The Grand Old Dame

So it was then – TC was sick, but we still made it to Venice by the hair’s breadth after waiting foolishly at a bus-stop for several buses that were re-routed in the past 2 days we were in Florence.

Just as an old dame’s refusal to acknowledge the decline of her façade and dominance via the painful way of plastic reconstruction, so has Venice has found new life most unfortunately in her status as a tourist sell-out. The atmosphere of elegant decay is nonetheless enjoyable (pleasurable even!) and as far as I know or have read, no one dislikes Venice despite its simulation of its past glory.

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Venice rides high on its cliché as the city of love and romance. If Florence was supposed to be the centre of artistic inspiration and expression, Venice was thus supposed to weaken the strongest of masochism and water the most cynical of feminine wiles with its charming waterways and misty mornings. We found the pension without much difficulty after crossing the landmark Rialto Bridge and became irrationally excited upon discovering the room faced a fresh-produce market.

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But rather than the famed gondoliers singing to lip-locked couples on the gondolas, I walked past disgruntled men in striped uniforms touting their gondola rides, and expectant tourists who thought twice about paying an expensive price for romance on these boats. At one point in time, a gondolier sang ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ for one stanza before whistling the rest of the tune.

“Now who says Venice isn’t inspirational?” TC remarked at breakfast at Pensione Guerrato in the breakfast room that blared popular Italian songs (probably by one of the remaining 2 great Tenors).

It was amazing how the day’s weather awakened Venice’s chameleon characteristic; the first day I was there, the lagoon soaked up the winter sun and sparkled enticingly under the gently bobbing gondolas berthed at St Mark’s square, an impressive piazza at the waterfront flanked by the Basilica (I swear, that place is made of spun gold, and is jaw-droppingly spectacular, despite the early churches’ fetish for acquiring pieces of canonised saints) and the Doge’s palace.

Bird-feeding, by the way, has risen to become one of winter’s more popular past-times. The number of birds is frightening, and would have been Hitchcockian if not for the squealing tourists.

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Thankfully we’re here in winter and the fragrance of Venetian summers has long dissipated in the cold wind’s misty grey fingers which has immersed the lagoon in a pervasive melancholy. But the joy of discovering Venice comes mostly from the winding streets, and the miniature bridges one needs to cross each time ‘streets’ and ‘lanes’ are crossed, and the hidden gems of shops/cafes that sparkle from a seemingly dingy corner of a dead end, paying due tribute to the natives of Venice who live there in a certain sort of anonymity bestowed upon by tourists. Souvenir shops selling carnevale masks are replaced by artisan workshops, tourist cafes melt into the alleyways of dimly lit osterias frequented by locals and academic books crown the bottom half of the grand canal.

Venetians seem to conduct their daily affairs with the same amount of indifference to both the tourists and the weather, and as TC said, the morning hours appear to belong solely to the Venetians and Venice as they begin the day visiting the fresh produce stalls and complete any other marketing needs of theirs before noontime ushers in the stupidity of the tourists. Perhaps the real Venice disappears then, and peeks out again the following day.

Now I sure hope this precious, precious place does not sink too quickly.

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