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ALMOST DEAD IN VENICE


This first appeared in Skive Magazine

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I once nearly died in Venice, from a lethal cocktail of sleeping pills and champagne that I swallowed on purpose on a glorious blue summer night at the Gritti Palace.  My room had a view of the Grand Canal, and after I’d swallowed the pills I stood at the window to drink the champagne, which was, rather conveniently, included in the amenities.  The water of the canal was sloshing noisily against the walls of the palace, and as I grew steadily more drunken and sick, the room seemed to dip and plunge like a beautiful boat.  When I was too dizzy to stand I got into bed and lay looking up at the pretty glass chandelier that was glowing softly with reflected light.  I opened my heart to death that night.  I was very happy that soon my life of unbearable sorrow would come to an end.  I drifted off to sleep.

          In the early hours of the morning I was roughly awakened by somebody shaking me and calling my name.  My head was spinning and my heart pounding with terrible ferocity.  I vomited again and again, then sank back, too limp to move anymore.  The room was full of light.  And I was alone - there was certainly nobody there.  I must have fallen into a faint, for the next thing I can remember it was midday and two firemen were lifting me onto a stretcher.  They carried me down the grand staircase of the Gritti Palace, as the stretcher would not have fitted into any of the lifts.  As I travelled in this unaccustomed manner, I observed how the many-coloured marble surfaces of the palace circled round and round me, the bright gold and sparkling glass objects all rose up to greet me as I descended, slowly, slowly in my palanquin like an ailing Chinese princess.

          We emerged suddenly into the blinding light of the sun dancing over the blue water.  The firemen put me into the ambulance boat and we set off for the hospital.  One fireman sat near my head and stroked my hair.  ‘Povera signora,’ he said.  ‘Did you have too much to drink?’  I wanted to tell him that I never got drunk, that I’d only done it on purpose to kill myself, but found  I was unable to speak.

They took me to the Hospital of the Innocents, where I lay for several days, tended by a grumpy young nurse with black eyes.  I was much enervated but strangely joyful and at peace.  My room gave onto a small garden, and in the quiet of the afternoon I could hear the plaintive call of a wood dove, repeated over and over, like a prayer.  When I was strong enough to sit up, the grumpy nurse gave me broth to drink.  Then I was sent to be interviewed by the house psychiatrist, a man in his thirties with a crop of curling black hair and a melancholy air.  He wore a white coat and, strangely, I thought, a stethoscope.  He looked at me quietly for several minutes, then asked me a few questions about my life.  How old was I?  What was my nationality?  What was I doing here in Venice?  Then he leaned back in his chair, sighed gently and said, ‘Carissima donna, I can see that you are not crazy.  Now tell me, truthfully, why did you wish to kill yourself?’  I thought carefully, forming the Italian words inside my head before I spoke.  ‘I’m in love with a man who does  not love me,’ I said at last, which was not exactly true, but close enough as to  make no difference.  The truth was far too complicated, as it always is.  He nodded sagely.  ‘Please, signora - promise me you will not kill yourself.  Not over this man.  You need to eat some spaghetti.  Then you will feel much better.  Will you eat some spaghetti, signora?’  I told him I would, and we smiled at one another in a moment of delicate, bird-like tenderness.  I had never before heard spaghetti recommended as a remedy for heartbreak, but I’d say one could do a lot worse.