Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dear Old Venice

Good news everyone ! I have come up with a new affectation ! Whenever I reminisce about Venice I’ll say “Dear Old Venice.” Just to clarify how this works, I might be discussing a shortcoming—like the rudeness of Venetians to tourist. At that point in the conversation I’ll just shake my head like a doting mother and say “Ahh, Dear Old Venice” or for variety’s sake, “That’s my Venice !” Is there anything more insufferable than somebody using the possessive when talking about a place ? Well, I certainly hope so because I have about a month left to come up with whatever that might be.

I don’t know what I can say about Venice that hasn’t been said before and by much better writers. This was my third visit and each time I have been struck by how suddenly you are there IN the city. One minute you are looking out the window at cars and buses. Then all of a sudden you get off the train at San Lucia Station, leave its utilitarian confines and find yourself face to face with canals, ornate buildings punctuated by Moorish windows, gondolas-- all the evidence you could possibly require to demonstrate that you did in fact get on the right train.

Now that we can do so much planning online, we chose days which promised to be sunny, so every color was luminous. There may be something a little forced about planning an experience so carefully that the light conditions and weather are pre-arranged. Yet when you consider how heavily touristed a place this is, and how choreographed the visits, it isn't inappropriate. Right away you get the impression that there just might be a few too many tourists in Venice when you see a cruise ship the size of a Las Vegas hotel floating down the Grand Canal. There is a pervasive air of impatience on the part of the staffs at hotels, shops and restaurants. Boy are they sick of us. Throughout the city there are bright yellow signs placed at strategic locations indicating the way to Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and other must-see locales. Apparently several thousand Venetians got together and said, “If one more person asks me the way to San Marco I’m going to throw them in the Canal !” Hence the signs. Hence also the pay toilets for 1.50 Euros—that more than $2.00 !

At this point I feel I can make my blog rather useful. You may be getting sick of my quirky little observations about balloon-bedecked windows and such. So here is a hotel recommendation: Hotel San Sebastiano Garden. It is in the Dorsoduro section of Venice, well away from the crowds of San Marco, although for all I know there are crowds here too during the high season. But at least there are less pigeons. The area is full of wonderful old buildings and campi, the Venetian word for piazze (plural of piazza). It is very easy to cut across this part of Venice to reach the Accademia (Venice's large art museum, now underegoing major addition and construction, causing many rooms to be closed) and places beyond. The hotel was clean, with nicely decorated rooms and a very pretty garden in the back. If the staff is not effusive, it is efficient and polite. The prices are not cheap—that’s about impossible to find in Venice—but certainly lower down the scale than many. By the way, I am not receiving any compensation for this endorsement. Unfortunately.

Although it is by no means my favorite part of Venice, we did of course visit Piazza San Marco. How nice to see the Cathedral, the Belltower, the arcades flanking the square, the Doges Palace. Maybe someday we’ll be able to see them all together without a large “Guess Jeans” billboard obstructing the view. You see, companies that subsidize major restoration projects get to decorate the large screens that cover the building you came to see. Which means that right now Piazza San Marco has a little bit of Times Square about it.

There’s always one area or another being cleaned and currently the city is making major repairs to the drainage system so there is a substantial wall surrounding the belltower. On Boris's behest we took the elevator to the top of this last structure, the campanile, in Italian and it was great. You can really get a sense of the way Venice is laid out. It was fun to pick out the various churches and palaces we had seen previously at ground level.

Since our visit took place in mid-October there were definitely less children around, and not even that many college students for that matter. The typical tourist, especially in our hotel, seemed to be a retiree, well-dressed and coiffed and physically fit, rather like an ad for Centrum Silver. A nice-looking crowd. These types hardly ever wear tee-shirts with writing on them although I suppose the discreet Lacoste alligator might be their version of the Outer Banks “Brew Through” shirt. It just isn’t a friendly bunch. I know this because while waiting in lines for museums, inevitable here, I like to make conversation with whomever is next to me. This I was unable to do. It seems that nobody wants to be outed as a tourist, which is of course totally ridiculous. If you aren't a tourist why are you waiting to see Bellini paintings in the middle of the week on a beautiful day ? I mean, I’ve taught college-level art for years and I KNOW that people don’t love Renaissance art as much as all that.

We spent two night in Venice and almost three days. We enjoyed it immensely but were ready to leave. At least Bill and I were. Boris was absolutely entranced and I envied the lack of awareness he has about How Much Things Cost. It was hard for me to surrender to the spirit of Venice when a vaporetto ride (the “economical” mode of transportation) cost $30 a trip for the three of us. A simple pizza lunch cost as much as a substantial dinner in Bologna and virtually every church now charges admission. I ended up visiting more Bancomats than museums.

1 comment:

Veectoria said...

I'm going to copy you and start saying "Ahh, dear old Scottsville..."