Venice Observed

Today is my last day in Venice, with Air France whisking me off to Paris tomorrow. As a keen observer of “stuff”, here are a few notes I've made this week here.

This year's crop of ultra-annoying sidewalk vendors are Bangladeshis (for the geographically- challenged, their country is wedged-in between India and Thailand). They're everywhere, especially at night, hawking penlights with prism filters, roses, and luminescent helicopter thingees shot into the sky with a rubber band. The latter are kind of cool at night in St. Mark's Square, until one comes down and hits you in the head or until you express any interest and are then immediately besieged to buy one. The price descends through the day from 5eu to 1eu, meaning they're probably worth 10 cents. The rose sellers are particularly insistent, shoving a stem into a woman's face until she touches it in self-defense, at which point it's impossible to give it back. All completed with endless smiling and apparent deafness to repeated “No”s.

What a strange gender we men are. It's night, it's Venice, it's romantic, and we're out on the town with our lovely wife. She's taken the trouble to dress nicely, do her hair, apply make-up, wear her good shoes. We men, on the other hand, are wearing an old Nike sweatshirt, sneakers, and jeans. Yes, you can see this proof that men are tone-deaf when it comes to such things anywhere but, here in beautiful Venice, it seems especially insensitive.

Here's a shot of the Taverna San Trovaso, not far from the Academia Bridge, where I had lunch yesterday. Great place, great food, nice staff. Highly recommended when you come here. My lunch included homemade ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and truffle oil. Yum! I happened to share the dining room with a group of Japanese tourists and was incredibly impressed with the thoroughness of the service offered by their guide. He explained the menu to all of them (in their native tongue), took their orders, handled all communications in Italian with the staff, and handled all individual payments. Everyone benefitted.

The international version of “get to the top of the escalator and stop in the mouth of it to get your bearings” is still alive and well in Venice. Walking left while looking right, stopping in a narrow alley – with your stroller – to chat with your friends, suddenly coming to a dead stop to light your cigarette without stepping to the side… all time-honored dumb and inconsiderate behaviors all too often seen here and especially problematic given the high volume of people everywhere.

One thing visitors don't understand before coming here the first time is the sheer difficulty of finding your way around, particularly if you're dragging two suitcases along, are jet-lagged, and it's getting dark. That rolling suitcase that moves so nicely in the airport? A horror to pull over Venice's pavers and cobbles, and its many bridges. Your hotel is at 677 Grand Canal Way? Well, yes, streets here are named, sort of, at least – on the map, but actual street signs are rare, as are building numbers. Advice to newbies: use Google Map intensely, call ahead to get as much info as possible and then plan the shortest, flattest route. Also, get here well before dark. And there is no “Grand Canal Way” and no streets along the canal itself, either.

I saw the Virtuosi di Venizia (moonlighting singers and musicians from the La Fenice opera house) again last night. A great, intimate setting, wonderful acoustics, and a fine hour of music and singing. Puccini, Verdi, Vivaldi – a great selection of arias and duets for tenor and soprano – supported by a fine string quintet. Marvelous stuff, inexpensive, informal, and highly recommended.

Based on the “you look like a Native, I'll ask you” metric of being asked four times yesterday for directions, I must be doing something right. Maybe it's my white beard and professorial appearance, for surely no one confuses me with an Italian. Even better: I actually knew the answer to the questions.

Visiting Venice really isn't like visiting Berlin, Paris, or London. It's unique: no cars, no bicycles, very old twisting lanes and ancient buildings. All the fancy hotels, such as the Hilton, are on other adjacent islands. Wi-Fi is limited (in the hotel lobby only, if they have it at all) and cell service (of the international roaming sort, for foreigners, i.e. ME) is non-existent. Space is at a premium in hotel rooms, in shops, and in restaurants. In fact, the imaginative use of space and relentless avoidance of waste (yes, you only get ONE paper napkin, why would you need more?) is a kind of revelation and a reminder of the wasteful abundance of life in the U.S.

Ciao for now, I will resume my writings once I'm installed in Paris! A tout alors!


One thought on “Venice Observed

  • Out of reach for a while, but loved all the charming words and new and old stops associated with a visit to Venice. Thanks for such rich copy!

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