Sunday, August 30
Venice is one of those places I have always fancied. I thought it would be romantic to go during Carnival with someone who liked me a lot. I would wear an emerald green gown and a feathery mask. Revellers would wonder and whisper as to the identity of this beauty gliding around the dance floor and chatting gaily with strangers. My lover and I would drink champagne, eat petit fours and walk along the canal at dawn. We'd ride in a gondola and kiss under all the bridges on our way back to our lush apartment where breakfast of espresso and croissants awaited.
As fate would have it, I never owned an emerald gown and no lover showed, but as I would have it, I went to Venice anyway. I arrived early with thousands of other tourists. As I emerged from the train station I was welcomed by a throng of selfie stick and souvenir vendors. I hallucinate I am some sort of celebrity surrounded by paparazzi clamouring for my attention, but am almost disappointed by the business and clutter of it all. I press through undaunted by the first 500 yards of concrete and by the time I step on my first arched bridge I am completely enamoured. I buy a cup of strawberries with a fancy little fork and nosh while I wander.
Venice is luscious and little. 409 elegant bridges join 117 tiny islands surrounded by the same number of salamander green canals. I have never been to a place like this and it makes me smile. For no good reason, it reminds me of childhood forts over creeks where adventures of pirates and fancy were launched with newspaper hats and boats of bark.
Though there are a million people here, once enchanted, they seem to vanish. I like walking over the bridges. One invites me to the next along a trail of colourful barber poles where gondolas wait for hire. As the sound of tourists is replaced by the quiet lapping of water against stone walls, I realize I am soundly and happily lost. I wander through piazzas, look up at Gothic shuttered windows and peek into open doorways. Every brick seems interesting to me and each curved path begs exploration.
It's funny how we romanticize certain places only to watch the veneer curl and fade, exposing the disappointing reality of it all. Some places invite deep exploration and others, like Venice, deserve to be held in an enchanted state of fantasy. For a moment I try to envision what living in Venice is really like, but opt to think of Titian, Bellini and Tintoretto and how inspired they must have been by this place.
I imagine the Merchant of Venice being played out on these well worn alleys where Shylock demands a pound of Antonio's flesh if he cannot pay his debt and Portia in the grand court house protesting he can have the flesh, but no blood. Ah Shakespeare, so clever indeed.
After a few hours of daydreaming, the heat of the day reminds me to find shelter and sustenance. I walk along the river past patios boasting seafood and pasta. The sour sweet smell of the river mingles with the aroma of bread and sauce. It almost makes me want to try to enjoy fish, but I duck into a charming pasta place instead.
I love these little restaurants. Mismatched china and cutlery, dusty chianti bottles, wobbly chairs and plump smiling waitresses; everything you need for a perfect italian lunch. These places offer no apology. Cleanliness is not a priority and I am sure one of these adorable bistros will result in a bout of food poisoning, but I'm on vacation, so what the hell. I walked past the Chinese place I ate at last night, and was amused to find it boarded up this morning.
Some people hate the idea of eating alone. I am no such soul. I enjoy savouring. Today I am having lasagna, soft gorgeous warm bread and a delicious half bottle of red wine. Every bite is heavenly and between them, I scribble these notes to you, lest we forget.
There is a man sitting alone at the table next to mine. He has tried three times to engage me in conversation. Thrice I have smiled, nodded and lowered my eyes to my so important text. He has bantered with the waitress, the barkeep, and everyone else who has wandered near his space. Currently, he is discussing Venice with the patient honeymooners across from me. When I took out my map, he lunged to assist, but I quickly put it away and squashed his dreams.
I will never learn to resist drinking wine on hot days when I have far to travel. It's rather pitiful to be so immature, and even though I end up toddling and faint, it's not likely I will change.
Back in the street, I am amazed at how the sun finds a way to beat down on me regardless of how tall these building are and how narrow the streets. Much as I would like to call it a day, I press on as there is far too much to see.
There are so many shops boasting masks and costumes but I can't seem to tire of them. Lush red walls drip with lace, gold and empty eyed faces. In one, an old man at an ancient workbench is fastening pearls to a white feathered beauty. I love the idea of being a mask maker.
Light dances across rooms of Venetian glass figurines and whimsical chandeliers. Closet sized bakeries lure me to pastel macaroons and S shaped butter cookies. The shape is for the sesame seeds they are often sprinkled with, but I opt for the scrumptious citrus version. No description does these temptresses justice. I will try to make them when I get home. I bought several tins to send home as souvenirs, but we both know they will make no such journey.
I am sitting on a patio with a glass of wine regretfully waiting to board my train back to Florence. I have seen Saint Marks, The Grand Canal, The Piazza San Marco, The bridge of Sighs and everything else on my list. The art in Venice is spectacular and though I have seen so many master works here, I am sorry to not have another day to immerse myself in these awe inspiring galleries. I love Venice. The sun has come down to cradle this beautiful place in a golden glow and is planting crimson good night kisses on every face. Perhaps, someday I will return in an emerald gown during Carnival.