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Friday, May 6, 2011

May 2011
Venice, Italy
It was a dark and stormy night. We arrived after midnight and had to swim to our apartment. Global warming had flooded all of Venice and destroyed all of the artwork. Why did we not know about this?
To be continued………………

I did not write the above; Loring did. But now I will begin my chronicle of our Venitian sojourn. Those who have read this blog before will know that I write when I travel. I began the blog in 2008, when I went to Ukraine to work on clearing the Jewish cemetery where my great grandparents are buried, in the city now known as Chernitzvi, during my great grandparents and grandparents time as Czernowitz. I subsequently went back and chronicled my adventures on several other of my previous volunteer trips, and then forward to document subsequent trips.

This is the first time I will be writing about a trip that doesn’t have a volunteer component.(except for an overnight trip to Vermont last summer.)

I have only been to Venice once before, when I was 17, on part of “the grand tour”, my first trip to Europe. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of highs school. It was also my first time on an airplane. At the time, my mother had never been on a plane. She tells me now that it was her idea for me to go to Europe, because she was concerned that I was shy and withdrawn and she wanted to do something to encourage me to come out of my shell. I guess it worked.
My major memories of that early trip here include arriving by overnight train, early in the a.m. to the sound of our tour leader (myself and 7 other girls) frantically urging us to wake up, and tossing our suitcases out the train windows before we exited and before the train left the station. Then I remember standing in the middle of some plaza, perhaps St. Mark’s, and trying to find out where a bank was, so that we could change money, so that we could take one of the waterbuses wherever we were going. I have a vague memory of riding along the Grand Canal, and that’s about it.
I have resisted, or not considered, anyway, coming back since, although I have been to quite a few other parts of Italy, Rome and Florence, Siena, the Amalfi coast, Pompeii. I think it’s because I have regarded Venice as such a tourist mecca, that I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it, that it wasn’t a real place as much as a Disney-esque recreation of itself. But a couple of things changed my mind in the last several years. One, I read a remarkable book, by John Berendt. the same person who wrote Midnight in the Garden of Evil, called the City of Falling Angels. It is a true story that reads like fiction, beautifully written, that describes the city so hauntingly that it has stayed with me since. The second reason is that I have used Murano glass beads in some of my jewelry, both modern beads, and vintage ones from necklaces I bought in antiques stores and online, and disassembled. I have wanted to visit Murano, the glass makers island just a few minutes boat ride from Venice. I am, though, prepared to be underwhelmed by what I fear will be a place overrun by tourists. So far, I have looked in the windows of many a store here selling bona fide Murano beads, and many selling knock offs as well. I have only found one place thus far, though, that sells individual beads and not just already made necklaces. We will see if I can find any on Murano, or if I will have to go back to buying my Venetian beads online from US importers!

We are staying in an apartment here, in a quiet corner of the city (yes there are some, although much of the tourist route is teeming with people. ) Can’t be totally snide, as we number among them. But, I have to highly endorse the concept of staying in apartments, for numerous reasons. One, you really do get a better sense of the city. We are cooking many of our own meals, going to the local markets and supermarket, which are just a block and two blocks away. Second, the amount of space. We have a kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, and a second bedroom we are not using. We also have balconies in most every room, overlooking a small canal and several small passageways. It is a wonderful place, I congratulate myself for choosing well, after perusing online listings for probably hundreds of apartments Last reason is cost. The apartment is less expensive than most any hotel room, and add to that the fact that we don’t have to eat any more meals at restaurants than we want to.

This is one of many places we have rented apartments or houses, including a Polish resort town, Krakow, Prague, the Amalfi coast, Paris, rural France, southern Spain. They have all been good experiences, with the one exception of our Krakow apartment owner, who refused to return our deposit because the refrigerator handle fell off when we opened it. The apartment itself was wonderful. I did blacklist him on the website, for whatever difference it might have made.
Well, back to Venice. Yes, it is swarming with tourists, and it isn’t yet summer. But it is worth it. The city is incredibly beautiful. Like other overtouristed places I have been, such as Prague and Machu Picchu, its beauty surpasses its overabundance of visitors. I am glad I have finally come back.

This is our third day here, of nine. We have spent most of our time walking so far, have only visited one museum, a special exhibit on one of the famous Murano glassmakers, who we learned about recently while watching a movie about Dale Chihuly, the famed American glassmaker currently featured in a remarkable exhibit at Boston’s MFA. More about Lino, and probably Chihuly, later. I am delighted to have seen a poster advertising the exhibit as we arrived at the airport.

And, speaking of posters, there is a momentous occasion occurring here tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. The Pope is coming! I saw another sign, in front of a church in our neighborhood, the day of our arrival. Loring and I were astounded, and I had to read the poster a acouple of times to make sure I understood it. Then, when I thought about it more, I wondered how momentous an occasion it really was. This is, after all, Italy. Perhaps he comes here often. But reading online, it seems that the last time a Pope was here, the last one, was in 1986! Can this really be? I will have to check further.

It is interesting to watch the preparations. In St. Mark’s Square, they are erecting scaffolding and sound systems . He will be holding an outdoor mass there. In another plaza, this morning, they were grouting in between stones that, as Loring said, had probably not been grouted in centuries. And setting up cameras from Vatican TV, building a new little bridge from the canal onto the plaza, etc. There was a barge full of potted yellow flowers that we are sure will be set up around the plaza when the other work is done.

I stumbled upon an English language blog about Venice written by a journalist who has written about Venice, and many other places, for publications like National Geographic. She met an Italian man on one of her tripsto Venice, and now lives here. She wrote a very entertaining blog entry about how the gondoliers had been competing for who would have the honor of transporting the Pope the short distance between his stops. They had their various reasons for suggesting themselves, such as one who said it came to him in a dream that it should be him.

Funny thing is, if I had not stopped to read the poster, I don’t know if we would even know if the Pope was going to be here. We will probably head towards St. Mark’s tomorrow, but I can’t imagine we will get anywhere near. Will they have jumbotrons? Will people be camping there overnight for a spot? They don’t even allow people to sit in St. Mark’s Square. (Not that people seem to pay attention to the signs, we didn’t.) I am guessing that is to prevent large groups of people picnicking. On the other hand, several enormous advertising panels for things like coffee and fashion apparel drape various walls of the buildings surrounding the plaza, very jarring and, to me, much more inappropriate than people sitting down.

Well, I will end here for now. Check back in a day or two to read about our further adventures and audience with the Pope!


Unknown said...

Funny, the last time I was in Venice was also high school, between junior and senior years. I was backpacking with a friend. I'm not sure what impressed us more, the topless Lido Beach, or the topless mothers who didn't shave. Wow.

Joanna said...

Who is this? Are you a Robert I know?!

Didn't see any signs of toplessness this time around, but it was a bit chilly. Great kites, though.