Looking behind myself, I see a mirror image of myself talking on a giant screen. I look out over the crowd; a small sea of faces that I have never seen before but that feel familiar to me nonetheless. The ornate knotted snake carvings on the walls of the theatre are barely visible to me past the glare of the stage lights. The energy in Prague is darker than usual on this trip. The collective consciousness is heavier.
I walk the streets of the old town that I love so well. I put hot melted chocolate to my lips while walking up the street. It is scaled with gray cobblestone. The entire street smells of sweet pastry. The sky is a renaissance gray. In the orchard park below the abbey, the ravens are joyfully picking through the grass. I lift the cold silver of the water trickling from the old Alchemist spring to my cheek. Everything here is familiar to me. Every brick and every tree is laced with nostalgia. We make our way down those familiar paths to the palace. St. Vitus cathedral stands unchanged in the center like a portal to the heavens, guarded by the palace walls. Inside it, the Elysium glow kisses your skin, but penetrates deeper. It reminds you that there is something bigger and deeper to us than this temporal life. But at the same time, the exquisite richness of the draperies, carvings, pillars and stained glass, celebrates life instead of death. Every millimeter of it feels sacred. I have never loved a temple so much as I love this one.
I am on the tarmac again. The wind is adding to the deep hum of the plane engines. It is tossing my hair. I climb the stairs into the small passenger plane. We are flying to Venice before arriving in Munich to host our next event there. I arrive. I see the city for the first time in this life.
Venice is a city that rises from the water. It is literally built on top of spaced wooden piles sunk into the water with planks of Istrian limestone… A floating empire. It is a marvel that the lack of oxygen that the wood piles experience in their submersion has done enough to preserve them for this long. But the city is sinking. In fact in many ways it is withering ever so slowly before your eyes. It is common in the art deco style of home design to use exposed brick and other dilapidated styles intentionally. I am seeing where this style originated from now that I am here. The entire city looks like this and if anything, it adds to the charm.
Venice is so beautiful that the dilapidation that is everywhere… exposed brick, paint chipping, wood rotting, metal stains, cracks, leaning buildings etc. does not detract from its beauty. It truly is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The streets of Venice are not streets, they are canals between buildings and people get around by boat. The canals are choked by them. This includes the beautifully ornate traditional gondolas that now serve as a novelty experience for tourists. Their drivers stand on the back of them with striped shirts and a long paddle, yelling to one another in greeting. There are no cars in the main city. The water in the canals is the color of dirty jade. It is as if the tendrils of the Adriatic Sea have become trapped and diverted between these buildings. Most of the buildings stand four stories tall and are so tightly packed that the sun cannot really get through. Instead the light kicks up off of the canals giving the city a romantic, dim, straw colored glow.
The city’s anatomy is made of canals, bridges, plazas and a labyrinth of tiny alleyways full to the brim with tiny shops. Exquisite, colorful carnival masks are for sale everywhere. The way that Venice is built makes it so that when you are in it, it is its own world, its own reality. You cannot see any skylines; you can’t see anything in the distance. It is impossible to get a feel for the city from a directional perspective. It is like being trapped inside a renaissance style rat cage built for people. But you are trapped in that beautiful rat cage with so many tourists that the claustrophobia begins to corrode you. It feels like a stampede with nowhere to escape. There are over 25 million tourists per year and the local attitude amongst the Italians that call Venice home is “You can’t live with them, you can’t live without them.” I can tell that the tourists drive the locals totally crazy with annoyance. I can also tell that their livelihood totally depends on those same tourists and that, is frustrating.
People started building Venice in 400 AD when a group of men from the mainland settled in a Venetian lagoon. Venice was its own country for 1100 years. It was in fact the most prosperous city in the world in the 13th century. It dominated Mediterranean commerce. Wealthy, aristocratic families did not just build homes here on the water, they build palaces. Throughout history, Venice was famous for its lack of religious conviction. Despite its allegiance to Roman Catholicism, it was targeted by the pope several times for practices that were not approved of by the Catholic faith. Back in the day, Venice was a bit like an elegant and elite Las Vegas. It was the place to go for entertainment, music, arts, food, revelry and best of all, courtesans.
You would think that with all the tourists, the remainder of the energetic vibrations from history would have been diffused completely. But to my surprise this has not happened at all. I have a theory as to why. Wood is like an energetic sponge. It soaks up and stores energies like a stain that you cant get out and the amount of wood in this city that is still left over since the beginning has made it so that the vibrations and thought forms from the past are still alive and well. Venice is especially hard on the empathic centers for this reason. For many years, the city was focused at with the attitude of it being cursed by God himself. The Black Plague (The Black Death) devastated Venice three times; the first time in 1348 and again in 1575 and again in 1629. The second time, it killed over 50,000 people. And the third, it killed a third of the entire population of the city.
