The aesthetic past is ever present in Venice, an archipelago of decaying beauty slowly succumbing to the sea
A veritable Gomorrah of frowsy furbelow, Venice – its temples and palaces, according to Percy Bysshe Shelley “like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven”– is a magnet for poets, lovers, tourists, pigeons, and thieves. And here, you have to hand it to them. The San Marco pickpockets – among the most skilled in the world – nimbly lifted 100 euros from my purse, while I paid for a T-shirt – making it the most expensive in my wardrobe.
The tanned gondoliers are more upfront about parting tourists from their money but Venice wouldn’t be the same without a glide in one of these sleek, black boats, each with unique trim and curvy oarlock. You can see the wooden oars being carved in a shop just behind San Marco’s Piazza, a tourist tabernacle of mosaic and marble, where sunlight bouncing off the golden angel atop the bell tower bathed domes and spires in an iridescent benediction. We drank coffee, listening to the melodic strains of a string quartet.
In this exquisite city that seems miraculously built on water, the light is an alchemist blending slimy brick, dirt, and battered agate, into rosy tones and romantic dereliction.
Capital of Italy’s northeastern Veneto region, Venice comprises an archipelago of 117 small island separated by canals and linked by more than 400 bridges.
Boats bustled along the rippling emerald Grand Canal, as we ate gelato, explored the Rialto bridge, fish market, Lido boardwalk, and Bridge of Sighs, the name given by Lord Byron who suggested prisoners would sigh at their final view of Venice before being taken down to their cells.
“Under the day’s azure eyes” (Percy’s prose) we traversed an emerald lagoon across to Burano to find the gaily painted houses of a fishing community and little old ladies sitting outside their cottages making lace.
Our waterbus tour also stopped at Murano, famous for its glass since the 11th century when their craftsmen were the only Europeans able to make the mirrors, enameled glass (smalto), glass with threads of gold (aventurine), multicolored glass (millefiori), milk glass (lattimo), and imitation gemstones, evident in all the shops scattered along the little cobbled streets.
We enjoyed glass blowing demonstrations at a factory where skilled artists honed their talents into a myriad of shapes and colours a few feet from us. I treated myself to a Murano ring as a souvenir.
Despite the daily invasion of tourists that flood Venice, many districts retain their village sensitivities with butchers and bakers rather than the ubiquitous Venetian mask and glass shops, but even at peak visitor times, you’re never more than a bridge and an alley away from more secluded squares, (campi) 16th century Gothic palaces and wine bars.
I couldn’t imagine living here for too long – think of the damp – but dreamy Venice is a poetic antidote to a surfeit of reality.