‘We meet again, old friend!’ I think, smiling bashfully. I slightly raise my right hand in greeting, taking care the gesture is not mistaken for a Nazi salute. This is how I express my deep affection for Venice, but as only one person among the crowds of return visitors the city has no need to see again, the place neither particularly welcomes nor rejects me. The truth is that few people in Venice have a specific reason for being there. The city reached its pinnacle more than seven hundred years ago when its population, centred on commerce and military activity, was over three times greater than it is today. The city began to slide into ruin around the Age of Discovery as Spain and Portugal stole the lead in foreign trade. By the time Goethe visited Venice, it had been completely transformed into a tourist destination, much in the way of Greece. Most visitors come to Venice to enjoy a few days getting lost in the city’s alleyways before setting off again, their suitcases rolling behind them.
No matter how often I visit Venice, its appearance does not change. Change is impossible. Perhaps that is why every time I come here I realise I am ageing. Still, the fact that I am able to get older is proof that I am still young; unlike Venice, which no longer ages and is already well on its way to becoming a fossil. When I walk across the city’s cobblestones, with so much of the past locked inside them, for some reason I yawn, sigh or smile. These emotions are like property, not the kind you carry in your pocket, but the kind you share with other people. As I cross the Ponte delle Tette bridge, the ‘Bridge of Tits’, and let out a sigh, it’s like being assailed by the melancholy of all those who crossed the bridge before me. When I yawn in front of the Campo San Giacomo, I relive the boredom felt by another in the distant past.
The traces of those who lived here or passed through cling to alleyway flagstones, church walls, bridge staircases and slatted window shutters. You find them in graffiti, stains and scratches, monuments or statues; and you can read them, experience them like a text. In Venice, every street has a name and its own story of the people that have passed through it. But the tourists are so fixated on window-shopping they are oblivious. They thoughtlessly walk past the corner where a young Marco Polo pissed against a wall, or the brothel where four young Japanese envoys lost their virginity 420 years ago, or the barbers down an alley where Antonio Vivaldi had his infamously red hair trimmed.
Venice attracts many repeat visitors for whom the familiar bacaro wine bars or public squares become landmarks they use to look back on moments in their lives. Whether you are day-dreaming, drinking coffee or kissing a lover, Venice provides a backdrop that transforms moments into paintings. A newly-wed couple smiles shyly in front of a canal; they frame themselves with a selfie stick as they stand on the Rialto Bridge. People are enthusiastic about taking commemorative pictures here. Perhaps so they can look back later and remember how this time in Venice was one of the best days of their lives, or so they have a nice portrait to use at their funeral.
There are books that I read when I was young that seemed completely different when I re-read them years later. In the same way, my interest in Venice has changed as I’ve grown older. The first time I read Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, for instance, I was in high school. Whenever I took the train to school, a middle-aged pervert would stare at me and grope my bottom. ‘The sooner the old writer in the story gets ruined in his pursuit of a beautiful male youth, the better,’ I thought. I assumed that by the time I was visited by old age, Venice would already have sunk beneath the water and I’d never have the chance to go.
Now, however, I fully understand Aschenbach’s turbulent emotions in the novel. For someone approaching their autumn years – sight grows dim, food all tastes the same, rainy days make your heart ache with grief – Venice can become a mirror reflecting back the ugliness of your own decrepitude. The city can never return to its youth and is gradually becoming a ruin, a graveyard, and so, naturally, it leads you to contemplate your final days. Yet you still yearn for a demonically beautiful young boy or girl to turn towards you with a heavenly smile on their face, just once more. And upon that final blessing, you would hope to die.
I first visited Venice when I was 28. I made the trip during my return journey to Japan after leaving New York, where I had spent the previous year. I had vowed that I would not go back to Japan until I had completed a full-length novel; not only did I fail to keep this promise, I had been cheating on my wife in a self-indulgent affair with two different women. Coincidentally, both were named Anna and both were high-maintenance. I don’t really remember why I was seeing both Annas at the same time, when they were so different in appearance, age and personality. Maybe I hoped they could give me the emotional highs and lows needed to write my novel. I ended up being so occupied trying to keep both of them happy that it was impossible to focus on my writing.
