12.02.2011 - 19.02.2011
Feb 12-19, 2011
In an August 2009 National Geographic article, the Mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, asks tourists to get lost in Venice to experience La Serenissima ("the serene one").
Dear Mayor Cacciari: consider it done and done. Our pleasure.
On the train down to Venice from Milan we passed grapevine fields, stone farmhouses, and modern towns. It took me awhile to figure out that the gnarly white gashes in the distant mountains must be quarries for the marble used in all the sculpture, mosaics, and architecture.
The Venice train station opens out to a wide set of steps leading down to the Grand Canal. The afternoon we arrived people sat on the steps enjoying the winter sun. We caught a water taxi (!)--the long route, about an hour ride. Wow, what a ride.
We lost no time initiating our civic service a la Mayor Cacciari upon arriving at our stop, the St. Elena water taxi station. Street-by-street directions to the B&B stated it had a "view of the park and lagoon." We traversed this lovely village--saw parks, squares, and playgrounds (do they count as parks?), three canals, a boat harbor (could it be a lagoon?), asked friendly citizens, backtracked, walked the same streets more than once . . . and about a half hour later found our B&B a mere 30 feet from where we started at the water taxi station. Okie dokie, off to an auspicious start with our civic duties. St. Elena, at the south end of the island, is unusual for Venice due to its trees and park near the lagoon linked to the Grand Canal. Our B&B is the yellow building in the picture below.
The main Venice island (technically more than one island, I think) has no cars, innumerable pedestrian streets, canals, and footbridges criss-crossing and winding over the island. The streets range from wide (10-15 feet along the Grand Canal) to narrow (2-3 feet from canal edge to building) and suddenly open up to squares that often have a church and old cistern (for collecting rain water). Dogs are everywhere, often leashless, following their masters along the streets.
We started every day with map in hand, ready to explore new parts of Venice. Reporting for civic service, sir! Without fail, within five minutes of leaving the Grand Canal we'd be lost. The streets on the map looked like a mass of wiggling worms. Well, of all the spots on the planet to be lost, Venice may be one of the best. We felt reassured because, after all, it's an island, how lost could we really get? In addition, there are cafes with espresso and pizza around every curve, beckoning us. So, gee, we weren't going to starve.
Getting los . . err, performing exceptional civic service is part physical and part psychological. Physically, we needed the stamina to keep going, much further than we intended with all the back and forth and circuiting. But as I noted, it's a relatively small, flat island (with tasty refreshments) and walking felt good, great really. Psychologically, there were a couple of challenges. First, we had to abandon control of where we were going, exactly. Second, we had to shed anxiety about not knowing where we were, exactly. Third, we had to adopt a "who cares?" attitude about time. So with new Zen zeal, we stashed the maps and explored the crannies of Venice.
We had a variety of wild and sometimes comforting thoughts as we pushed onward, scouting new Venetian territory:
__We have been so lost, so many times, we are prime candidates for a Venetian municipal medal of honor. Yes, we are truly worthy.
__As long as we can hear the church bells we are not lost.
__Venice is lovely; why don't we buy a little place here? (ha ha)
__The sign says we're at the Biglietteria water taxi station, but I can't find that stop on the taxi route. (Note: Biglietteria = ticket office.)
__I think we should buy a compass. (We did.)
__Me: I think we've been on this street before. Brad: Is it near a canal, a footbridge, and a Murano glass shop?
__Dr. Livingston, I presume?
__Do you think the water from this cistern is potable?
__How many times have they dropped the key into the canal?
__I am sure it will be nice to see the Grand Canal at dawn.
__How about a drink at Harry's Bar and a slice of pizza to go?
Venice is a dog-loving town. None more so, perhaps, than the family with this front door. Ahhh . . .
P.S. If needed again, Mr. Mayor, we're ready!
Off to Florence next.