Day 40-42 Her Serene Highness, Venice
My first time with my family, I was astounded. My second time, I was alone and Venice was aqua alta. My third is with my husband and finally, the urge to take pictures every couple of minutes stops. I can let Venice go and stop trying to posses it with every click of my camera. I know I can't posses every corner, every bridge, every square, every darn gondola passing on a teeny canal. I'm lucky I have Rob with me. He takes the photos for me and captures his view of Venice.
The city is always stunning and always breathtaking. It's also heartbreaking; the palazzos are bowing in on themselves and the scaffolding is everywhere, like scars on grand frontages. The sea wants Venice for itself, just like the 20 million odd tourists who visit every year. It wants to suck it into its depths, drain it dry, and reclaim it. At the Accademia, Rob and I stop in front of plain white brick walls cracking and pulling. We look for ages at the metal brackets trying to hold it in vain; the weird stick-on instrument that shows where the building is pulling. It's like Venice has some kind of terminal illness.
We've splashed out on a canal view at the Hotel Antiche Figure. It is perfect. The staff are pleasant and cheery. They put you at ease. Whenever nervous tourists ask for specific directions, they're given it with a smile followed by, "But just relax and enjoy your day," in that rolling Italian lilt. Maybe in another life, I'll get to be Italian. Our first day, we throw out all maps and walk the city for nine straight hours. We wander and never feel like we have to be anywhere or see anything. We sun ourselves in an obscure piazza, nurse cups of delicious Italian coffee and enjoy the sun. We eat pasta in dimly light trattoria with wooden beams and drink table wine. It's a holiday from our holiday.
Early the next morning, we trundle through the Grand Canal and the open sea bound for Burano. While waiting for the boat, we stand with the locals and drink our coffee at the bar. The island is so picture perfect that locals coordinate their plants, knick knacks and even their birds with their colour of their houses. But again, there's heartbreak. A lot of the houses are abandoned or for sale. Every year, this little island is hit with very bad aqua alta and locals are moving out.
Back on the mainland, we wander some more because that's the best thing to do. We wander and wander and wander and stumble onto a no-name secondhand bookshop selling vintage ephemera. The shopkeeper explains the posters we buy; one is an old Italian hat maker and the other is a wine.
Near closing time, we finally make it to a museum, the Accademia. I geek out in front of Giorgione's The Tempest, a painting I wrote an art history paper on. In fact, I geek out on all the Venetian Renaissance heavy hitters. The jewel-toned colours used by Bellini is brilliant and clear in real life; lovingly restored. It's one of those breathe-into-a-bag moments. I have those often when I visit museums containing items I've only peered at in history and art history books. I am overly emotional and wide eyed. Rob listens patiently to my excited, breathless ramblings.
We have train tickets for Rome at 2.25 pm on our last day. Palazzo Grassi is on the agenda. I explain to Rob that it's owned by Salma Hayek's husband. For a modern art museum, it is surprisingly approachable. Rooms are dedicated to themes of light and dark. One if swathed in beautiful cotton curtains. You have to lift them to see the photos on the wall. The entire room is called Autoerotic Asphyxiation. There's the classic modern art stuff too of course; blank white canvases, blank black canvases with forms only hinted at, a lightbulb dripping oil onto a raised tiled floor. On the top floor, there's a sprawling Irving Penn exhibit that is at once, delightful, overwhelming, and quietly stylish.
We manage to catch our train with fifty minutes to spare. Each time, it gets harder and harder to leave Venice. I already want to go back.