There’s a story, Invisible Cities, written by Italo Calvino where he describes a conversation between Marco Polo and Khan. Marco says:
“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”
And that’s how I feel writing about Venice. That every adjective, every descriptor, every release of a noun as it plops onto the page, dancing between carefully scripted verbs, is just one-by-one erasing the memory of Venice.
Those who know me know that I do not handle Winter well. I quietly wrap myself up in thick melancholy thoughts and equally thick knit blankets, and desperately hide from the Beast. But, the Beast is strong and there are not as many places to hide in Winter. The air is crisp and the trees are bare and the forests are quiet…and so He comes; and I succumb, and Winter paints painstaking lines across my path for a few months.
And so one of those lines appeared. In grey at first but getting darker with each day. With encouragement from a dear friend, I bought tickets to Venice. And that dark grey line turned bluer and bluer and bluer and my path, though choppy, became a canal, and I started floating instead of crouching.
And this is how I arrived in Venice. Cold, choppy, and floating.
Venice welcomed me and I felt more alive than I had in the past few weeks. So I greeted La Serenissimo with knee-high boots, wild hair, and open arms.
We took the Alilaguna ferry from the airport to F.te. Nove and walked straight to a place I’ve always wanted to visit: La Libreria Acqua Alta–the library of high water.Venice floods at different times throughout the year and this little library is known for keeping its books safe.Though a steep stairwell made of books is a focal point, I couldn’t bring myself to walk on and tarnish the ruddy books. After a long stay and a purchase of “The Leopard” in Italiano, we made our way through little alleys to get to our hotel in San Marco.
Then, it was time to hit the town. And, my goodness, she did not disappoint!
The window displays were picturesque, poised, and magical–like Times Square’s older Auntie who wears rose-scented perfume and uses “holidays” as a verb.
We wandered through the skinny cobblestone streets, dodging tourists and ducking under awnings to escape the random rains. After about an hour of purposeful “getting lost”, we wandered upon Saint Mark’s Square, Piazza San Marco. Despite all of my research and reading, nothing prepared me for seeing the Piazzo at night.
I think Venice’s canals are comprised of the tears of joy of many tourists who wander upon her shores and find Something. And maybe we found a little hope in the square that night. Enough hope to buy a steaming espresso for me and a gelato di nocciola for Trentonio. And enough to wake up early and approach Piazza San Marco by light the following morning.
We had a lot to see in St. Mark’s Square. First, the Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Basilica); then the Campanile di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Bell Tower); Palazzo Ducal (Doge’s Palace); Torre dell’Orologico (the Clock Tower); Monumento ai Tetrarchi (the Four Tetrarchs); and the Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs). The first St. Mark’s Basilica was built in the 9th century to house very sacred relics—relics that had been stolen! In 828, merchants from Venice stole the body of St. Mark the Evangelist, one of the four Apostles, from Alexandria, Egypt. According to the legend, they snuck them past the guards by hiding them under layers of pork in barrels!
While at sea, a storm almost drowned the graverobbers and their precious cargo; it’s said that St. Mark himself appeared to the captain and told him to lower the sails. The ship was saved, and the merchants said they owed their safety to the miracle.
The 323-foot campanile of St. Mark’s dates back to the 9th century… but it had to be rebuilt in 1903. The reason? It collapsed! It had been reworked in the 16th century, and apparently not that well: It collapsed on July 14, 1902 (to be fair, it had survived several earthquakes before that!). Although it buried the Basilica’s balcony in rubble, fortunately, the church itself was saved.
From 1903 to 1912, the belltower was rebuilt exactly as it had been… except with better, safer techniques.
We spent some time watching the bells in the Clock Tower chime before walking past Doge’s Palace to the Bridge of Sighs.
The limestone bridge was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge’s name, given by Lord Byron, comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells. Sigh.
We took ourselves to breakfast at Caffè Florian, the oldest coffee house in continuous operation in all the world–or so they say. The Caffè opened its doors in 1720 and was where Goethe, Casanova, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens were frequent visitors. It was one of the few places a newspaper could be bought in the mid-18th century, was open to all social classes, and was one of the first establishments to allow women.
What does a Venetian do on a Saturday morning? Makes their way to the Rialto Market via the Rialto Bridge! The Rialto Bridge was the first one built across the Grand Canal. In the beginning it was a wooden drawbridge to permit sailing ships to sail from St. Mark’s Basin to Piazzale Roma area. For seven centuries, the Rialto Market has been enticing visitors in San Polo and Santa Croce. Right next door is the Pescaria, or fish market. Every day (but Sundays) fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and pastas, herbs and spices are carefully packed into satchels, loaded onto dozens and dozens of boats, and distributed colorfully on tables throughout the marketplace. It’s easily the most alive part of Venice and we indulged in some mulled wine as we checked out each vendor’s wares.
