All those cities in the States that string twinkle lights along open sewers and proclaim, “We are the Venice of Wherever” need to get a grip. So does that homage to excess on the Vegas Strip. These ripped off inventions don’t even come close. The culture of Venice and the city itself are entwined like DNA’s double helix. Sure, if you look hard enough you can find a McDonald’s in Venice, but it won’t be in a strip mall cozied up to a Taco Bell. It is difficult to find anything in Venice that isn’t thoroughly and completely Venecian.
My impressions of Venice have always been influenced by Nicolas Roeg’s 1974 thriller Don’t Look Now. The film has been described as intensely erotic and macabre. That’s mostly true, and Roeg used Venice’s back walkways to chillingly claustrophobic effect. While the director was taking the viewer into the darkness, in reality the walkways guide you towards the water and the light. Roeg was spot on about the extravagant sumptuousness of the place though.
It didn’t hurt that our first adventures in Venice were to Ca’ Rezzonico and The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The Lonely Planet has this to say about Ca’ Rezzonico, “Baroque dreams come true at Baladassare Longhena’s palace, where a marble staircase leads to gilded ballrooms, frescoed salons and sumptuous boudoirs.” Our own digs were extremely humble by comparison, but the touches were gracious. The touches are everywhere in Venice, and they have a cumulative effect.
The Guggenheim Collection includes the work of more than 200 artists. Pollock, Ernst, Picasso, Arp, Man Ray, Dali, Rothko, Warhol, Kandinski, Mondrian, Tobey, and the big names keep coming. It’s an important collection. It’s also lively.
The collection includes Marino Mariani’s fully erect horseback riding Angel of the City. Donna stationed herself by The Angel while I headed to the canal to take photos. Every once in a while I could hear her snicker. Finally Donna let loose with some unrestrained laughter. An unsuspecting mother of a twelve year old girl caught sight of The Angel’s exuberant expression of joy and just about dropped her teeth. Water, light, and a sense of humor…Venice has it all!
What is missing from all the places that pretend to capture Venice is the sense that you are in a working city. The water traffic in Venice goes back to its birth. It has always played a necessary and integral part in the life of city. Most of it still serves a vital function. I watched two young men with a boat deliver a washing machine and haul an old one away. All of their maneuvers were executed with skills born on the water. Our neighborhood produce stand is a boat moored along the canal. A water taxi dropped us off in our neighborhood. A water bus will take us to the airport.
We didn’t succumb to the temptation of a gondola ride. After seeing a full blown tourist stuffed gondola traffic jam, complete with singing gondoliers, the attraction withered. What held our interest were the working boats and the bridges. You could feel the hum of Venice in the air. It’s a hum all great cities share. Look past all the grit, or not, and what you feel is a deep and abiding inspiration.
Venice is a real place and it has few rivals. New York may be The Big Apple. Paris is still The City of Light, but Venice retains its title. It’s The City of Love!