Ross Chatburn writes a heartfelt letter to Venice, a city he cannot wait to see, whilst affectionately reminiscing about life as an Exeter student.
If you were to offer me 5000 pounds to visit you at this precise moment, I would say no. That’s right. I would snub the opportunity to bask in your sunshine and glory outside the Piazza di San Marco, sail down your ornate waterways of Cupid’s fantasy pad and evanesce life’s toils in the Italian paradiso which embraces love, culture and baroque nostalgia like a joey coalesces its matriarch.
You are livid. You belittle me. “All for what? Not even a cheeky selfie under the Rialto?” That’s right, I contest brazenly, yet rather grudgingly. I bet it is as pretty, romantic and infuriatingly gorgeous as people say it is. I sigh, I want to cry. You reply. “Oh Ross, I am as exotic as Bahamian beach, as embellished as a Parisian gallery and as zappy as a Sevillian salsa troup.” I hesitate, then succumb to reason. Yes. Probably. Likely. Darn right obviously.
Before I proceed I must elucidate that, at time of writing, I intend to embark on a year abroad in Padova which lies a mere half an hour from the haven of romantic culture, the love-nest of amour, oh my oh my, now I want to go even more. “But no Ross you cannot, it is too dangerous.” I reluctantly concede.
I recently saw a photo of your piazzas in lockdown and remarked how bare, yet idyllically tranquil they appear. Your resident population lies at just over 52,000. A far cry from the 130,000 nestling in Exeter, however, it does make me think. Venice without visitors is like Exeter without students, a red rose deprived of its petals. But if you can still hold onto your grandeur and glory, in spite of desolation, surely Exeter can too?
If you can still hold onto your grandeur and glory, in spite of desolation, surely Exeter can too?
As I squint through the rain-splattered window in my bedroom I can just make out a figure in the distance, seemingly as minuscule as one of Lowry’s matchstick men crowded by hills, making everything seem smaller and less significant. I spy not a soul around them, fearless, peaceful, berthed by the hills like an infant in its cradle. Then, suddenly, a thought occurs to me. Is Exeter my matriarch?
I think back to the time when two years ago Exeter was crowded, full of students and bursting with life. I was ridden with anxiety, it was Freshers’ Week and I was lost. Within a week, my life had changed and I felt as comfortable as I had ever felt in my entire life. Exeter may not be exotic, embellished or dare I say it zappy, but for sure it is a treasure.
Back when life was normal, your streets had tourists, but Exeter had Spotlights shows on weekends. You had cafés charging ten pounds for a coffee, but head on down to the Exeter campus shop and you could get ten with a refillable cup. You have a sea, but Exeter has a quay. Adorned with bridges too. Oh wait. I know. I need to put the brakes on this ill-fated attempt to resolve my apprehension by understating your opulence, which is petulant and naive to say the least. I could never go as far as to compare the two. For starters, you are UNESCO world heritage site, whilst Exeter has merely a Britain in Bloom to its name. Nonetheless, as long as Exeter is open and students continue to grace its undulating landscape, I know deep down that things will be alright.
As long as Exeter is open and students continue to grace its undulating landscape, I know deep down that things will be alright.
“But, look at me Ross, don’t you see how magnificent I am.” I know, I know. But let me put this simply, come September and I am still lurking around this horrid nirvana, would it be the worst thing? I can still meet my friends, eat Ram chips and furrow through fields of wheat. Granted. They are intentions ladened with optimism and a fair dose of pollen. However, they are also thoughts which bring a smile to my face even when I feel powerless and wrought with self-pity. Yes. It stands a world away from an Italian jewel, or 1716km to be exact, but Exeter is special in its own right.
Forget the sunny weather and the glitz, glamour and splendour. When you are here in this Devonshire retreat, you really are somewhere extraordinary, don’t deny it. I think of those interminable nights at Cheesies, the friends at French Soc, the hours waiting outside Pret for a filter coffee. Exeter first held me in its marsupium 625 days ago and I am not ready to break free.
When you are here in this Devonshire retreat you really are somewhere extraordinary, don’t deny it.
I look through the window again and gaze out. Exeter is the same. It is self-effacing, modest and humble. If I were intending to sound romantic I would say that the pane of the window glistens with rain and reflects the sunlight beaming into my eyes as if forcing me to concur. However, aside from the odd jogger, I currently set my eyes upon an unsullied, unmarred paradise of bountiful hills and imperfection which makes me feel as though I am somewhere unabridged, somewhere unique. Gosh I love you Exeter.
It may be temporarily gone, but when I come back, be it this September or the one after, I will utter to myself the agonisingly clichéd, yet meaningful phrase, “there is no place like home.” You will tilt up your head, give me a twirl and my eyes will be lured towards the 5000 pounds sitting in the Erasmus fund, like the barbeque-flavoured Popchips at the Market Place. Then, when this is all over, you will call me weak-willed and I will hop on a plane to your smug delight and I will whisper the phrase, almost silently so you don’t hear, “oh Venice, oh Venice, wherefore art thou.” Indeed, Venice for now you have won, but I’m not finished with you Exeter.