In the spirit of impartiality, I promised both Annas that I would take them on holiday. In the same spirit, I broke both promises and fled to Venice without so much as a word of farewell. I figured that if I tried to break up with them both, I would have to go through hell twice – once with each woman. And during the break-ups, my wife might find out about my affairs and I would have to go through another kind of hell. Somehow I managed to dodge all of these scenarios. I let out a sigh of relief as we arrived at Venice Marco Polo Airport, which did make my wife wonder.
We arrived on the day of the Il Redentore festival; the night sky was coloured by fireworks, and the wild roar of young people rang across the city. The festival celebrates the end of the 1576 plague, which killed at least 46,000 people, almost a third of the Republic of Venice. While I did think that these modern people celebrating freedom from the plague was strange, I nevertheless drank my Prosecco and congratulated myself on my own freedom from the two Annas.
The place we stayed at was a cheap hotel with a communal toilet and shower, but I was more than satisfied; it was like a theme park from the middle ages, the likes of which I had only ever encountered before in books and films. It was during the boom period for the Japanese economy, and we lost all sense of shame when we were far from home. My wife wanted to ride a gondola but I wanted to use our money for alcohol instead. I objected that it was bad luck to travel in a boat that looked so much like a black coffin. My hunch wasn’t far wrong, either; the black boats used to transport the bodies of plague victims were, in fact, how gondolas first came to be.
My second visit to Venice was when I was 31. Two years prior, I had been a judge at a student film festival in Tokyo, which is how I met Roberta. She was an Italian student researching Japanese cinema but was originally enrolled at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. After her Japanese study abroad came to an end, she returned to Venice and found work at her alma mater. I had a commission to write a travel journal, and had already visited Helsinki, Warsaw and Zagreb. I wanted to catch up with Roberta so I made Venice the final stop on my tour. I took the train via Trieste, crossed the Ponte della Libertà bridge that connects the Venetian islands to the mainland, and arrived in Venezia Santa Lucia station, the whole time clasping an amber ring I’d bought for her in a Warsaw antique store. She adored my present, and still wears it to this day. When I arrived she had just been married to a Venetian landscape gardener and they were living on Lido.
My sponsor had ample funds so I was able to stay at the Hotel Danieli, very close to the Piazza San Marco. When I looked out from the Palazzo Dandolo guest room, the previous residence of a fourteenth-century ruler, I had an unbroken view of the shores of San Giorgio Maggiore and of Lido. Those three days were spent in the most scenic room I had ever seen, before or since, although I actually spent little time there. Instead, I toured the bacaro morning, noon and night.
Standing in a high-end cafe near the San Marco neighbourhood, I would start out with a spritzer. Like a postage stamp collector filling a book with new additions, I would drink a Prosecco at the massed row of bacaros at the Rialto Bridge, grab some fried food at the shopping district facing Campo San Polo, drink another beer next to the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and, from there, I would leave the Campo Santa Margherita and empty a bottle of red outside a shop where the young people gathered. I would be pretty drunk by dinner but, just in case, I would have a sweet white wine with a grilled flounder or spider crab salad, and two glasses of Grappa to follow.
This unleashed a solitary ubriaco upon the sights of Venice. If you write ubriaco, the Italian for drunkard, in Japanese characters you get ‘うぶり奴’ (uburiyakko). To my eye, the word almost looks like a tottering geisha! Ah well, I guess I have to get back to the hotel, I’d think. One night I couldn’t walk straight so I decided to take the Vaporetto water taxi from San Tomà. I was stumbling so badly on the way to the station, zig-zagging across the road like an eel, I almost fell in the canal. Katherine Hepburn fell into the San Barnaba piazza canal in the film ‘Summertime’ but that was because she stepped backwards. Uburiyakko stumble, but at least they travel forwards. They know walking along the canal is dangerous so they will do everything in their power to follow the walls. This is why the sleeves of their coats and jackets get ripped and turned red by the brickwork. I managed to figure out this age-old security precaution all by myself.
The next morning I had a terrible hangover. What I wanted was some miso soup with clams or bean sprout soup, but eating salty food early in the day is considered uncouth here. I washed a croissant down with some chamomile tea and Roberta led me to Ca’foscari University so I could give my lecture. I was in no state to be delivering the lecture, but the audience reception was warm and the students seemed to love everything I said, even when it wasn’t that interesting, so I somehow managed to get through it. Afterwards, we had an informal Q&A session and a female student immediately threw up her hand.
