Posted by: facetothewind | July 13, 2014

Suspension of Reality: Venice at Last

Venice-Rialto

Have you ever met a celebrity? If you have you might know the feeling I had today in Venice. You’ve seen that famous person for years on TV or in movies and when you meet them you think to yourself, “Gee he has wrinkles and is shorter than I imagined.” It’s kind of a disillusionment. Like most Americans, I’ve seen Venice in movies and history encyclopedias since I was a child. Today at age 50 I cast my eyes upon it for the very first time and all I could think was, “Who are all these Chinese tourists doing animated posing in front of the basilica? And why is there a Dolce Gabbana store in Piazza San Marco? This is the home of Marco Polo and the birthplace of Vivaldi…Death in Venice, the plague, the Renaissance, and so on. If there is a place more iconic than Venice, I don’t know what it is. And here I am thinking, gee, St. Mark’s Square is smaller than I thought and I want to sit down and there’s no benches and I have to pee and there’s no toilet to use. (Yes, I indeed relieved myself in a canal…and I wasn’t the only one, either. If you hear the sound of a fountain in Venice, it’s probably a drunk German or an American with an enlarged prostate.) Who would have imagined that 45 years after the first time I opened dad’s Encyclopedia Britannica to “V” that I would be standing there, knees together, wondering why it costs nearly $2 to use the urinal?

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ANYWAY. My own michigas is not to say that Venice is not spectacular. It truly is one of the world’s greatest wonders — and it’s all built on petrified wood pilings — apparently 2 million of them — what was once the forests of the now Slovenia. Those were some industrious Venetians building it 500 hundred years ago. The place looks like something out of a fairy tale or a storybook. How could this possibly be real? I had to pinch myself on the vaporetto #1 as it slowly plied up the Grand Canal winding through the city. It’s a trip back in time. No trucks, no cars, no buses, no billboards, no KFC. Other than the sounds of water taxis, mostly the sound of Venice is water lapping at ancient brick, church bells that thump you in the heart (real ones — heavy metal hitting metal — not some recording on a loudspeaker like we get in America), footsteps, and an occasional outburst of song from a gondolier.

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That people lived like this (and 60,000 people still do) is just so beyond the beyond in the novelty department that all one can do is gawk and take pictures and sit on a bridge with your jaw hanging open in disbelief at the unreal cinematic quality of this place. It’s colorful, charming, playful, wildly impractical and just plain insane to build 5-story fanciful brick buildings on wood poles stuck into mud.

And a city so fanciful must have equally whimsical transportation, right? So somehow (and I’m not sure when, but I bet Lisa Simeone will know) Venice invented the gondola and the gondolier. But it’s not just a canoe with some oars or a rowboat which in more practical cultures it might have been. But there’s nothing practical about Venice, a town that is nothing if not dandy. So enter the modern gondola, a souped up canoe with a little Viking front. The whole of it looks like a floating casket complete with bud vase on the front, brocade velvet seats, and gold leafing applied all willy nilly. So you have these marvelously pretty boats and so who’s gonna push the tricked-out canoe around? Why, a pretty oarsman in a striped shirt of course…

Gondolier

But the modern gondolier is not just an oarsman. He might even sing to you while you’re going for a $100 for a half-hour ride (now that really is being taken for a ride). Gondoliers have the kind of hyper masculine status that surfers in America do. Everyone thinks they’re sexy and sort of the symbol of romance so they take the liberty of shameless flirting with the girls and everyone just giggles — even their boyfriends. I found them quite amusing since they’ve also entered my brain decades ago in pop culture. They make me quiver and giggle, especially when one comes by with a load of Chinese tourists and an accordion player on board. Although I didn’t afford myself a ride on one, I certainly watched them sculling their way through tunnels, ducking, and putting their feet on buildings to keep them from scraping. And in a modern twist I saw them smoking and texting while driving. Tsk tsk, boys.

Gondoliers

So that for me was my first day in Venice: a vivid and lucid dream in 3 dimensions. I spent the whole day walking around trying to reconcile imagery I’ve accumulated on the place for 45 years with the reality of it. Can we call Venice reality? To me it seems like a big watery suspension of all that is real and practical in our modern lives.

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BTW – I saw more Americans today than on the whole month in Europe so far. The place is crawling with the very people who have perpetuated the myths of this place in cinema. I wonder if they’re all having that same experience of feeling like they’re in a movie? From the looks of the two above, I’d say that maybe I was alone in my awe.

It’s incomprehensible how this place was built and even more sobering to think about the half millennia of maintenance to keep it alfoat. But it’s still here centuries later, delighting people from my generation who are the very ones responsible for changing the climate enough to eventually sink it.

Sospiro.

 

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Responses

  1. What fun, David. I love your view of the world, kind of a mix of rose colored glasses and pollution streaked human nature.

  2. Great writing. Scary photos of those tourists. So happy you’re out on your adventure celebrating your 50th year. Keep those posts coming.

    Lots of love Therese

  3. Beautiful Venice! I hope by now you’ve forked over the small fortune it takes to ride on the gondola. Send my love to Venezia, sospiro! D.

    • Hi Love –

      I think I¹ll save my $100 and do it with a lover or a friend someday.

      Hope you¹re well.

      Pouring rain here. Will go to a museum later.

      Off to KL tomorrow.

      Love,

      D

      On 7/14/14, 9:24 AM, “Field notes from a noticer” wrote:

      >

  4. Hmmm. Well, I warned you that you were going at the worst time of year. Of course there are loads of tourists. And yes, those two in the gondola represent the worst of the worst. Americans are such slobs.

    I’ve been there at least 5 times, and every time, I’m dazzled. Most times in life reality doesn’t live up to fantasy, but in the case of Venice, it surpasses it. In my book, nothing one can imagine can compare with the magnificence of the real thing.

    Traveling in a gondola is otherworldly, peaceful, quiet, but not necessary to enjoy the beauty of Venice. The vaporetti are wonderful. Glad you took the #1.

    I don’t think $2 is too much to pay for a public toilet. That’s how they’re kept clean. I paid in Berlin. I paid in Vienna. Hell, you paid a lot more than that for a martini on the QM2. Not happy to hear about the peeing in the canal. Why do men have to do their business all over the world like this? Women have to pee, too, and we don’t squat over pavement or perch in any old corner. We find a bathroom. What about a restaurant? Cafe? Museum? Church? Your hotel?

    And not impressed by Piazza San Marco? Small?? O dio, I don’t know what to say to that. Sitting in a cafe there having a cup of coffee or a Prosecco, watching the world go by, talking to the incredibly charming, world-weary, multi-lingual waiters, soaking up the architecture, the atmosphere, the great expanse before you, and watching the occasional couple dance to the live music being played — what could be more wonderful?

    Too bad you’re only spending two days there; not enough time.


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