Thursday, July 31, 2008

Greetings from: VENICE

After a late night on a cramped train from Ljubljana, stepping into the morning light of Venice was not quite a breath of fresh air—if for no other reason than the canals create their own atmosphere. But Sunday is its own world in Venice; silence reigns on the Rialto Bridge, still clear of tourist trinket stalls. A handful of vendors were setting up their wares, but except for the unfurling of awnings, the quiet seemed almost medieval, otherworldly. You could hear the leaf-green water lick the edges of the canals. People were getting in their boats; shops were shuttered. The food vendors only now put out their good, narrow cups filled with watermelon and kiwi. In the cobblestone squares, empty plastic cups cricked against each other as the wind blew them about, and beer bottles, proof of late night’s revelry, stood in corners, on ledges. It must have been a wild Saturday evening.

As the day grew later and hotter, more tourists appeared, so that by the time we reached San Marco Square, the place was filled with tour groups, some following their leaders holding up little umbrellas, others following along with earpieces to their guide speaking quietly to them through the ether. From every vantage, the winged lion of Venice looked down, holding his Book. When we crossed back over the Rialto, we could hardly move from the crowds. Every shop glittered with “Murano” glass, cut and shaped into every conceivable form. If I stopped into those shops, it was only to soak up the air conditioning; with a bulky bag dangling from my shoulder, I was rightly concerned about stumbling and creating lots of beautiful glass shards on the floors of Venice.

With only a few hours to spend in Venice—a tragically tight schedule—you can’t help but hit all the big tourist spots: The Bridge of Sighs, the Grand Canal, the Doge’s Palace. But sometimes this is the way it has to be. At lunch, we sat in the shade, while an accordion player serenaded us with a medley of the great Italian musical stereotypes. It was the quintessential Italian experience: eating flat-crust pizza al fresco, while “O Sole Mio” plays in the background.

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