‘Mr Shimada, do you write novels too?’
I assumed I had been invited there as a novelist, but I realised then that they must have thought I was an actor. The previous year, Ryu Murakami had invited me to play a foot fetishist in his film ‘Tokyo Decadence’. Unfortunate timing meant the film got a lot of attention after the Udine Far East Film Festival praised it as a masterpiece of Asian soft-core pornography. The video had been widely circulated as a supplement of a film magazine, which is how so many of the students had seen it.
For a moment, I worried I had made the wrong career choice. Although if I became an actor now, I thought, I’d never top the success of Tom Cruise or Ken Watanabe. But the experience renewed my desire to write a masterpiece that would appeal to Italian sensuality.
My third visit to Venice was at the age of 34, and I brought my three-year-old son with me. As I had become a father much earlier than I expected, I was in a much better mood than my previous two visits. My novella Until I Am a Mummy had been translated and published in Italian so we had to do a lot of book touring events in Milan; this time the audience acknowledged me as a novelist. The novella was translated by Roberta, who was pregnant at the time. She had lost the look of a boyishly beautiful young woman but taken on the dignity of an Italian mamma. My son was obsessed with enticing pigeons down onto the flagstones with food and chasing them around. It was as though the solemn churches and palazzos were invisible to him.
The city did not particularly open my mind or reveal its secrets to me on those visits. If a couple of years went by without a visit, I would lose all knowledge of the place and end up getting lost like it was my first time. My sense of direction would get thrown off by the alleys that irregularly follow the Grand Canal, which is shaped like a back-to-front S. Why is Venice’s labyrinth so complex? One explanation is that the city’s maze is a natural effect of its repeated growth and expansion, or that it was designed to trap fugitives down blind alleys. It might have been designed for locals to spot outsiders, or to avoid bumping into your wife when walking with your lover. Maybe it was just made that way so people could always take a piss down a back street.
In the corner of some gloomy lane away from the road, you can always find a round pile of stones that are perfect for relieving yourself. They give off the smell of a public toilet, which is to say, others have been here and used it before. In keeping with local custom, I left my own contribution. To commemorate this act, I scrawled some graffiti too: Masahiko was here. At that moment, I sensed my connection with Venice. These pissing-stone niches were all over the city and yet, for some reason, I felt more connection to them than I did to the magnificent palaces that stood on both sides of the Grand Canal, or the grand cathedrals that soared above every plaza. It amazed my wife how much I was like my son with his pigeon obsession. But I had inherited the genetics of my ancestors who lived in caves and back alleys, so there was nothing I could do about it. There is a strange theory that Venice is, in fact, ruled by rats. These places I was so fond of were rat highways, and so I saw them often. Sometimes, I would even call out and greet them: ‘Hey, Raskolnikov!’
The fourth time I visited Venice my son was already in elementary school. I stayed at Roberta’s house in Lido but, since my last visit, she had given birth to two daughters. Her obliging husband, Gino, took me out for enjoyable cruises around the lagoon, and it was at this point I realised Venice was, quite literally, a city built on sand. If I strained my eyes and looked out to sea, I could see people walking on water. At first I thought they were an illusion, maybe ghosts, but they turned out to be clam fishermen. The fishermen can walk out into the shallows during low tide but if they fail to follow the stakes indicating the sailing routes, their boats can get moored on the sand banks. When the city was invaded by the Roman Empire in the ninth century, it was here that the Venetians ambushed the invading Franks. They took out the sailing route stakes so that the invaders’ warships became grounded. The Venetians were then able to attack with fire from small boats and win the battle. When I heard this legend, I saw how much the lagoon was like a castle wall protecting the city. The water in the lagoons, canals and the hydrological cycle is also much clearer than I expected. Being out here completely dispelled any misconception I had had that Venetian water was dirty or stagnant.
My fifth visit was to direct an opera production at the Festival Puccini and so I naturally stayed at Roberta’s house. Her husband Gino had passed away since my last visit, so the trip became an unexpected condolence call. I was totally exhausted during the visit and didn’t even have the energy to drag myself over to the main island for a Prosecco at my regular bacaro. I felt half-dead, like Pope John Paul II in his later years. This was the first visit to Venice when I had not done any walking or drinking. I just slept for 20 hours across the two days, and then left. Roberta’s young daughters invited me to swim and play on the beaches of Lido, but there were no handsome young males around who might lift my spirits in the manner of Ashchenbach.
