An excerpt from

Mr. Blue
by Jacques Poulin translated by Sheila Frischman

What is happiness? An illusion, a dream to be pursued throughout a that at certain moments we believe we've attained. It happened to me one day in Venice.

When I was visiting some of the European cities whose names I knew from songs, like thousands before me I had succumbed to the lure of Venice: the water shimmering under her bridges, the sound of footsteps in the little side streets, the cats dozing in public squares, everything created an atmosphere of mystery and melancholy that had cast a spell over me.

I was particularly attached to a little square that for me represented beauty, perfection, the earthly paradise. It was chance that had brought me to this place.

Every morning I left the Volks-which was already old and falling apart-in a campground at Mestre, near the airport, and took a bus that dropped me at the train station; from there, on a vaporetto or on foot, depending on my mood and the weather, I would go to the Piazza San Marco where I liked just strolling around, for the square, perhaps because of its harmonious proportions, gave me a feeling of well-being and security. Then I would leave the square with its hordes of tourists to lose myself in the labyrinth of outlying little streets.

That morning, I came close to being really lost. I'd probably gone in a circle because I crossed over the Rialto twice and then, it seemed to me, I walked east, past the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, then I turned south just before the Arsenale. And it was probably near there that all at once, when I emerged from one of the little streets, I walked into the wonderful little square.

Before me was a canal like hundreds of others in Venice, but somewhat narrower than most; it was straddled by an elegantly curved little bridge with a parapet just low enough to invite you to sit down; it was surrounded by brick houses that were beige, almost caramel in colour, their windows adorned with red and white flowers and with yellow plastic weather vanes; finally, to liven up the scene, just next to it there was a bar-and-tobacco store, its windows full of trinkets.

When I found the little square, it was deserted, and since I was tired and a little absent-minded I didn't notice that it was lovely too. (I say that rather sadly: most of the time we see almost nothing.) However, I could sense, I could guess that something was going to happen when I sat in a sunny corner with my back against the old stones. My soul was soft and warm round me. I started watching very attentively.

After a few minutes, I saw that there was a felicitous blend of light and shadow; that the shuddering water in the canal, when it reflected the light, broke it into a thousand fragments that streamed under the arch of the bridge and up the faded brick wall; that the colours were soothing to the eye, with some brighter patches here and there, and that all the shapes that made up the setting of this little square were in harmony with one another. In a sense it was perfection, the earthly paradise, as if an old dream had materialized, and I stayed there, sitting in my corner, moved and overcome by admiration, until the end of the day.

The next day, as soon as I woke up in the Mestre campground, I felt a compelling urge to return to my anonymous little square. Again I took the bus into Venice, then I walked to the Rialto and from there, heading towards the Arsenale, I tried to follow the same route I had taken the day before. In vain. I wandered the streets all that day and the next, but I was unable to find again the little square that had appeared to me like paradise... And today I don't even know if it really exists.