Monday, March 7, 2011

One Day in Venice

Last night I watched a little Italian movie on Netflix. The story took place in Venice and seeing the canals, bridges and narrow "streets" of that unique city took me back to the one day I spent there about six years ago.

This picture looks like I was photo-shopped into it, but really, I was standing on a foot bridge over a canal in Venice one hot July day in 2005.

My middle son, Seth, a violinst, was playing in an orchestra that was doing a concert tour in Austria and Italy. I was one of the chaperons for the one hundred forty (plus) high school kids that had the privilege of playing their music in a few historic cities of Europe.

Our tour began in Vienna and ended in Rome. We went to ten cities in eleven days; the orchestra performed four concerts. This means we hit the ground running and didn't stop to smell the roses anywhere along the way.

It was an amazing and almost overwhelming experience. We saw so much in such a short time it was difficult to take it all in sometimes. This photo was shot at the last concert, an evening outdoor performance at the elegant Terme Tettuccio spa in Montecatini, Italy. I am not a brilliant enough wordsmith to be able to put into words the feeling this mother had hearing her tuxedoed baby boy play Greig and Brahms with his friends under a starry Italian sky. Surreal. I have the photos so I guess it really happened.

We had four large tour buses full of high school musicians and adult chaperons, conductors and tour guides. Seth and I were on separate buses which means I didn't see him very often. Managing that number of people meant that bus groups were not always in the same place at the same time.

After a week of whirlwind travel seeing the sights in Vienna, Salzburg and Cremona, we landed in Venice during the height of the tourist season.
Piazza San Marco has to be one of the most crowded July tourist destinations on the planet. I wonder what it looks like in October? Or March? We hurried through the Doge's Palace, crossed the Bridge of Sighs, photographed St. Mark's Basillica, watched a glass blowing demonstration and ate gelato. I was so glad that the previous night, a group of us chaperons had happened on a glass shop during a walking tour of the little town on the mainland where we were lodging. I bought all my glass souvenirs at that shop for a fraction of what the same glass was being sold for at the tourist-gouging Venetian shops.

The tour had scheduled gondola rides for everyone (to be paid out of pocket but for the screaming deal of $25). I opted to not go on a gondola ride in order to have more time to tour the city. Somehow the requisite gondola ride that day seemed like just another must-do tourist activity that didn't really reveal anything genuine about the city.(I wonder how many times a day the poor gondoliers have to sing O Sole Mio at the top of their lungs?)  I decided to continue a walking tour by myself on the less crowded Venetian alley ways. I was slightly worried about getting lost in the maze of streets that seemed to have no rhyme or reason to their layout, but I ventured out anyway. Once I got away from the main streets the crowds disappeared and I was better able to get a closer look at the city known as the Queen of the Adriatic.

Besides being attracted to the brightly colored and sculpted glass I was also keenly interested in the clay crafts of Italy. I was delighted to find this tiny shop on a back street in Venice. I spent quite a while asking questions of the shop keeper about the processes of his craft. I was amused by his Italian way of speaking of the clay "lab-OR-a-tory" where their tiles were produced. I told him that I was a potter and described my "studio" and work. I was intensely interested in how the clay designs were done and he did his best to describe the process to me in his limited English. I was very sad to find out how restrictive the work was. He spent his days working for the family making clay tiles in the labORatory but could only make the designs previously created by his father and grandfather. When I asked if he ever, even during his time off, could make his own designs or follow his own creative musings, his answer was No, no, no. In the end, his description sounded like dull hand production work bereft of inspired expression. Surely there was a fine tradition of craftsmanship, handed down from father to son and pride in the family business but I still felt somewhat sorry for this young man. I did buy a keep-sake tile that I cherish. When I finally left the shop we shook hands and that handsome Italian fellow would not let go of my hand. He was being charmingly Italian but seriously, I think he was bored and it was more interesting to practice his English skills with an American than to stand around in his tiny back street shop waiting for someone to wander in. But I had more of Venice to explore so I wrenched my hand away and bid him "Ciao!"

I remember the meal we ate in the evening at the designated taverna for the tour group- risotto. I ate risotto in Venezia! (And lasagna in Roma).  From a bridge I drank in the sunset over the waters with background music provided by a guitar soloist in a near-by piazza. Can I use the word "surreal" again? In the evening I skipped out on a scheduled Vivaldi concert in a church so that I could do more walking. I was surprised to find out that the streets were abandoned, the sidewalks rolled up and the tourists gone. In the evening light and the absence of a breeze Venice became much dingier looking and quite... smelly. The feeling was similar to walking through a carnival site after the rides have shut down and people have gone home. I know that there must have been sections of the city where the Venetian residents enjoyed some night-life but I wasn't able to locate those areas in my walking tour.

It certainly takes more than one whirl-wind day to see and understand a place but I was happy to get the impressions of Venice that I have and to revisit them with photographs and movies.


  1. I'm so glad you wrote this. It reminds me that a return trip to NY or Vegas is just as far away as my hard drive. Thanks.

  2. And really, if a person has a computer they can virtually visit just about anywhere in the world too.


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