‘Are you fed up with Venice, Masahiko?’ Roberta asked.
I explained that I was tired because coming back to Venice was reassuring, like I had returned home and could finally fall into a deep sleep. This wasn’t a lie. People can only be indolent in a place they feel completely at ease. Without realising it, Venice had become my spiritual dormitory.
My sixth visit was for an appearance at a conference, but I left on the morning of the second day so I barely remember anything about it. Venice was cloaked in a deep fog at the time, which may have also clouded my impressions. The scenery that was visible was hazy and bleached of colour like a sumi-e ink wash painting. The fog muffled sound too, so I felt lost in a silent movie. The city now unexpectedly appeared to me the way it might do to the colour-blind eyes of a dog. I was intently barhopping when I suddenly realised I was in the Venetian Ghetto. I think there were some companions on this bar crawl, but I simply can’t remember who they were. If you told me my sixth visit to Venice had, in fact, all been a dream, I wouldn’t be able to disagree. Venice, itself, felt like a historical mirage.
My seventh visit to Venice was also to give a lecture. Roberta had now left Lido and was living in Padua. I stayed at a four-star hotel in Guidecca, which is where I came to know Rosa, a researcher specialising in Russian literature and Okinawa. I gave a speech at the secondary school where Roberta’s eldest daughter, Anja, went, and chatted to her younger daughter Corina in my broken Italian. From around the time of my fifth visit to Venice, I had had a vague desire to rewrite my relationship with the city. I had become particularly tired of being another self-absorbed tourist blending into the city’s scenery. The more Venice had grown on me, the more it felt like I was melting into the city itself, as though my shadow was being absorbed into the shady corners of the streets, which was such a good feeling. My self-interest disappeared, and I found myself wanting to lose myself in the crowds of people who had come before and were now gone. I felt a growing desire to be dissolved into the mouldy atmosphere that clung to the moisture in the city’s air.
By the time of my eighth visit to Venice, I had reached the same age as Aschenbach. Before long, I would have to come up with an answer to the question: if I wasn’t a fish spawned in the Brenta river, why was I so compelled to keep returning?
I had several close friends in Venice. Apart from Roberta, there was Rosa, the Okinawa specialist; Pio, a journalist working in China; Luca, the skinhead poet and his beloved pooch, Basquiat; Corinne, the punk musician; the beautiful Valentina, who was addicted to eating ice; the Venetian-born Tommaso, a member of the Teatro La Fenice choir, and his girlfriend, Madelina, an actress; Julianna, a linguist and excellent cook, and her husband Guiseppe, a landscape gardener from Sicily; Paolo, a Dustin Hoffman lookalike from Napoli, and his translator, Laura; Anna, a linguistics department head; Ducho, a political scientist and former professional football player . . . I enjoyed looking forward to seeing them again. A young person once asked me for some parting words, to which I responded, ‘Treasure your friends.’
‘That’s pretty trite,’ they said, clearly disappointed. But it’s true that the older you get, the more you are thankful for your friendships.
But these reunions were ultimately only by-products of my visits. I came back to Venice because it called to me. To address the feeling, I took a sabbatical leave from my university to settle on the main island for six months. A professor from Ca’Foscari University was going to London on sabbatical at the same time, so I was able to sublet a ground floor apartment in Casa Iris. It was down a dead-end street called Corte de Lotte, quite close to the Santa Maria Mater Domini church. This was also the birthplace of Francesco Hayez, the artist made famous by his portrait of Rossini and his painting The Kiss, which symbolised the Italian Unification. It was five minutes walk to the Rialto Bridge, ten minutes to the Piazzale Roma or the Venezia Santa Lucia railway station, and a stone’s throw from the Campo San Polo, Campo San Giacomo and Campo Frari.
Now that I had secured a place where I could finish my manuscripts before deadline each month – a shady room overlooking a courtyard, and a refrigerator full of vegetables and wine – the search for my own ‘Venetian niche’ proceeded at full tilt. Venice is a popular site for the walkers of the world, so the people who come here tend to be keen to stroll. The narrow paths are often congested with human traffic. As I walked, I dodged giants who could block the road all by themselves, meandering families, children who’d suddenly stop to turn around, or labourers pushing carts. Each day, with no destination or purpose in mind, I walked.
