The Masque of the Red Death, The Cask of Amontillado, the Merchant of Venice, James Bond, Indiana Jones, The Magician King, the masks of the Carnival… filtered through these works and more, the idea of Venice has occupied a place of fantasy-tinged exotica in my mind since childhood. For little Phelan, it was a city of canal-side mystery, where the sound of lapping water was carried by warm breezes. It was a place where moonlight glinted from glazed tiles lining the floors of palaces, and footsteps echoed amongst arches of white stone, painted blue by twilight and framing views of the Adriatic sea.
Ok I’ll stop now, because Carol said I was making this post, and I quote, too… “Froo Froo”. Ahem.
I’m happy to say that for me at least, Venice is still largely full of magic and mystery and venerable history. It’s also a place where you’ll get brained by tourists wielding selfie-sticks if you aren’t careful (Carol had some choice words about what people could do with their selfie sticks). I think that the difference between a tourist and a traveller is the degree of respect given to the host culture, and alas in that sense ‘Tourism’ is alive and well in Venice.
There is something melancholy about watching throngs of visitors clamber over stones and statues older than many countries, while the locals look on with tired eyes. Every moment in Venice is also a moment that the water rises, imperceptible yet inexorably swallowing the city alive. A visit to the cemetery island of San Michele reinforced my impressions of a nobly fading Venice.
It isn’t all gloom though. Venice is unquestionably beautiful, and the slow decay of its buildings somehow enhances that beauty. Away from the crowded hotspots like the Piazza San Marco an entirely different Venice still exists, made up of quiet streets and cool shadows.
There is amazing food, art and history soaked into the architectural bones of the city. The glass of Murano, black cuttlefish pasta, coffee at Caffè Florian, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection… Venice is a place that neither Carol or I will soon forget.