Writing A Ghost Story In Venice


Get you vaporetto to sail around Venice

Today I have bought a two day pass on the vaporetto system. I can hop on and off wherever I like, and am determined to find the island. It’s fascinating — fishermen’s nets, sea birds, and strange abandoned buildings.

My characters are archaeologists working on a dig somewhere out here. I go from island to island: Mazzorba, Burano, Torcello, San Lazzaro degli Armeni, but they’re not right. We stop at the cemetary island of San Michele.  I get off  to wander amongst the cypress treesIt’s blissfully peaceful here, a place to spend eternity. You’re in good company: Igor Stravinsky, Ezra Pound, Serge Diaghilev, Joseph Brodsky. I jot down names.

Stravinsky tomb in Venice

One of my characters will be buried in a family tomb here. Three funeral boats will motor slowly across the lagoon with the coffin and the mourners. It’s a bit of a cliché I suppose, but there must be “Death in Venice.”

I leave, thinking about this island of the dead and return home to the apartment I’m renting. Overnight, I read that the remains of a medieval “vampire” were discovered among the corpses of 16th century plague victims. According to an Italian archaeologist the body of the woman was found in a mass grave on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo. Suspecting she might be a vampire, gravediggers shoved a rock into her skull to prevent her from chewing through her shroud. I look up the island and discover it is open to the public. It is a request stop on the LINE 13 service.

On Sunday morning I take the boat out saying, “Lazzaretto Nuovo,” to the attendant on deck who nods. Twenty minutes later we arrive and three others disembark with me. We’re met by a young woman who tells us this was the quarantine island of Venice. In the 16th century Venetians were terrified of the plague; everything coming in by sea was kept here for 40 days: Quaranta in Italian.

Quarantine Compound in Venice

The Walls that go around the island. The Entrance to the Quarantine Compound.  Inside the compound, we’re shown the huge warehouse where cargoes were fumigated daily. Even letters had to be fumigated before they could be passed to their recipients. The walls of the warehouse are covered in pictures marking where merchants stored their cargoes. I ask our guide about the body with the brick in her mouth. She doesn’t seem to understand me. I leave the island full of ideas and begin writing my story.

A 48 hour travel pass on the vaporetto costs 30 Euros.  You can visit Lazzaretto Nuovo on Saturday or Sunday between April and October at 9:45 or 16:30. Catch line 13 from Fondamente Nuove (9:25 or 16:05). It’s a request stop so you need to ask the attendant when you board.

Guest Blog by Simon Barnes,  fiction writer of “Venetia: A Supernatural thriller set in Venice.  Simon enjoys walking, gardening, and writing fiction but overall he loves staying in Venice. Follow him on Twitter.

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