~walking & floating~

October 16th, 2007

Streets flooded. Please advise.
~Robert Benchley, telegram from Venice to his editor

Venice is by far my favorite walking city. Winding through the narrow stone corridors is a sensual experience acoustically, visually, tactically, olfactorally. Probably interesting if you lick it too, but I didn’t go that far.



The towering, cool stone apartments leaning inward making bright blue strips of the sky above–the elaborate iron grates and tiny round windows peering on to secret gardens, the laundry and more laundry fluttering on criss-crossing lines, the footsteps echoing around every corner, the feeling of being completely lost and then opening into a square filled with people, churches, bells, pigeons. This to me is Venice.


Many many Venetians have tiny dogs, but the city is quietly ruled by sweet, friendly kitties. Second only to cats as ambassadors of Venice are the pigeons, then come the sparrows, who will eat from your hand.


One of my favorite features of the city–one that further underlines the dream within a dream quality–is the arms–disembodied—that pop out of the high windows to shake rugs, hang clothes, water plants, and finally snap the wooden shutters closed at twilight.


My favorite walking afternoon was spent in Cannaregio, the ghetto of Venice. This is a residential area with basically no tourists, but plenty of kids and dogs and old manly men holding court along the Cannaregio canal. We had gelati and allowed ourselves to fantasize about living in Venice.


People call out to each other Buon giorno! Buona sera! –and sing—not the labored gondoliers who sing the sad (and inappropriately Napolease) O Sole Mio—but people just burst into song as they wander down the street. I pondered the rational of the Protestant reality in these moments of small joy…

We took this boat as a sign, a Yes from Venice to moving…



Along our wanderings we passed Squero di San Trovaso, one of the last gondola builder’s workshop (made traditionally, without glue or putty, and measured not in meters but using the obscure “passetto Veneto”, a method of measurement that dates back to the days of the Venetian Republican), and also the last printing press of Venice, Gianni Basso Stampatore. The owner Gianni is a lovely man, who prints on an old Gutenberg press using hand mixed paint. His business cards embellished with sea horses, hand-fans, and leaping hares, are a thing to one day commission.


When you grow tired of walking, (which you do!) the Vaporetti (means little puffs of steam) will drag your tired bones over the Grand Canal and give a view of the watery snake that winds through the city, lined with the massive palazzi that the fancy peeps once called home—each with a whole floor just for receiving packages and all with the Venetian hand-blown glass chandeliers that impress with gorgeousness or grotesquery, as all of Venice does.
A city of extremes.


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