Confession time: I grew up playing and running Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I was About.Com’s Guide to Roleplaying Games for a number of years, and I still manage to make it out to a tabletop AD&D game once a month. At one point I had an extensively developed personal campaign world, Samru, in which I set complex campaigns for over fifteen years.
This image is a very tiny version of a very old map I drew of the fantasy city Saldon. Saldon was the setting for a novel I was writing while I was in high school and then turned into a city setting for a roleplaying campaign.
Not surprisingly, considering that I was living in Naples while I was in high school writing about Saldon, it’s an amalgam of two Italian cities that left a distinct impression on my teenage imagination: Capri and Venice. Saldon is a terraced, closely built-up city on an island (akin to Capri), in which one of the terraces has collapsed and now consists of canals running through crumbling old buildings (the Venetian influence). The “sunken” terrace was, in my writing and roleplaying, a haunt for the rejected parts of society: the impoverished, the outcasts, and the anti-authoritarian.
One of the challenges facing me as I develop this class is the same one that we’ll be posing to our students — to define Venice as a personal symbol. As I contemplate what Venice means to me, I realize how long and in how many ways it’s had an influence on my own imagination. I lived in Italy from ages 15 to 18; I think I visited Venice twice during that time, once with my family and once on a school field trip. I returned to Venice while I was attending college, visited it again in 2000, and then lived there for several months in 2006. Why does the city keep drawing me back? Why have I incorporated it into my fiction and my roleplaying? What does that method of incorporation suggest about how Venice operates as a personal symbol in my psyche?
I’m still working through the question. But I hope our students will find Venice as memorable as I did as a teenager, when I first stepped out of the train station and saw its timeless canals and churches spread before me like the promise of a future I never could have imagined.