In my dream last night I saw a piece of colorful Murano glass. The five days I spent in Venice, I was looking for a metaphor to describe, to represent this place for the needs of my personal mythology. The memory of the glass imprinting hues, rather than colors, translates accurately the fluidity that is the essence of Venice; see the sky, how it resembles watercolor paintings. This sky cannot escape the eye in this open city, as it reflects on water, changing by the instant. It is no surprise that Venice has been the house and the inspiration of so many painters and writers, artists, visionaries and explorers, merchants and craftsmen.
I read my tourist guide, mostly I hear stories from the people living here for years, others who have their deep roots here, and from Milanese who spend their holidays here since they were children. More than other cities, Venice opened me up to receive the sounds and the images, to absorb the smells of pitsa in the narrow streets, and fried fish along the quays.
I admire the multi-layer construction of the city, a marvel to stay intact after more the five centuries, more or less intact, that is, and almost unchanged since 1500, with only the ‘cambaneli’ a bit tilted and the continuous restorations all around to remind us of the time and the water, the close relation, the interaction between the two, a pair, a loving and dangerous liaison.
Floating in Venice
The water height, the tide, the possibility of ‘acqua alta’ (water rising) is part of the discussions, as much as the food: “Is it going to rain? Where are we eating tonight?” The slabs of wood kept near the door of the houses, ready to be placed on the rails, as a barrier blocking the water from coming into the houses or advancing further inside, or placed at the threshold of the shops, before closing for the night, if an ‘acqua alta’ is expected.
In the Piazza San Marco, opposite Harry’s Bar founded in 1931, where Ernest Hemingway was a regular, the posters inform about the workings to protect the city. But also at the tip of Lido, Alberoni, we saw the waterfront and photographed the Cyclopean walls. The water, the constant reminder of its persistence, its strength, its sovereignty in Venice is the element that imposes its own rules and respect on it, it provides the unique way of transportation on the lagoon, for the living, but also for the dead, as they are transported at the island- cemetery. The water provides the fresh fish, like our unforgettable lunch a rainy afternoon at the island of Burano.
The water erodes the stones and the wood. For the 70.000 Venetians who inhabit the city, water is part of their lives, as much as the history, or the tourists. Extremely gentle and polite, they stop their work to give information. The vaporetta (waterbuses), the exhibitions, the shops, the cleaning, the cooking, all the services here function like a Venetian clock, punctual, on time. At the end of August the city is packed with tourists, at the peak of la Biennale di Venezia, one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world founded in 1895. This year the 13th International Architecture Exhibition (Mostra Internazionale di Architettura) August 29th to November 25th, at the Giardini and the Arsenal titled ‘Common Ground’ was inaugurated along the 69th Venice International Film Festival on Lido, (August29th – September 8th 2012) the oldest International film festival in the world.
Creating in Venice and living in Venice
For a city who loves mirrors, glass, masks, the Carnival, the fun and the grotesque, the apparitions, the romantic gondoliers, the sound of music echoing from the canals and the churches, I did not expect the practical, the sensible, the industry, the production, the reasonable and the reliable running of the tourism and the commerce. Venice speaks to me with the constant murmur of water, as the life narrative of a person, the multiple facets of reality, of perception. It talks about the fluid, the illusionary, the trembling ground like the floating platforms on which we stand most of the time. The hybrid under-structure on which the buildings stand for five centuries. The hybrid superstructure of people crossing the canals, a contemporary Babel of languages, of skin colors, nationalities, religions creates a multitude of labyrinths, superimposing and crossing each other, like the substances floating and swimming in the waters of Venice.
Venice is built on more than 100 islands in the middle of a swampy lagoon. At the bottom of the lagoon the solid ‘caranto’ of compacted sand and clay in alternate layers provides a stable base for building.Pinewood piles were driven 7,5 m (25ft) into the ground before building work could begin. These construction techniques unique and invented by the Venetian builders gave the city by 1500 its present shape and only in the 20th century has further building begun to alter the outline. As I am visiting the Gallerie dell’ Accademia the exhibion ‘Il Tiziano mai visto’ I feel dizzy, as if I was floating for many hours on a boat. Is it personal, a subjective sensation after few days in Venice, or is it actually the Accademia moving though it is seems to stand robust and impressive? I suppose that both are happening at the same time.
Escaping from Venice just before the starting of Regata Storica
We left Venice by train, just before new flocks of tourists were arriving and accumulating around the quays, hanging from the bridges to watch the Regata Storica. It is an annual trial of strength and skill for the gondolieri. “By tradition, on the first Sunday of September, the grand rowing champions challenge one another on the Canal Grande in gondolini, caorline, mascarete and pupparini. The races are preceded by a colorful historic parade with dozens of rowed boats all richly decorated in 16th century style”, I read in Gondola Days, edition April 2012. It is the magazine published by the gondolieri, the editorial is signed by their President. “Venice is a city that belongs not only to Italy but is part of the world’s heritage”. “Our commitment as gondoliers is to be always active in promoting the arts and crafts that still make our city vibrant and unique”. I will not rush into comparisons with other cities or professionals, but I will keep this pleasant surprise as a contribution to the success story of Venice.
The worse invasion I saw were the cruise ships passing through the Canal Grande, destroying the waterbed. And I felt ashamed that some bear Greek names. They looked awkward and out of place, like 7 story buildings in the middle of the canal and people around were expressing worry and anger.
So it happened and the last night I slept in Venice the city revealed to me the key to unlock its magic, to find the metaphor for my personal imagery. Before this, I was ready to compromise for the image of Venice as a labyrinth where you have no reason to look for the ‘Ariadne’s thread/mitos’ to escape away from the Minotaur, but you could just let go, to be lost and found. I had the feeling of an island where you meet again and again the same people, who like me are trapped in the same labyrinth, and you cannot avoid noticing them in squares, coming in and out of the vaporetta.
Venice is filmed, Venice is narrated. To relate with the Venice around you, you have to remember and at the same time forget the photos and the scenes and the descriptions you carry with you as you arrive.
Venice as film set: 1970 Luchino Visconti’s ‘Death in Venice’ ; 1976 Fellini’ s ‘Casanova’; 1989 ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’
Venice & water: – 1966 flood caused devastation. UNESCO launches its ‘Save Venice’ appeal, 1973 laws passed to reduce pollution, subsidence & flooding – 1988 the lagoon flood barrier is completed – 2002 to 2008 construction and opening of the fourth bridge over Grand Canal – 2010 floods in Vicenza and Padua plains in November
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My Travel Journals for Italy include:places that console me: puglia, apulia urban gardens in milan For an eye on Cultural Heritage & Ecology, these posts feature in En & Gr thoroughly edited and researched, illustrated by my photos.