man — Fabiano, his name is, I think — lives with his stepson Pietro, if that's his name, an unpleasant, irrational man who alternates between long periods of sullen silence and infrequent outbursts of nearly uncontrollable rage. The almost unbearable sadness of caring for this youth is made even worse by the family's history, for Pietro is both stepson and nephew to the little man with the crucifix.
Years ago Fabiano had married badly: unable to attract the girl he really loved, who in fact married his older brother, he settled for a neighbor's walleyed daughter. In time, though, she died, of tuberculosis I think it was, and he was left alone. A few years later his brother was killed in a boating accident, and the widow, left with a difficult son to raise, consented to our neighbor's long-delayed suit. They were married in a quiet ceremony in the parish church across the Canale di Cannaregio.
In one of his fits, though, soon after the marriage, alarmed by a sudden noise he thought he'd heard outside their apartment, Pietro attacked and killed his own mother. Fabiano was away on a business trip of some kind to the mainland, Treviso I think, and returned late that night to discover what had happened. The boy was clearly remorseful and no charges were pressed; neighbors and, I suppose, the police as well apparently felt it was a case of a family cursed with a terrible destiny, one that would inevitably exact its own punishment.
But no one speaks to Fabiano unless absolutely necessary, and Pietro is almost never seen — only occasionally as a face glimpsed at one of the windows looking out on the gate, at the rare times he's roused by the sound of the click of the lock on the gate. I still shudder a bit when we go through it, and it's not used as often as you'd expect, given its convenience.