~i made it through the wilderness~

October 7th, 2007

I woke up to bells. Bells, bells, more bells. I thought perhaps I could discover the time by counting the rings–in the first round I got to sixty-six. Then the next church bell began, layering on the first. That is Sunday morning in Venice, much like Sunday dusk in Venice:

We are in the sestieri (quarter) called Dorsoduro— ironic as it translates as High Ridge, but also Hard Back, which is precisely what I have. Herniated disc flare-up in a foreign land. Typing from bed, flat back on my first day of vacanza. Povera ragazza!

We traveled for sixteen hours to arrive here yesterday, via two planes and a bus and miraculously my back felt better than it had all week (we had considered canceling the trip, in fact) and then we got bold and walked to dinner and this was the straw that broke my hard back I spose, because I am not moving except to hobble around the apartment, which fortunately is lovely. I will try to make the best of it. At least they finally found our luggage!

Lets start with some bearings…This is a map from a 1913 edition of Baedeker’s, but still applies today. I have embellished to show our locale…


My first impression from our stroll last night is that Venice is absurdly, surreally gorgeous.

Many friends said Venice and its crumbling watery glory would be just my cup, and I have thought so as well for many years, so I was prepared to be somewhat disappointed. I was not.

I’m with Byron, “Venice pleases me as much as I expected and I expected much.”

The first thing one feels is the mystery of the city. In seven (now six) days I think I can hope to arrive at an impression similar to the feeling one has after dreaming–trying to catch the sensation or thought and hold it in your hand as it turns to vapor. Venice feels both deceptively straightforward and secretly illusive.

The narrow passages are just incredible; it is labyrinth par excellence, surprisingly ancient and modern at once. Somehow the tourist shops, fluorescent lit gelati joints, video screens in bars, are shocking to come upon in the otherwise cobble-stoned and ruinous landscape. Apparently the apartments have mostly been gutted and redone in the last twenty years, but from the outside you’d never know it.

The buildings are washed in fading water-colors from sea blue to a kind of rich rusty earth color. The corridors wind maze-like until you reach yet another little stone bridge arching over a glittering canal. Fairy lights and candles flicker in the windows. Crazy romantic.

Everything feels much closer and smaller than expected. Then every once in a while you come upon a large square with wild vines draping over swirling iron balconies decorated with stone-faced wild-haired ladies.

Already I have found a shop I will try to return to in the daytime, with incredible silk and cashmere paisley scarves. Have I mentioned the dollar is worth about 65 cents to the Euro right now? Ouch!

Venice was a legendary port of Europe, the gateway for salt, nutmeg, pepper, opium, sugar, until a withdrawn trade contract with Portugal killed that majesty and Napolean drove the last nail in the coffin. Now it relies on the tourist trade and an idea of its past grandeur to keep an economy. Rather like the Hollywood I grew up in…


My first Venetian meal was typical of the region, a plate of various fried local fish—calamari, shrimp, octopus, prawn, big sardines, and tiny sardines you are expected to eat whole that our friend Ernst calls “the peanut of the sea.” Of course he also ate the whole prawn–black pin eyeballs, crispy pale pink feelers and all–so consider the source…

We’ve rented a huge fancy loft apartment with Ernst on Calle Cerceria via the Emily Harvey Foundation .

Rather than numbering each street, there is one numeric series for the entire sestieri, I gather it continues along each street in that neighborhood. The streets themselves squeeze smaller and smaller, from the rive that parallel the Grand Canal, to fondamente, calli, callette, to sottocalli, where two cannot walk arm and arm.

Some lovely street names: Riva degli Incurabili, Calle Pensieri (street of thoughts), and Pont e fondamenta della Tette (Bridge and Street of the Tits)—named for the ladies who leaned out their windows in the evening light.

There are six neighborhoods in all—Cannaregio, San Polo (smallest, oldest), Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Marco (the most touristy), and Castello (largest, home to the Bienniale).

Since I have no photos yet for you, I include two favorites paying tribute to the City of Water–Ernest H., and the BoyToy herself, Madge.



One Response to “~i made it through the wilderness~”

  1. Habib says:

    Buon giorno! I’m so glad you find it as magical as I did. Too bad there’s no flooding because that would make it extra-surreal. But I’m so sorry about your back. Take every pain-killer you can find so you can get out there and see it all. There was a very small park near San Marco near the docks and it was overrun with wild kitties. Hopefully they are still there. And if you can stand it, don’t miss the Duke’s Palace (get the audio tour for juicy details). I miss you. I’m sending your back soothing waves of comfort.)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

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