17 September 2011

Fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges

Night on the canal
Venice, 12th September 2011
I have never been to anywhere like Venice before, possibly for the very good reason that there is nowhere else like Venice. All the cliches are true, a half-sunken collection of ramshackle monuments to faded grandeur, a time-capsule, a stage-set, a period play prostituting itself on endless loop, all collapsing under the weight of its own history and the footsteps of fifteen million visitors a year. All these things are true, but there is far more to it than these cliches alone.

Dusk falls over the Accademia Bridge as seen from Ca' Rezzonico
Venice, 9th September 2011
Away from San Marco with the Doge's Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, away from the Rialto Bridge with its graffitied shops of souvenir tat and the bleating hordes of cruise-ship passengers surging forth on a glacial flow of consumption, away from the Accademia and its endless rooms of Titian reds and Tintoretto panels there is another Venice, perhaps just as much a cliché in its own right, but one worth savouring every minute of.

Night time at San Toma' on the Grand Canal
Venice, 12th September 2011
The first thing you notice is the silence. It is a city without cars, and at times even in the height of the afternoon the tranquillity can take your breath away. It is as if the presence of so much water constantly lapping around earshot drapes a blanket of calm upon the populace. Where people congregate for work, to play, or an after-work spritz spilling out of the Osteria and into piazzas drenched in the late-afternoon sun there is life and noise and laughter, but a minute's walk away down a narrow street scarcely big enough for two to pass the silence of the historical reclaims you.

Sunset over the Grand Canal
Venice, 11th September 2011
That silence feels safe. Walking from San Marco to Dorsoduro across the Accademia Bridge at 4am felt as comfortable as at 4pm, if not more so. The bars close early here, most by 12 midnight, the only drunken people to be seen on the streets are lost tourists and even they are a rarity. As with any city there are those who have fallen through the cracks, abandoned to the streets and reliant on the fruits of an outstretched hand, but the aggression that fuels such enterprises of destitution so common here at home is absent. The unfamiliar narrow back streets are warm and inviting, calling out to be explored, their quiet a comfort, not an intimidation.

Rialto by Moonlight
Venice, 11th September 2011
The city is clean. Venetians are proud of their home and the streets are kept almost preternaturally tidy, household and commercial waste are collected daily by canal boat, litter is not thrown, dogs are cleaned up after and the pavements are free from the odours of human abuse. Walls are graffitied, like in every urban setting, but here the city's outernet is overtly political, decrying corruption, political malfeasance and the rise of fascism, the simply self-aggrandizing notes of "I woz ere' are conspicuous by their absence - it seems if a Venetian is to despoil their own walls, the message better have content of significance.

The Bridge of Sighs masked by ad hoardings (well, to be fair, it did make me sigh)
Venice, 13th September 2011
For a city that pimps its history out to every passer-by with a dollar in their pocket, its soul seems remarkable untarnished. There are no advertisements here, no billboards, no posters, no poster-decked hoardings, no neon glow or angry light of monstrous LED screens, all are banished from the walkways and alleys of Venice save, ironically, from that most famous landmark of St Mark's Square itself where renovation scaffolding has left The Libreria covered with an ad for German cars and the Bridge of Sighs a prisoner to the choking plastic wrapping of a leather-maker. Perhaps the city planners reason that if their civic heart is polluted by the feet of a thousand tourists a minute the sacrilege of such a gaudy covering is an ignominy small in comparison. In this they are wrong, deeply wrong, but if by sacrificing San Marco on the altar of Mammon the rest of the city escapes his clutches, perhaps the price is bearable.

A Vaporetto approaches San Silvestro on the Grand Canal
Venice, 15th September 2011
Venice has the best public transportation of any city that I have visited. It doesn't have the fastest, nor the cleanest, the most efficient and certainly not the cheapest (at €6 for a single journey the weekly unlimited tickets start to seem reasonable at €50 a pop), but for sheer enjoyment the Vaporetto, the water-buses that cruise up and down the larger canals and on to the outlying islands, simply cannot be beaten. They can be crowded, extremely over-crowded and standing room only, and even when seated the stifling heat can come close to overwhelming you, but all that dissolves when a fresh breeze from the canal hits your face and yet another stunning 14th century palazzo passes by. The wonder begins even before you set foot on board, standing on a floating platform station that bobs up and down in the wake of passing water craft, a sense of movement later replayed by the body, a phantom motion as you close your eyes and lie down at night to sleep.

It is the water and this sense of quiet motion that it brings that I think I will miss most of all, something unknowable in cities of hard concrete, asphalt and right angles.

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At 11:27 pm, Anonymous Felix said...

I love what you have written here about the special silence and quietness of Venice.

We did find a single graffiti cock and a couple of alleys which smelled strongly as if someone had been caught short (there are not enough TOILETS in Venice!) but otherwise I totally agree with your synopsis of the city. I especially loved the late-night walking and the speed with which the hoards of tourists could be evaded, and secretive, shaded, inviting alleys discovered.

I found in the end I preferred walking to taking the vaporetto, but even this - the walking - was greatly improved by the removal of cars from the city.

At 6:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does any Venetian actually live in Venice these days?


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