Does anyone remember Venice?

{{This article has memory issues. Citations needed}}

I stood on a grand plaza overlooking a stupendous vista: a panorama of canals and centuries-old Gothic architecture, the providence of an ancient maritime history. And gondoliers by the gross. Venice! La Serenissima! One of the world’s majestic cities.

 

I observed the tourist hordes and figured enough eyes had already seen it, what more could mine add? I briefly graced her over an expensive coffee, made a note for future reference, and hopped on a local bus to a camping ground a few k’s outside the city perimeter, not really sure about the bona fides driving me there regarding a certain sporting spectacle.

 

Was I chasing a furphy?

***

This was my maiden foreign foray, and somewhere along the sojourn – perhaps it was in Basque country or on an Aegean island – I began hearing whispers about an Aussie Rules match to be held in a camping ground outside Venice.

Though, why I hadn’t heard of this annual event previously was a mystery – apparently several thousand antipodeans, and affiliates, would descend on this unheralded field of dreams – but I took it on the face-value ‘go with the flow’ travelling modus-operandi I deployed then.

 

That formula, in the first European leg, had taken me via Paris (incroyable!) to Pamplona (great festival, shame about the bulls running at sparrow’s fart; I managed to rise early enough one morning to glimpse flashes of bovine hide between the legs of human spectators clinging to the railings of a wooden barricade – who needs to prove manhood?), an unintentional sidetrack to Barcelona, around the Med to Nice, further around to Pisa, southward to Rome and east to Corfu, Athens and islands beyond (beware Tinos!).

 

Finally, I found myself on the Magic Bus bound for Venice (accompanied by a Queenslander, who was no Merry Prankster nor interested in Antipodean antics involving the southern code, so we parted after spending the night sleeping at the entrance to the Venice railway station) and full-circuit to a late morning escapade outside the city of canals, and the pursuit of possible furphies.

 

***

Stepping off the bus, I soon found myself standing among a sea of tents and vans – the Southern Hemisphere had indeed arrived. I pitched my tent in a spare patch of blade near the perimeter fence of this sparsely treed out-of-the-way wasteland masquerading, in true Carnivalian style, as a camping ground (now it probably has spas and luxury units). My information was that the owner welcomed this brief invasion because the place would otherwise be virtually empty.

 

Kip sorted, I retreated to the bar and immediately encountered a small band of South Australians, who I had met in Corfu. After acquaintances were re-established, the existence of a scheduled football match was confirmed. They revealed I was in their team.

 

Early the following afternoon, with minimal fanfare, we ‘footballers’ found ourselves entering a wide field that passed as an Aussie Rules oval. I recall the presence of goal posts as well, but have no idea how they got there – they were possibly a makeshift semblance memory embellished.

 

Team names or their existence are also blurry in my mind, but if I could hazard a retrospective stab-pass, there was the Venetian Blind Drunks and the Fridge Dwellers (these were alcohol-glorified times, after all).

 

The ghost of Marco Polo was mortified.

 

As an event, imagine an informal precursor to the Community Cup. However, uniforms were absent and, apart from diehards who had brought their own, so were footy boots. I wore runners, shorts and a purple tank-top.

 

Many among the crowd showed allegiances to home via the donning of footy jumpers and beanies, or by waving team scarves. There were even cans of Fosters being consumed, having been transported with stereotyped determination from the Old Dart.

 

Those hailing from regions beyond the Antipodes looked on in confusion, but when in a campground 500ks north of Rome do what the campers do, so they revelled too.

 

Let the game commence!

 

Our coach (probably the captain) was ahead of his time, and easily impressed by appearances – I was stationed as a roaming forward.

 

In short, the Sherrin was enthusiastically transported back and forth, interspersed by handball exchanges, leaps and long bombs, but goals were rare. Such was the occasion and the passage of time, the intricacies are mostly a haze. The crowd, however, cheered every endeavour. There might even have been a streaker. Given it’s unlikely any of you were there, or have photographic memories, I could tell you how I starred – but let’s just say, on one occasion I stumbled onto a ball that slipped through a pack of reaching fingers and grubbered a score of some description.

 

We – the Blinds – won! Despite ineptitude, the pats on the back were many, and female fans smiled appreciatively and ran to greet our victory exit and, no doubt, to admire my garish tank top. Then it was to the bar and a long night of celebrating being young, free and girt by sea or your new friends, and the footy was quickly forgotten among boisterous sing-song and general joviality.

 

As you may have guessed, the event was really an excuse to ‘rage’ (that was a new word then I collected from Sophie, a Queensland passenger on the good ship USSR Turkmenia en route to Singapore).

 

Festivities completed, the campground was restored to it’s former glory as a wasteland. I hitched a ride with the Croweaters, and we kombied, via a wintry September Oktober Fest (the Kiwi girls from Venice wore Aussie t-shirts as promised; not to pay homage, but to deflect bad-behaviour reputations), to London (interrupted when a recalcitrant wheel broke free from an oncoming semitrailer and bounded across the freeway, hip-and-shouldering the side of the Kombi with a belligerent thump – luckily, where none of us were sat).

 

Then, for me, it was back to the traveller’s doss-house in Kensington, and Heidi’s egg and baked-beans breakfast, and low-paid clerical jobs because I lacked educational qualifications. The camaraderie of my first overseas sojourn, however, proceeded to take a neo-liberal turn when the USA was added to the itinerary.

 

I never heard from anyone else, then or since, about an annual Aussie Rules match staged on the outskirts of Venice. Maybe it didn’t happened. Maybe it was never more than beer-talk, a traveller’s yarn, false footy-memory syndrome. Maybe it was the goddess Hecate casting spells on a field momentarily transformed by the Sirens’ call in the land of myths and legends and a deity for every occasion. Maybe it was just an insignificant pit-stop on the backpacking circuit. The corroboree needs corroborating.

 

Does anyone else remember this Venice?

 

 

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Comments

  1. That’s a great yarn Paul and beautifully told.

    There’s something magical about kicking a footy overseas. During my three years in Hertfordshire I’d sometimes get out my Sherrin when a mate from home was visiting and go to the park which dated back to Roman times (Verulamium). I’m rarely nationalistic or overly patriotic but enjoyed people commenting on us kicking an odd ball about. This point of different made me proud.

    Like many I do fear for Venice in this increasingly troubling times.

  2. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks, Mickey, much appreciated.

    Yes, when overseas, Aussie Rules can be something that unites us – even those who don’t follow the code back home can often identify with it, as was the case in Venice.

    At the risk of being flippant, a Venice in future might be better known for water polo than Marco Polo, if the weight of tourists doesn’t sink it first.

    Seriously, it, and many other cities, will have decisions to make. I like to think it will be different rather than lost. Hopefully, not Abu Simbel.

    I have never returned – Verona was as close as I got. I think I will aim any visit for winter, however.

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