The Best Beloved and I recently took a holiday to Venice. I’d never been there before and he hadn’t been there for thirty years, although in Venice I doubt much had changed in thirty years. It’s a timeless sort of place. Although the trip there was marred by long delays and missed flights, when we arrived at the Danielli hotel, the lobby was so breathtaking I quickly forgot any airline-horror.
The lobby at the Danieli Hotel, Venice
Hard to be cranky in the face of so much beauty.
Venice is, as so many have said before me, a unique experience, and it is more of an experience than a place. A series of islands connected by bridges or accessed only by boat, one has the sense of constantly moving from one state of being to another. It is a city of fleeting glimpses. One has a sense here, not of a continuing linear narrative, but of a series of brief dream-like encounters.
Much has been written about the city — so much in fact that it seems impossible to write anything new. Mary McCathy’s Venice Observed is a must for anyone traveling to the city. Byron, Browning, Proust, Ruskin, Henry James . . . they were all seduced by the city.
We managed to visit in between floods, which I’m sure improved the experience. The lobby of the Danieli apparently had over two feet of water in it and the staff wore hip boots. (A city of merchants, nothing, not even floods, stops commerce.) High water marks were pointed out with pride by shopkeepers.
We wandered, got lost every day (as one must), ate like doges, marveled at the art and opulence, managed to get seats in the royal box at La Fenice to see the opera Othello (I was woefully under-dressed), bumped into history at the end of every snicket, and dreamed of floating cities.
Gondolier and his friend.
One of the things I LOVED about Venice — apart from the art and the architecture and the food and the lagoons and the fog and all that — were the DOGS! (And perhaps only the dog-lovers among you will get this.) There are dogs everywhere in Venice, but these are not skulking bone-thin strays, these dogs are as much citizens, it seems, as anyone else. Remarkably well-behaved, they run everywhere, talking walks with their human companions (generally not on leashes), greeting you in stores and riding on gondolas. One little fellow street near the Grand Canal, carried on a conversation with a dog going by on a boat. It was utterly charming and I never felt worried about them. They were completely at ease and obviously adored.
Although I won’t bore anyone with a this-was-my-vacation blog, I feel I have to mention Torcello, an island two hours by boat from Venice-proper in the northern end of the Venetian Lagoon. It’s a magical place, with only eleven permanent residents. Much of the island is a nature reserve, accessible only on the walking paths. It is most notable for the Byzantine mosaics in the seventh century Cathedral of Santa Maria Dell’Assunta, built in 639, and a stone throne once apparently occupied by the buttocks of Attila-the-Hun.
Founded in the 5th century, Torcello is even older than Venice and was once a far more important site that today, having a population possibly around 20,000. Eventually malaria hit the island and much of the population either died or left. Buildings were plundered for building material so that little remains of its once splendid palaces, churches, and monasteries.
Alberto and Stephan spoil me at the Osteria Al Ponte del Diavolo on Torcello
So, yes, if you go, see all that. It’s magical — but stop for lunch at Osteria Al Ponte del Diavolo, a stunning restaurant on the main canal. We had one of the best meals of our trip there: Tagliolini with Tuna, onion of Tropea and cherry tomatoes; fillet of Turbot in potato crust (which was far more beautiful than it sounds), a stupendous chocolate cake and coffee. Absurdly reasonable in the off season, and hosts Alberto Barbierato (one of the eleven people who live on the island) and Stephano Vianello could not have been more welcoming.
Sadly, we returned with some dreadful ‘flu bug and we’re both still rather ill, so instead of waffling on here, I’ll leave you with some photos, and direct you to The Best Beloved’s photography website, where you can see more.
2nd course Osteria al Ponte del Diavolo
Bookstore in Venice. Can’t imagine what this would have looked like during the flood.
Note the camel frieze on the right. A Levantine merchant had it carved so, when he sent for his wife, she would know which house was his.
Detail of the Camel . . .
There has to be one photo of me in a mask, doesn’t there?
Tea at the very posh Cafe Florian on the Piazzo San Marco.
Lovers write their initials on locks, clamp them onto the bridges and toss the keys into the canal.
Nov. 21 is the feast of Santa Maria della Salute, when one gives thanks for the end of the plague. We were swept up into the crowds (and you know how I LOVE crowds. Snort.)
The Best Beloved on the requisite gondola ride near the Rialto Bridge.
The view from out hotel window.
And so, we are home again. Will I write a novel set in Venice? I doubt it, since it all seems to have been said, but there’s no doubt the images will creep in somewhere.