I will explain the metaphysical cause of the Black Plague but it must be said that after coming here, on a purely physical level, I am not surprised at all that Venice was impacted so hard by the Plague. The way this place is built is literally a disaster waiting to happen if one needs space and open air to avoid contamination. On a purely physical level, the Plague was brought here on boats from Asia, which were the lifeblood of the city. Those boats were the only way in or out. And regardless of whether rats on those boats were the original carriers or whether it was in fact infected people who were the original carriers, what history books do not yet show is that the disease was spread person to person. The city of Venice is like an island of floating buildings. Inland cities were the only ones that could hope to be buffered from the disease these boats were carrying. It is ironic that the very thing that caused Venice’s unprecedented rise was the very thing that led to its fall.
Hygiene was not a real concern up until the 19th century. No one recognized its importance back then. The filthy conditions that were seen as normal and it was not recognized that these conditions led to parasites and the spread of disease. Quarantine was also not something that was understood at that time. The Plague was airborne. And all you have to do to understand what a disaster that is here is to go into one of these tiny alleyways between four story high buildings with someone who is smoking a cigarette. There would have been no way to escape an airborne pathogen here.
On an energetic level, the real cause of the plague was guilt. Indulgence was the natural way of life in Venice… Unregulated consumption. Given that the people of Venice were raised under the indoctrination of the Catholic Church with its conservative ideas about sin, many of the indulgences that were central to Venice were in conflict with the social morals at that time. It was easy to become tempted by what was physically available for pleasure and to abandon one’s sense of right and wrong. When we abandon our sense of what is right and ‘break the rules’ we carry inside ourselves for the sake of pleasure, we abandon ourselves. We feel guilt. When we abandon ourselves, it leaves our body vacant, like an empty hotel with rooms ready to be moved into by parasitic organisms. Bacteria is a perfect match to this state. Right and wrong is a kind of boundary that we ignore when we indulge in things that we feel are wrong. In perfect alignment with this, bacteria violates boundaries. And infection is perceived as a kind of punishment for our error. This is the real reason that the Plague was taken to be a sign that the people of the city had offended God and thus had been condemned. All of the aspects of the city that were in alignment with the Catholic Church’s idea of sin were targeted, especially the courtesans; the temptation of the flesh.
In reality, there was no God punishing the people for actually having sinned. What they experienced was the consequence of living in a state of guilt because so many of them had abandoned their own internal sense of right by committing actions that were not in alignment with the set of values they had been indoctrinated with by society at that time. The vibration that caused the Black Plague was transgression and the natural guilt that follows. Punishment for this is expected based on how the human species establishes social order. And the plague did exactly what punishment often does… It brings us back into conformity. The plague restored people to their sense of God being much more important than this infinitesimal physical life. It restored people back to rigid adherence to their sense of right and wrong. It served as all the more proof of the importance of living according to values. And it re-aligned people through fear with the Roman Catholic Church. And the dominant negative vibration of Venice, is a remainder from that time.
The dominant negative vibration of Venice is: Impermanence. In spiritual circles, impermanence is taught as a reality of life itself. A big part of the Buddhists practice of sand painting is to learn non-attachment as a way of embracing impermanence. But the vibration of impermanence in Venice is not a positive thing. It is imbued with the grief inherent in the inevitability of loss. The city is tainted with the energy that everything and everyone that you are connected with, you will lose one day. You will lose them because they will go away. Death is only one way of many to go away. It is ironic because even the city itself will be gone one day. It is not built in a way where it can last forever. And so the feeling in the city if you are sensitive to energies is very, very heavy. It is the feeling of missing something before it is gone because the fact that it will be gone is inevitable. For this reason I am going to have to say that I strongly disagree with the idea that Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world. Regardless of the fact that the physical look and culture of Venice is romantic, this dominant negative vibration of the city is not conducive to romance and it is not conducive to love.
The dominant positive vibration of Venice is: Bask. This is also a vibration that is a remainder of ancient times. But modern life here has kept in alignment with it. People still come to Venice to indulge. Venice is lavish. People who visit can wallow in sensual pleasures. In Venice you can sit back and simply take in pleasure. You can lie back in the sunlight as a gondola carries you through the water. You can sit at a restaurant and entertain course after course of the most exquisite food. The food in Italy cannot be beat and dining in Italy is not a fast affair. In Italy, you don’t eat to live. You live to eat. Secretly I feel like the Italians were the ones who invented the idea of emotionally coping with food. You can sleep in luxury. You can watch opera and symphony. You can shop until you can’t walk anymore. You can sit in the plaza and listen to the chorus of people walking by with the natural passion and enthusiasm of their ‘singy’ Italian inflections.
The water taxi makes its way to the airport. Driving through the wake, I look back at the empire that Venice once was, now in its old age. It disappears into the haze. The salt water surrounds us. I am on my way to Munich.