La Serenissima

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July 18, 2011 by Leah

I’ve been carrying on a cerebral love affair with Venice since I heard about Vivaldi and his orphan girl orchestra when I was about six. In college, I read all about the political, architectural, artistic, and musical history of the place in (translated) primary sources. I’m also a fan of historical fiction and have read some really stand-out novels set in – you guessed it – Venice.  So, I was really excited to get here.

Aaron was not.

After the broad promenades and piazzas of Milan, the crowds and incredibly confusing streets in Venice did come as something of a shock. I thought Aaron would love a place with no cars, but there are also no bicycles and the crowds are punishing in places (anywhere near St. Mark’s Square or the Rialto bridge, e.g.). It didn’t help that we arrived on Saturday, which is a big day for tourists as most cruises that leave from here (there are two cruise terminals) go out on Sunday. It also didn’t help that our hotel was right by the train station and our room was the size of a sleeper compartment on a train.

The first day we walked around in a daze. The high point was visiting the Basilica of San Marco (after initially deciding not to because of the lines). I had changed into shorts because it has been hot and muggy, but I had a knit skirt in my purse which I pulled on while waiting in line. (There’s a moral police guy just after the real police guys at the entrance to the Basilica – he calls out women whose shoulders or thighs are bare and hands out large squares of orange and burgundy paper to wrap around the offending body parts.) Dress code met, we entered the Basilica. The entire inside is covered with mosaics, made of millions of gilt-glass tesserae, or tiles the size of my fingernails. (I have particularly small fingernails.) The overall effect is stunning, particularly when you realize that the preliminary designs for the mosaics were done in or before the 11th century and the whole thing was complete by the 15th. (This is in sharp contrast to Milan’s Duomo, the facade of which was only completed by order of Napoleon during the time he had control of much of Northern Italy.)

That night, we ate (an actual dinner!) in a square, had a rest in our room, and later headed out to a pub called Il Santo Bevitore, or The Sainted Drinker. Aaron drank local beer and I tried a spritz (prosecco and bitters) while we watched boats on the canal.  One, seemingly illicitly, tied up to the railing and sent an agile representative over the wrought iron fence into the bar, from which he emerged shortly with a tray of drinks.

The next day (yesterday) we switched hotels (this was a planned thing) and are now in a room that is much less expensive and much more capacious than previously – plus, the room and hotel are utterly charming. (There’s a beautiful courtyard garden – which also serves as the fair-weather breakfast pavilion – just outside our room.) Also on the agenda: we checked out the Gallerie dell’Accademia (cool, but I’m getting really sick of representations of the Virgin and child – even St. Sebastian is getting old), lunched in the floating portion of a canal-side restaurant, visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (uh-may-zing first-half-of-20th-century art), and participated in the local custom of enjoying happy hour at a couple of different neighborhood bars (drinking Italian beer and wine from the local Veneto region, of course). We peeked into the church where Interpreti Veneziani (a world-renowned chamber ensemble my former employer, the Anchorage Concert Association, presented a few years ago) plays its summer series of concerts. It’s not a very big church, and though there’s still time to head over there, I don’t think I want to spend 25 Euros per person to hear the same Vivaldi-heavy program they did last time I heard them play. (There are Interpreti Veneziani posters all over the city, and our Lonely Planet guide talks about them incessantly. They are a great ensemble, but you’d think people had never heard music from the Italian baroque before. Maybe I’m just talking from a jaded presenter’s perspective.)

This morning we again tried to see the famed Pescaria (fish market portion of the Rialto Markets), but no dice. Apparently they sell out of fish by 9:30, don’t operate on Sundays or Mondays, or Lonely Planet’s claim that the Pescaria is open from 7-2 is a lie. Only slightly daunted, we bought 12-hour vaporetto (boat-bus) tickets and visited the islands of Lido and Murano. We went to Lido to say we’d been to the Adriatic. Now we have. ‘Nuff said. On Murano (famed as a glass-making island for centuries), though, we had lunch, went to the glass museum, and did some very satisfactory shopping before riding home on a packed boat.

We’ve been staying in Sestiere (neighborhood, basically) Cannaregio, which I adore. The streets that made me claustrophobic two days ago feel cozy now. I just ran out to buy some wine from a local specialty shop and thought, “I could live here.” Which is probably highly romanticized – I wouldn’t really want to live on an island where self-sufficiency is impossible, but I sure like staying here. Even Aaron seems to have come around to Venice (although the place we visited on this trip where HE wants to live is Bern).

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