Commuting days until retirement: 460
It’s now two weeks since the Venice visit I mentioned last time, and I haven’t had sufficient reflection time to conjure up a blog about it, or about anything else for that matter. But looking at some of my photos has brought it back to mind – so here we go.
It has been the first time my wife and I have gone there together, if we discount an impossibly hot day spent there 12 years ago with the children, who then still were children. This time, among the beautiful, ancient architecture and the rampant tourism, it struck me how there is nowhere else I know that history mixes so intimately with brash modernity. Everywhere you are surrounded by the fading grandeur that Italy does so much better than anywhere else. Like a party of very elderly ladies on Blackpool beach, the clustered buildings wrap their gothic dignity about them, persisting serenely among the seething bees’ nest of tourist activity that has its focus in the scrum of St Mark’s Square.
We approach the square on a warm day over a crowded canal bridge, and as we climb the steps we are buffeted by our fellow tourists’ backpacks and factor 10 smeared elbows. Just as we reach the top, the Bridge of Sighs comes into view, and there’s a frenzy of digitally simulated shutter clicks. On we go, and brave the queue to get into the Doge’s Palace, then being rewarded with its gorgeous art and architecture. We pass under Tintoretto’s spectacular battle scenes, and before leaving walk through a long succession of halls filled with vicious medieval weapons of war. They shift your perception from Venice as a graceful old lady, to appreciating it as a city state jealously guarding its position in the rivalry and commercialism of the middle ages.
On, and out into the warren of alleyways among the buildings packed between the canals. Muscular men scurry around the strolling tee-shirted and camera-clad visitors, dragging laden trolleys of goods to restock the tourist shops. The background sound is of the canal water slapping against the mildewed brickwork, where pink stuccoed gothic descends into its muddy, hidden foundations. We take a vaporetto to see the city from the water, and my first, uninspired photo from the boat turns out to have an addition I don’t notice when I took it:
It adds something to what would have been an unoriginal image – the hand of God? Well if so, it’s conspicuously absent thereafter. One day and a few mosquito bites later, we set out for some of the outer islands. On Murano there are the glassblowers, nonchalantly practising their lifetime, unfathomable skills in front of us gawping tourists.
This island is known for its colourful houses – apparently if you want to paint your house here you have to apply to the local authority, which will graciously assign you a colour. We spent some time wondering whether the washing hung out at the front (very Italian) was deliberately colour co-ordinated with each house.
Next stop, just opposite Burano, is the peaceful, rural island of Torcello – seeming particularly quiet and pastoral after Venice itself. My only pious intention of our visit was to go to the church of Santa Maria del Assunta, one of Europe’s oldest. It boasts spectacular 11th century mosaics over the altar. I was lucky enough to see these, nearly 30 years ago, on a work trip, and wanted to refresh my memory. We realised the time had got to 5.45, and our guide book said it was open until 6. But the sign when we got there, in English: Last entry 5.30. We tracked down the man in charge, but he was adamant. No go. So the hand of God was not willing to make another appearance on our behalf.
Ah well – next time, perhaps – if He grants me another 30 years.