Yes, it’s full of ugly tourists. Yes, if you traipse around San Marco you will most likely be jostled by the bodies who have no memory of where they are going anymore – they are just moving along the calles and campos in a blind stupor. But once you step outside Sestriere San Marco, you get cloaked into an eerie quiet, disturbed only by the sloshing of the canal waters and the occasional stranded tourist looking for a tucked away Biennale exhibition.
Italians take Venice for granted, a gigantic open air museum or, more unkindly, a centuries old Disneyland, but Venice is a breathing city, although these could be its dying throes, where the past still pervades every corner and comes alive so vividly you would have to be blind not to be sensitive to its magic.
A city untouched by cars or bikes, where technology is not apparent, where I can’t even find where it is that I am supposed to put my trash.
The Venice Republic folded in 1793, opposing no resistance to the Napoleonic army, but it was already over long before then, victim of useless wars, inextricable bureaucracy and a fading maritime business. But while it lasted, the Venetians created a magic place, a blend of Renaissance and Byzantine architecture that cannot be found anywhere else.
Come in winter, when Americans and Japanese stay away, and you will be wandering alone in the company of fog and ghosts and stay where the few remaining Venetians live – my apartment was everything I could have wished for even if the three flights of steep stairs I have to climb to reach it would kill an Olympic sprinter.
The windows are open to the balmy air and all I can hear is the sound of a boat going by, the ripples of the waves against the embankment of the canal. A few minutes ago I looked outside and saw the white bearded and spindly figure of a sculptor whose funny metal animals are part of a Biennale exhibit that thoroughly delighted my friends and I this afternoon. He was going home with a friend and a small dog.
No, the water does not smell but yes, the examples of how tourists can be taken in are ample – sit at beautiful Cafe Florian and you will be charged 31 euros for cappuccino and bread and jam plus 6 euros each for the mediocre music quartet that plays incessantly on a small stage – obscene and unnecessary.
Public transportation, in the form of vaporetti, is hellishly expensive and do not even think about eating at any of the bars of restaurants between the train station and Piazza San Marco. The food will be horrendous and the prices steep. Look for out of the way osterie and trattorie where the menu is not translated into English.
The ugly reproductions of 18th century Venetian masks are made in China and I could go on and on. But just ignore the stores and watch the sunset fade over the lagoon and imagine, not hard to do, all those who did the same 500 years ago.
PS As I have noticed that readership takes a dip over the week-end (all you people reading my blog instead of working!), I will now be posting Monday to Friday. To all of you, many more than I ever thought, thank you for reading!