It is a quality of Venice that everybody who sets foot there is impelled to share their experience either by writing about or making pictures of the city.
J.G. Links, Venice For Pleasure
To Venice, in November. Nice time of year for it—the streets are pretty quiet, and that strange pearlescent Venetian light is very noticeable. The poor Venetians were so cold they had been forced to wear outdoor scarves on top of their indoor scarves, to the great detriment of eleganza, but by Scottish standards the weather was somewhere between cool and crisp.
However, the Boon Companion and I were both nursing stuffy colds and hacking coughs, so we crept around the misty canals as if re-enacting a scene from Death in Venice (but without the runny hair dye and the strangely beautiful boy, obviously).
I’m pleased to report that Venice retains its status as World Capital of People Who Aren’t Looking Where They’re Bloody Going; and, from personal observation, its bid to become Selfie-Stick City of the Year for 2016 looks secure. A determined person equipped with bolt-cutters could do a great deal of good in the area around St Mark’s Square. To paraphrase the well-known Klingon proverb: Four thousand selfie sticks may be cut in a single night, by a man who runs. *
Our visit coincided with the Festa della Madonna della Salute on 21 November, so we had the chance to stroll across the temporary pontoon bridge that crosses the south end of the Grand Canal for just four days a year, allowing the procession from St Mark’s Basilica to the Salute to take a short-cut. The proprietors of the Gritti Palace hotel are presumably a little disgruntled about all the people who can peer down into their otherwise secluded canal-side terrace.
Culturally, we almost managed a painting-free visit. We emerged untainted by Tintoretto, unblemished by Bellini, uncontaminated by Canaletto and … um … unassailed by arsy alliteration. Only a pair of tickets for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection prevented us making a clean getaway.
Now, I’m not averse to a bit of Magritte or Giacometti, and there was a rather lovely black granite sculpture by Anish Kapoor, polished to form a couple of concave mirrors:
But am I the only person who wonders if Mark Rothko wasn’t just having a laugh?
Our other cultural event was a trip to Musica a Palazzo, a three-handed performance of La Traviata taking place in three rooms in the decaying splendour (well, more like decaying decay) of the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto. After an unpromising start—we walked down a dark alley and were hailed from a lighted courtyard by a young man who hissed “Psst! Signore? Opera?”—this turned out to be immensely good fun. It’s not often you get to be right amongst the performers at an opera.
But mainly we just wandered around. There’s no place like Venice for just wandering around. It’s impossible to be lost for long, given that it’s a small place surrounded by seawater and split by a stonking great canal, and by its very (expensive) nature, there aren’t really any rough neighbourhoods to wander into. Every twist in the street seems to produce a new improbable vista, a decent place to eat, and a building of historical significance.
Finally, a puzzle. What is strange about this view of St Mark’s Square?
* I need hardly add that the original Klingon is qaStaHvIS wa’ ram loSSaD Hugh SIjlaH qetbogh loD (“Four thousand throats may be cut in a single night, by a man who runs”). There is no Klingon word for “selfie stick”, for obvious reasons.