Sunday, May 15, 2005

Describing Venice is like trying to photograph a sweeping landscape -- the expanse and the detail overwhelm one another. The sprawl of the canals, the color of the lagoon water, tiny old women in silk scarves and black wool coats, and the heights of Ponte Rialto squeezed onto an artificial landscape slowly sinking into the shallows of the Adriatic. You can't show everything in any one frame. So, I took 150 pictures. There are no cars in Venice, and perhaps as a result, there are many dogs. Everyone walks or boats everywhere with everything. We watched each morning as boats ferried people, linen, garbage, gasoline, and food to our hotel. The hotel, San Clemente Palace, was located on an island in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon. San Clemente was a monastary in the 8th Century. Venice proper is a dense city; there isn't much greenspace. But San Clemente's grounds are a few acres of lawns and gardens. The island has a wall along its outermost perimeter. The brickwork rises about eight feet above the grounds, and runs down into the sea. To go from the hotel to the city, there is a private water shuttle. Boat is the best way to see Venice. Cruising up to San Marco is the only way to arrive. The train station is the most common, but it is on the western side of the city, crowded with people, buses, and taxis. The station is the only place you see cars. We had two major diversions while we were in Venice. First, my parents were in Roma at the same time, so the four of us staged a rendevouz in Florence, which was very roughly the halfway point. Florence, despite the rain and traffic, remained charming. We took in Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo, in addition to a few bottles of wine and some tasty food. Caitie and I had been in Florence about 8 years earlier, on a backpacking trip across Europe (college requisite). We were only there a day the first time as well. Looking back, I remember being more intimidated by the bustle of the city, and feeling of being "abroad". This time, Florence seemed quaint and ancient. There were still the throngs of people and the rush of finding trains, but my sense of scale has changed. I've met New York and San Franciso, Dallas and D.C. in the interim. So, Florence remains the same while the world has grown. The first time we went to Florence, we visited the David. I'm not much of an art afficionado, but I can not forget that first visit. I was simply overcome. The David perfectly represents a young man confronting his life's challenge. When I looked at it eight years ago, the timing was perfect. I was twenty years old, and anxious to go find my own life's work. At the time, I expected the magnum opus to fall into my hands and reveal itself. Eight years on, it hasn't, and I've realized that it may not. I think that perhaps a man's work, his purpose, only reveals itself in retrospect. So, I couldn't bring myself to go back to the David. I wasn't willing to risk this perfect memory of youth and expectation. So we ate well, we wandered about the streets, bought neckties, and I photographed n's old pensione and went back to Venice, humbled. When we returned to Venice, our old friend, Alberto, traveled up to see us. He lives south of Venice, but still on the coast of the Adriatic (a sea he seems to enjoy belittling, despite his obvious pride in living his whole life beside it). Alberto spent the day walking with t and I through Venice, navigating us through several meals, and talking about everything from politics (Italian and American, he was well-versed in both) to the utter necessity of eating three meals a day, with company and at the appointed times (9-9.30, 12-1, 8-9). We three hadn't seen each other in 7 or 8 years, when he and Caitie had been housemates (there were many other housemates), and conversation came easily and pleasantly. Like all Italians, Alberto paints his words in the air with his hands. He is a professional interpreter, so his english is perfect, but Caitie enjoyed pointing out that he needed to gesture to speak in either language. It was very interesting to interact with the Venetians who ran the restaurants and ferries, when in the company of a native Italian. You could see them relax, and you sensed a definite pleasure in speaking their own florid language. So while everyone in Venice seems to speak English, I got the impression that almost no one really enjoys it. Being Italian is, I think, like belonging to a very large semi-secret society. Italians seem to instantly recognize and appreciate one another. So, for a day at least and thanks to Alberto's social generosity, Caitie and I felt like guest members. To sum up, and to pretend to know a local phrase, our time in Venice was dolce fa niente. Which, assuming I got anywhere close with the phonetic spelling, means "happy do nothing". In the art of living, Italians excel above all others. They dress well, speak well, eat well and rest easy.


  1. Alberto6:16 AM

    Man, if you ever need a job in an Italian tourist office, you got it. Reading all this made me want to visit Italy, and I live here already! It was really a pleasure to go around Venice with you guys, hopefully next time we meet we'll have more time to spend together (on whatever side of the Atlantic). Great pictures, too!

  2. did I spell dolce fa niente correctly?

  3. Alberto9:48 AM

    Almost there: it's dolce far niente and it's best translated with "sweet do nothing", rather than "happy". You made your point, though :)