It is also here where one can see the Hands of Venice. According to some scientists, the Mediterranean is set to rise by five feet by the end of the century, meaning the Floating City could be almost entirely submerged by as early as 2100.
The art installation, called “Support,” created by artist Lorenzo Quinn, the son of actor Antony Quinn, is a pair of 5,000-pound white hands, finished with creases, fingernails, and other fine details. The human hands appear to prop up the historic hotel from falling into the water, symbolizing the threat that climate change has on history, but also the power that mankind has to stop it. The sculptor intentionally based the shape of the hands after his children, to show the innocence, and power, of the next generation. Originally molded in a Barcelona studio, Support was carted by boat to Venice’s Grand Canal, where it remained until November 26, 2017. We saw it the day before with no CLUE it was only temporary! What timing!
From the market we traversed the little alleys and canals with the intent of visiting the Venice Natural History Museum. On the way we took even more photos and stopped in a second-hand store.
You guys, I was freezing. I brought my little teal-easy-to-pack-but-NOT-waterproof coat and it was just damn cold. But, there was the little secondhand store, no larger than many of my girlfriends’ walk-in closets back in America. But what those closets don’t have is a tiny Italian nonna ready to dress me in a coat and sew on mismatched buttons.
The rest of the rainy day was spent, for the most part, in two museums: The Museum of Natural History and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Brandon chose the Natural History Museum and it became Trenton’s favorite part of our trip.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is among the most important museums in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century. It is located in Peggy Guggenheim’s former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice. The museum presents Peggy Guggenheim’s personal collection, masterpieces from the Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof collection, a sculpture garden, as well as temporary exhibitions.
Trenton was NOT impressed by the Guggenheim or by abstract impressionism. I, however, enjoyed seeing Ernst up close and also loved Picasso’s “On the Beach” collection: ten drawings, three paintings, and a sculpture made by Picasso between February and December 1937.
According to an art history student, Marini, an Italian sculptor, often used the horse and its rider within his work. As he continued his exploration of this union and equestrian themes, the lines became harsher and much of his lines in the 40s were harsher than ever. Specifically, they consisted of the horse’s neck jutting out from its body and the rider mimicking the motions or vice versa. Both man and horse are dependent upon each other, although the man is looking up as if to connect his spirit to a higher power with arms stretched out as a cross. The body of the man and horse are solid and flexed resulting in the inevitable denouement of sexual strength.
According to Guggenheim herself, he is welcoming the city with open arms and is “excited” by that possibility. Oh Peggy.
One final piece that really spoke to me was part of Jenny Holzer’s “Survival Series”. It actually spoke to Trenton first. He pointed it out to me and said, “Hey, Mom, someone made a bench for you.” I happen to agree. It says, “Go where people sleep and see if they are safe.”
I don’t remember what we did for dinner that night but I do remember a killer branzino for lunch. We wandered around through Venice, over Academia Bridge and through the little alleys to our apartment. We required much-needed sleep for the next day’s adventure.
The following morning, Sunday, we left the apartment around 0700 in the pouring rain and walked all the way to F.te. Nove to board the little boat that would take us to Burano and Murano. I cannot tell you how miserable of a morning it was! The umbrella broke five minutes into our journey and SOMEONE (me) didn’t have a waterproof coat. So SOMEONE (me) resembled a drowned rat and was not happy about it. And it was SOMEONE’S (me) fault that we were going in the first place!
Brandon and Trenton were great sports about it. But, let me tell you. Burano and Murano, even in the pouring rain, are worth it. The rest of the day was basically a wandering around photography self-guided tour of both islands, so I’ll share a bunch of the photos with you.
After our trip to the islands, we ventured back onto Venice and said goodbye to some of our favorite spots, including this bridge.
We said goodbye to this little corner wall where I quite literally found myself.
Then, we spent the rest of the evening getting lost in beautiful Venice.
We started this post with the Beast and I’d like to end the story there as well. Venice didn’t make things easier. It was a distraction from Winter and created some much-needed ammo to combat the rest of Winter. Taking care of one’s mental health is critical. Sometimes it’s Venice, sometimes it’s a long hike through a sullen forest, sometimes it’s an extra long ride on your favorite horse. But, I encourage you to know yourself and know when you get to a grey line in your path. Have someone you can talk to. Someone who knows to give you a deadline for purchasing flights–someone who knows what works for you. As we approach the holidays, Winter and the Beast can seem even closer for some folks. Invasively love one another and be sure to check in on those who may be a little lonely. I love you all and I’m always here on the other side of Winter.