There are over four hundred bridges on the main island, which is split into six districts. Even among Venetians, there can’t be many people who have crossed them all. I could get all of my errands done in the central districts and the patrons at my favourite drinking spots were friendly, so there was no need to deliberately stroll around. But when you live in such a small world, where anywhere can be reached in thirty minutes walk, you naturally want to deviate from your normal routine. Viviana, the cleaner who came to my apartment once a week, had five different areas to cover, so that each day she travelled to a different district or island. Monday was Lido, Tuesday was Santa Croce, Wednesday was Cannaregio, and so on.
Venice has as many churches as bars, and these churches house famous paintings by Tintoretto and Titian. I passed on these and instead made my first priority finding a bacaro I liked in every district. The cost of living is high in Venice, but it’s an amenably priced city for drinkers. There is a particular cocktail said to have originated here: you add Campari or Aperol to wine, and the soda spritzer popular with Austrians, and then garnish with orange or an olive. I heard that the test of a true Venetian is drinking four of these strong spritzers a day. And so, of course, everyone gulps them down from lunchtime onwards. If you pass a bar you drink a cocktail, if you meet a friend you take another; if work has just finished, you drink a third. This drinking style – a cocktail for every occasion, good or bad – is why the town is so popular with Russians and Finns. Unlike in Moscow or Helsinki, however, if you fall down drunk in the street and fall asleep in Venice, you won’t freeze to death and probably won’t get mugged either. Could it be that, ultimately, all I wanted here was to satisfy my love of drinking? No, I don’t think so. I could drink my fill in Tokyo if I wanted to forget. I had no shortage of friends, weirdos and beautiful people I could share that drinking with. While there was something compelling about wandering around Venice’s bacaros, I didn’t do it just because I wanted to become a master of drinking.
After a month I had more or less memorized the geography of the Santa Croce district where my apartment was, the San Paulo district around the Rialto Bridge, and the Dorsoduro district that contained the university. Over the next month, I exhausted the main roads in the districts of San Marco, Castello and Cannaregio; I stretched my legs as far as Giudecca island on the opposite shore, the cemetery island of San Michele, the Murano islands, famous for Venetian glass, Burano, the island of fishermen, and Torcello, the city’s oldest settlement. There are the second-hand shops on Cannaregio, the kitschy pool bar near the wharf on Murano; and on San Michele there is the grave of Diaghilev, which is always covered in ballet shoes, the Al Bottegon wine bar near the Ponte dell’Accademia bridge, the Libreria Acqua Alta second-hand book shop near the Piazza San Marco, the area around the ‘Bridge of Tits’ and Ponte de l’Anatomia and the faceless images of the Virgin Mary next to the Rialto Bridge.
I even went to Poveglia, an uninhabited island that is unreachable without chartering a boat. Ivan, the husband of the university dean, cheerfully played the role of Charon the ferrymen and took me to this underworld. If you like ruins, this former hospital is one you might want to visit. Venice is so cramped you can hear your neighbours’ coughs and sneezes. When infectious diseases broke out, they spread like wild fire. In order to quarantine the infected, hospitals were built on islands way out in the lagoon. There are three of these islands in total, all of which are slowly being reclaimed by thickets of trees. Perhaps these islands are anticipating the shape of things to come for Venice. The ruins still had beds and laundry equipment in them and as I walked around I felt eyes on the back of my neck, like someone was watching from the shadows.
During Acqua Alta, Venice’s high tide that rises between autumn and winter, I put on my rubber boots and went out looking for flooded restaurants where I could eat dinner; on foggy evenings, I wandered around like a ghost; on rainy days I took shelter in churches. When I went down to the train station or the Rialto Bridge, people asked me for my signature to support a campaign to keep kids off drugs and I’d answer, ‘But I love drugs!’ Italian high school students teasingly called out ‘Ni hao!’ I turned to them and answered in Russian, ‘Hey, how much for you?’ But in Venice this kind of modest foolishness is just brushed off with indifference.
