VENICE, Italy—Millions of tourists pass through this city every year, receiving the same piece of advice: Don’t swim in the canal.
I’m not sure whether I disregarded that warning or missed it altogether. Either way, on my 19th birthday, I jumped into a Venetian canal.
It all began when my roommate planted the idea on the walk to my birthday dinner. I had heard the canals were sort of dirty, but how bad could they be? “Yeah, I think I’ll do it,” I replied to the surprise of the group. “Sounds like fun.”
Anticipation built during dinner. On the way to the canal they couldn’t contain themselves, giggling with excitement.
We arrived, and I stripped down to my boxers. I stood at the edge of the canal, took a breath, and leapt in.
The cold water enveloped me as my feet quickly hit the bottom. Some salty water passed through my lips, and I bobbed back to the surface to the cheering of the group. It was exhilarating. The others yanked me out of the canal, and we all trudged back to the dorms, I clad only in my soaking boxers.
But upon getting back to the residence the truth of what I had just done set in.
The canals aren’t just dirty. They’re filthy. After mentioning my jump to Italian students in my program, they looked at me like someone had just died. They told stories of people jumping in and requiring shots for God knows what diseases and bacteria. When Katherine Hepburn jumped into a canal during filming of the 1955 movie “Summertime,” she was temporarily blinded and reportedly had eye problems for the rest of her life.
But that was 1955. Where the canals used to contain sewage, they’re now filled with runoff from factories. I’m not very worried about blindness, but I am waiting to see how my third eye turns out.
Robert S. Samuels ’14 is a sports writer in Leverett House.