A BREATHING CITY
There is always such melancholy at the end of a vacation and I always find it extremely hard to step out of the bubble. I realize that the whole purpose of a vacation is to shed one’s skin for a little while and get lost in a parallel reality which doesn’t involve the daily grind, no matter what that might be, and that a permanent vacation is not the solution to achieving a purposeful life (ok, the point is debatable, still, work with me here). But I do hate the end of vacations – the time has come to leave La Serenissima, after a last day filled with sun, more cobbled streets, a kosher lunch in the Jewish ghetto, strawberry meringue bought at Bucintoro and a visit to Palazzo Mocenigo.
I find smaller museums intensely rewarding – the art might not be world class but usually one has the rooms all to oneself. I decided on Palazzo Mocenigo to get an idea of what a patrician Venetian home would look like; this particular palazzo belonging to an ancient Venetian family was in their hands up until 1943 when it was donated to the city by the last heir with most of the original furniture from the XVIII century still in it.
All the attendants inside were extremely friendly and somewhat apologetic for how small the place was as if embarrassed for not being the custodians to some better known museum. And I did have the place all to myself, for 4 euros. I wandered up the staircase that from the ground floor leads to the “noble floor” where the ballroom, several sitting and dining rooms, a library, a bedroom and bathroom are to be found.
All of a sudden I was inside “A Venetian Affair” by Andrea de Robilant, the non fiction love story set in the XVIII century in Venice, between a nobleman, Andrea Memmo, and a lower class half English girl, Giustiniana Wynne (see previous blog on Venice). As seeing each other was difficult, sometimes Giustiniana would send word to Andrea that she would be at Palazzo Mocenigo and would sit by a window, waiting for him to come by in his boat and romantically wave. It was easy to imagine her at any of the windows I was standing at, maybe next to a fireplace for warmth.
On my way home, I stopped at the Billa, my local supermarket, for some milk for my last breakfast here: cornetti from Bar Nico, newspaper and coffee from the big mocha I found in the apartment. At 6 o’clock the Billa is bustling with activity, people like me, on their way home, after work or after a day of sightseeing, trying to get dinner organized. In the past week I negotiated the unfamiliar varieties of cereal, milk and body lotion and imitated the old ladies buying fresh bread at the deli counter, asking for the same kind they would ask for. When I stepped out of the supermarket, the sun was on its final arc and made the island of Giudecca, with its neatly lined houses and its imposing church, glow a million shades of pink. Where else on earth would you go about such a mundane task as buying milk and have your breath taken away in one fell swoop?
I set out to find the side of Venice that doesn’t revolve around St. Mark’s and I found it. The mystery I haven’t unlocked is whether Venice is an evolving city, the way London or Rome are, where the past draws you in but the cultural present changes, evolves and grows to keep you interested. Gosh, I guess I will have to come back for that one…