It was probably the most unbearably leisurely period of my life. In his later years, Jean-Jacques Rousseau complained of this in his Reveries of a Solitary Walker. To paraphrase, while there is no one I loved socialising with more than with myself, I wasn’t ready for the world to shut me off completely. Although a man may follow his impulse to quit all work and withdraw from the troubles of social life, once he has nothing to do he will wander around town and curse society all the same. I used to think Rousseau was just a cranky old man, but now I know exactly what he means.
I knew few people in this neighbourhood, and my Italian only extended to ordering food or shopping. And yet I had many friends I could successfully enjoy these many banalities with; the other outsiders with whom I wandered.
Venice was a military base for the Crusaders and a commercial city between the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires. Thus, it has always been a city where outsiders have wandered. Shylock the Jewish moneylender who longed to be Venetian; Othello the Moor who was increasingly suspicious of the Venetians; Napoleon, who occupied Venice for a period; Aschenbach, who pursued a handsome youth only to die of cholera in a foreign place: all outsiders. My few close friends here are all outsiders too; they come from other states and do not speak the Venetian dialect. There is almost no interaction between Venetians and outsiders. An architectural historian, Hidenobu Jinnai, was invited to the palace of Venice’s ruling family by one of its ancestors and was apparently told, ‘You are the first Japanese person here since the Quattro Ragazzi!’ (The four Japanese envoys who travelled around Europe in the late sixteenth century). It is a surprise that these young envoys were invited to Venice during the Tensho period in the first place. But anyway, I began to understand the behaviour of Venetians towards outsiders when I learned they hadn’t interacted with Japanese people for 420 years.
That said, I cannot resent the Venetians for the way they push strangers aside. Venetians were the ones who first hit the sandbars with their stakes; they created the embankments, piled up stones to protect the canals from mud and took care of the lagoon; they built bridges to span the countless small islands and built a church on each one; they built the squares, the towers that function as lighthouses, the wells and sewage systems; they installed electricity and gas; they now protect their dialect and maintain public order; they run the vaporetti water taxi and boats for police, emergencies and fires, deliver mail on foot, collect the rubbish, and pick up the cigarette butts and dog mess from the pavements. For Venetians, outsiders are just another thing on this list of chores that have to be dealt with. Naturally, the outsiders’ accommodation and food is provided by the Venetians too.
Unlike other cities which carry the threat of robbery or terrorism, the Venetians’ work means that modern day outsiders can casually walk around the sights and squares containing 1500 years of history. They can see the evidence of great people, poets, saints and merchants of the past; they can walk in their footsteps.
At the cafe tables and bacaro counters you hear all accents of English, you hear German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese . . . In one evening I was able to catch over thirty foreign languages just with my own ears. I met an 80-year-old British woman who returns to Venice every autumn, and a retired American lawyer who spends three months of the year here. These experienced visitors gently expressed their love of Venice to me: the acoustics of Saint Mark’s Basilica; the charm of the Zattere promenade which commands a view of Guidecca, which was adored by the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky; the flattery of the handsome waiters at the Caffè Florian. Their favourite aspects of Venice were innumerable.
The city peaked an age ago, then spent four hundred years in slow decline. In another hundred years, Venice will be a virtual ruin, and the city is quietly teaching something to these outsiders from emerging nations currently at the peak of their powers. You will all end up like this too, it whispers. British people have already seen these omens, of course, and the Japanese people have finally become aware of the sweet taste of their own gradual decline. Death, by any means, becomes sweet in this, the world’s most beautiful ruin.
Roberta’s daughters have both reached the most beautiful stage of their lives. The eldest daughter is writing novels, while the younger is painting. Perhaps when they become mammas themselves, I will return to Venice once more; I must see Gino’s face reflected in those of his grandchildren. And if I should die in Venice, then perhaps Roberta’s daughters will care for me at the end of my life. Something struck me during my eighth visit to Venice. That niche I had been so looking so hard for? I was searching for my final resting place.
I had already found several contenders for the spot, and had even investigated the price of a grave on San Michele. This is why I had been so polite and gentlemanly in my treatment of Venice thus far; I was hoping to find a final resting place here. While I do not know when I will die, I have a rough idea; if I ever find myself walking around these familiar sights and no longer experience déjà vu, this will be the omen of my impending death. The feeling is said to come from the sense that you may return to this place again. In other words, when I stop feeling this déjà vu in Venice, I will know that I will never come back. When that happens, the only thing I’ll have to look forward to is death.