In the glorious opening scene of the 1955 movie Summertime, Katharine Hepburn detrains in the Venice station, walking betwixt its pillars and out into the plaza with the Ponte D. Scalzi bridge arcing over the Grande Canal.
How wonderful to do my own personal parody of that shot, to step from my first class car on the high-speed train, to pass through the timeless station, to exit through the portal and enter the land of old world magic. There it was, just as Katharine beheld it, spread out for me to see. Venice! Even after the majesty of Rome, Venice held me with its own charms.
After checking in and freshening up, we bought three-day passes to the amazing vaporetti (water-buses). See, shortly before our trip, I figured everyone gondolaed about Venice but, no, its a modern city with modern city transport problems. The water-buses work just like buses – they have numbered routes and timetables (I could never get my head around that modern little twist). Armed with our passes, we boarded our first bus for San Marco Plaza and did what every Venice-newbie does – we proceeded to shoot about a hundred shots along the two and a half mile voyage.
“Look, a gondola!” snap! “Oh, those barber-pole piers!” snap! “An exotic Moorish building!” snap! “A cat sleeping on a wall!” snap! “Another gondola!” snap!
San Marco was beautiful, too, but flooded with tourists, even in April. My sister warned us not to pass between the pillars (unlucky) even through everyone else did (yeah, suck up all that bad luck!). After that, we wandered deep into the warren of streets that twist about like brick intestines. Our cameras were overheating, so many shots. Every hundred feet, another bridge, another courtyard, another beautiful vista.
This is how architecture and city size should be. This should be its scale and its face, architecture made to please, to lift the spirits, for its simple enjoyment. I’ve long maintained that architecture cannot rival nature at soothing the soul, but Venice made me eat those words. It’s how life would be if it wasn’t about cars, speed and efficiency. Sure, we might walk more, but I’m sure we’d enjoy our lives. Think about that next time you bolt down a crummy fast-food lunch in a joint surrounded by a superheated haze of idling cars.
Anyway, as always, a nice dinner off the tourists routes, a quiet courtyard affair. Then we parted with my sister and wandered on our own, staying out rather late. We stood in dumb rapture of the moon-painted vista even as the water-bus passed us and continued on its way, leaving us to walk home. You know, strolling through moonlit Venice just wasn’t a problem, not at all.
Tomorrow – beady eyes!