Venice Vignettes- Vivid Impressions of a Magical City

09_09_341_v.jpgArriving into Santa Lucia railway station after a hellish overnight train from Lyon, I stumbled onto the quays and began to confront the otherworldly spectacle that is Venice. On this sweltering day in early October, water laps up onto the quay, splashing about like an overflown bathtub.

Outside a hubbub of tourists stumble about in bewilderment. One of the great tourist destinations in the world, Venice attracts some 50,000 tourists a day. It seemed like half of them arrived with me. Nine am, primetime at Santa Lucia. We jostled ourselves one of the numerous Vaporetto, or water buses, that fan their way into this island city.

My junket to Venice was bargain to myself, a treat for my soul.  Six weeks of travel through the wine regions of Italy, France, Spain left me inspired, no doubt. Yet I grew increasingly weary, frustrated, and stretched for cash. I would at last draw to conclusion this haphazard ramble, but only if I could go out in style. I simply had to experience Venice!

There’s nothing that can prepare you for the splendid glory that is Venice.  As we floating up the Grand Canal, lined with stately palaces and immense cathedrals, Venice exalted my senses. Like strolling for the first down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, or the Champs Élysées in Paris.I experienced that sense of elation finally visiting one of the world’s great destinations, somewhere you’ve thought about and seen in pictures a thousand times over. The simple act of being there, just for a few minutes, is worth the entire journey.

09_09_160_v.jpgSeemingly most everyone, including myself, is destined for the same port of call: San Marco. For this is the undeniable epicenter of Venice. Standing in the middle of Piazza San Marco, and invariably be smacked square across the head with shear profundity of place. If Venice is sinking, its due in part to the shear concentration of art and culture and world history all piled into one place. To stand in Piazza San Marco is to begin to grapple with that reality. Venice unfolds itself on epic scale, like the scene from a cinematic masterpiece.

What appears as roads on the municipal map, are a series of narrow lane ways, that can often be clogged with a gridlock of pedestrians. Even amid the scrum of tourists, Venice provides is full of delights. In Venice, Bipeds rule the day. I believe a large part of the richness of the Venetian experience is the pedestrian nature of the city. For if you’re not floating in some boat, chances are you’re walking amid cobbled lane ways, over countless bridges, taking in every little nuance of history.

My room had a balcony overlooking one of the many narrow canals, trafficked by a steady stream of gondoliers. Some of them were crooners, singing away their camera wielding guests.  Invariably its some familiar refrain… “When you walk in a dream, but you know you’re not dreaming, signore.”  Venice is a giant bundle of cliches– a touristic theme park– served up to you just as you expected it, only much better.

Oh the people watching: the steady promenade of tourists provides entertainment all its own. And aren’t the Venetians a fashionable lot.  They certainly stand out among the tourists, by the thousands, in every color and stripe, toting cameras.  For you just can’t help snapping pictures along the way- everyone walking, stopping, snapping, gawking. Of boats and buildings, and buildings and boats. And oh look at that there, surely just one more. In two days I feel completely redundant. My photographic take no different than the next guys, and haven’t I been down this lane way before? I stumble and fumble, most the time lost.

09_09_123_v.jpgStanding over the Grand Canal from the Ponte di Rialto bridge is one of the best places to take in the whole grand affair. I’m shoulder to shoulder with tourists and we’re all snapping the same photograph. Yet the waterway seems ever changing, as with the hazy afternoon sunlight fading to orange. There’s a steady cavalcade of watercraft: gondoliers brimming with tourists; immaculate vintage motorboats proudly piloted by linen clad man of great machismo;  Toiling working men, sporting their own rough hewn style, amble along barges bearing freight: produce, coffee, wine, high fashion, troves of kitsch, everything this great city requires for its daily sustenance arrives here by boat.  Certainly never a dull moment, just to linger and take it all in.

Throughout most of my stay, pen and paper gave way to pure, unfettered experience. It was just my luck to be their during the Venice Biennial, its famed celebration of visual arts. The upshot of tourists is a constellation of venues, holding an dazzling array of art. Seemingly around every corner, you’d stumble your way into yet another highly atmospheric medieval building, housing still more antiquities and artistic treasures.

You simply can’t get too lost in this city. For the further afield you venture the greater the surprises you’ll find along the way. Tired?  Pull up in one of the many smaller piazzas, take a table,  relax and unwind, imbibing in vino, cappuccino, gelato, whatever the heart fancies. Maps are a useless reminder of how its all good, and sooner or later you’ll end up back where you started: spent, exhausted, consumed, and utterly inspired.

They say the place is sinking.  Ah but surely they’ve been saying that all along. We’ve all heard the stories before. How Venice has been built upon the marshes of the Venice Lagoon, how its actually comprised as many small islands. The city is both timeless and doomed by the hands of time, as the sea reclaims its own. If projections for global warming hold true, the loss to humanity would be unthinkable.

09_09_68_v.jpgI comfort myself with the assurance that all the world’s great cities, through wars and natural disasters, have invariably stood the test of time. Yet Venice, above all others, seems the most vulnerable. Most of these ancient buildings are built atop calcified, petrified pillars of wood.  Like some rare wildflower whose brilliant bloom will one day wither, Venice is here to be appreciated before the long winter ahead.

Invariably I must leave. I meet my friends for one more fond memory. Recognizing their impending scarcity value, we agree congregate in a piazza near the hotel, to sit and savor, while sipping and licking, one final gelato and macchiato. When you’re three hours from your airport departure, gluttony has no limits. We linger in the moment, taking in the scene. Venice is a most fabulous place for people watching. I don’t want to leave. Why can’t I stay two more nights with my friends?

Reluctantly we make my way back to the quay. The sun is setting and the scene is chaotic, as thousands of tourists are attempting to board a few vaporetti.  Dozens of African vendors have unfurled their goods, pedaling pirated wares with great insistence. “Bag for you madame… Versace!”

09_09_421_v.jpgThe swirl of humanity meets churning, murky sea and good old fashioned Italian inefficiency. Nothing is adequately marked. Nor does anyone able or willing to direct me toward the Vaporetto that leaves each hour for Venice’s Marco PoloAirport.  Panic sets in, no doubt fueled by those coffees.  We split into three solo teams, each trying to find the damn boat. I’m filled with dread at the thought of missing my boat, my flight, my heavens hasn’t six weeks of travel suddenly taken its toll. I long for home, for anywhere but Venice.

The boat is eventually found and hasty goodbyes are issued. Hug, hug, kiss, kiss, jump in the boat and sail away, embarking on the long journey home. Into the night we sailed, magnificent Venice now a fading glimmer of golden lights across an azure sea. Having overcome the caffeinated panic and the nausea of the sea, my thoughts grow more lucid, as I retrace my journey of the last three days.

My ephemeral visit to this most etherial of places imparted a series of lucid vignettes, delicately rendered into my conscience. Admittedly I’ve glossed over all the negatives. Brushed away are those memories of the most indescribable sulphuric stench that saturated my room. Or the perpetual state of feeling lost, Venice is after all, a ridiculously overpriced tourist theme park.  But all these factors aside, I long to return once again, to further explore and imbibe what is, without question, one of the world’s truly great cities.

11 Responses to “Venice Vignettes- Vivid Impressions of a Magical City”

  1. Mayvi says:

    I love Venice,…..thanks for your photos.

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