Some places lay beyond the veil. If you don't know what I mean, go to Venice. We were there four days, but I hadn't been able to write about it. I had no idea where I was, and I still don't.
We arrived by train in the evening. Out the window, the land smoothed to water so quickly it seemed like an illusion. Lighting posts in the water. A train station. Seemed like any other train station.
Weary, we crack-a-lacked our baggage through the station, to the exit, where I expected we'd get a taxi to our hotel. Faintly, through the exit I saw a bus go by, I asked if we should take a bus instead, Bear said, "that's not a bus."
I don't think I've stood with my mouth agape, so shamelessly...ever. I really hadn't understood. The are NO ROADS in Venice. I thought there we some, but...no. No cars, no roads, all water. I heard myself laughing, this can't exist. But there it was, business as usual with boat busses, boat taxis, personal boats, police boats, and of course the iconic Gondolas. Oh my God, this is not Disneyland, this is what Disneyland is based on.
It was freezing and windy when we caught the boat to out hotel. Our stop was San Zaccharia, right near the famous San Marco square, and there were several stops before ours. We got to the port weather-beaten, worn and frozen. At San Zaccharia, we asked two strolling policemen where we could find our hotel, Locanda Vivaldi (our thematic hotel choice). They gave us our first taste of Venetian style directions "it's two bridges from here, to the left." Two bridges. The address didn't matter, just count bridges. Also, funny that they bothered to mention it was on the left...off the right was the Ocean.
We pressed and pulled our big American bags up and down the two bridges - clunking over centuries-old marble, with all the grace of dung beetles (and far less skill).
Locanda Vivaldi, has two glass doors with treble clef handles. I might've been cheesed out if I weren't so frozen and tired, however, after I acclimated to the main room, I was charmed. The lobby had a scent, like a smokey floral spirit, and the walls were dressed in satin and lace.
The walls outside our room were decked with Carnivale masks, and mirrors, and the floor was color blocked marble, with confetti-like borders.
Our room was waiting with complimentary champagne, glass chandeliers, and more beautiful wall dressing. We were excited about our new digs...at first. Then we starting the business of trying to live in our new digs. There was no hot water that night. Then, the toilets were not working. Then we discovered the internet would only work if you sat out in the hall. With the door closed. This is Venice in a nutshell. More magical than you can possibly imagine, and slowly falling apart.
I woke up to what my mind told me was a growling garbage truck, but what was actually a utility boat, grundling past my window. We shared a breakfast room with a group of Germans on holiday, then set off to walk ourselves around the strange and exotic planet of Venice.
You have to start at Saint Marco's Basilica. I have never seen such a fusion of devotion and whimsy. It's like The Church Of Neverland. I don't mean any insult by this, quite the contrary, it's incredible, but it struck me as a stone and marble interpretation of something which was originally built of sand, shells, and construction paper cutouts from a child's hanging mobile. It's playful, and it's shameless. Unbridaled reverence.
The Grand Canal...
From the Rialto Bridge...
Bear has some tea at a random shop...looking cheeky and euro.
We have more tea at Florian...
the oldest tea shop in Venice...
Waking off the beaten tourist path is not hard. It's very easy and very obvious. You just turn away from the herd. The streets of Venice are so thin and so circuitous, they're like canyons cut with rivers of tourists. Smaller veins branch from these, and when you pull off into one of these lanes, the din fades surprisingly fast. But then where are you? You'd expect to see locals, going about their local business, but you see no one. You hear no one.
Back to the labyrinth of consumerism.
Like salmon in a maze flipping tongues instead of tails in different languages. Schooling through these small intestines, a thousand years in the making , a thousand years since an Adriatic marsh became a Mecca of lux, and power, and art, and exploration, and vanity, and sex. A thousand years of legs and feet and timber, conquering slush and wind and salt, to a thousand iPhones and eye-straining spring breakers, shouting off the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal.
And your private avenues are silent.
Venezia, where are you? I came to see you.
Empty waterways, and a faceless Madonna. She's on the Grand Canal, and there are usually fresh flowers near her.
I ate exquisite sea bass, served to me by a man who insisted I try the second of the sauces he brought to me - he had made the second. I don't like lemon with fish, but I tried it for him, and it was wonderful. But I didn't taste your essence.
I bought strings of gold beads made out of Venetian glass, and walked around my room wearing nothing but those, treating myself to the fantasy of a courtesan. But I didn't feel your gaze.
I ate strawberry and lemon sorbet at your oldest tea room. I drank rose tea. Something blossomed within me, but it was an echo of a scent, or a color. Venezia, I came to see you.
I laid my head down on your soft white pillow, and I had a dream of someone else's pain. The screaming went on all night, and she shook and she tossed and she cried until I woke within the dream myself to beg God for mercy on her, until I woke in my own bed, and pulled the covers close, wondering what you had pulled out of me. I Laid my head on your pillow, Venezia.
I looked into your masks for the soul of Carnivale. I smiled at your tiny glass harlequins, with their wicked lanky thighs and pin prick nipples. I looked down the noses of the devil masks, and through the masquerade lace, for nothing more than a wink. I was looking for your eyes, Venezia.
I looked up at the man who was rowing our gondola when he told us that many of the houses were abandoned. These grand old choppers, like ancient gold teeth in the mouth of the bay, timeless stone, grinning forever as the biggest gangster on the seas - beautiful, timeless, elegant....cavities.
I laid my hands on your walls in St. Marco's Basilica. I read the mandalas on your glittering golden ceiling, and walked around the griffins and pagan creatures frescoed on your marble floor. I laid my hands on your walls, Venezia. And I held them there.
Venezia, where are you? I came to see you. I came to reach into your heart, and found a hand full of salt.