Sunday, January 8, 2012

Venice, day two

We woke to the sounds of boats going past our apartment, men shouting at one another and moving boxes around the decks (do you use words like 'deck' to describe these boats? They are not gondolas or anything, but they don't feel like ordinary boats either). The sky beckoned blue, a light, light blue that looked cold, but clear. We roused the troops and fed them, and then awaited another apartment host who was to come here and fix some things and so on. He came bang on time, the internet sprang to life and all was well with the world.
I found the phone number I was looking for, and rang Paolo. He wasn't at home, so I found his address on my map and decided to pay him a call later. We were at last organised, and we took to the alleys of Venice. I thought we should walk back to the station and catch a vaporetto down the Grand Canal to San Marco and show the kids the most beautful waterway in the world (actually probably the most beautiful 'road' in the world). But in my haste and ignorance, we caught the vaporetto the wrong way, and ended up going around the outside of Venice, and across to Guidecca and San Giorgio. Damn. So we got off at San Marco and caught the Line 1 up the Grand Canal. Bliss. The air was cold - we were standing outside for a better view - but our eyes were all warm. People taking coffee on the terraces of posh hotels, boats drawn up at the foot of the grand palazzi of the Grand Canal, people going out their business in the morning and catching the traghetto across the Grand Canal, light playing catch with the water and laughing.
We got off at Rialto to walked back to San Marco. I love the way you enter San Marco from a tiny alleyway and the whole space opens like a deep breath. It was busy this morning; all stuff full with tourists and vendors of souvenirs. With all that light (last night it has been dark), San Marco shone all gold and proud. I wanted to take the kids in; this was the church my parents (and their grandparents) had been married in. Niccolo, for some reason, was very cross about this - he had decided, without fanfare, that we would eat. Nothing doing. I dragged him all but by his ear into the line that was forming for the church.
I have written about the darkness of most of the churches we have visited so far (with the noted exception of the Sagrada Familia), but San Marco is something else again. While it is not exactly light, it is paved and tiled in gold so it shines and makes you feel that you are in a jeweled box (and presumably, you are a jewel within that box). It does make you feel special, and that the God that inspired this is special too. I suspect that churches must struggle with this; how do you inspire awe, fear and the chosen status of the worshippers without tipping the balance too much. I like San Marco very much (and I'm sure that you are all very glad to hear this ... ). Regardless of its current status as a tourist trap, there were a number of people in there praying; and a roped off section for this purpose. If it was your local church, I suspect popping in for a moment of meditation might be a nice thing.
Out we came. It was twelve o'clock. I pulled out the map and traced a path to Paolo's apartment. Off we set.
Guides like Lonely Planet tell you that the address system in Venice is something no one understands. I'm not sure about this. I think it makes plenty of sense; there is a alley named, a number and the section of Venice it is in. So finding Paolo's place was not too hard. After some twists and turns and bridges and arched entries to alley ways, we were standing outside his door. I pushed the bell. There was no 'chi e?', the door was buzzed open and in we went. This is always a weird moment, wandering in someone's apartment building, and hoping to strike the right door. We went to the top, and there was the right door, slightly ajar. I knocked. 'Sono io' I called and went it. There was Paolo, sitting in the kitchen eating. He looked up and it was a little emotional. We had a long hug. It was great to see him. We made arrangements. I'm not sure if this is an Italian thing, but it always seems to be a pleasure to make arrangements. Firstly, he called Enio to confirm the lunch for Sunday. Then we made arrangements to meet to dinner that night. There were arrangements about the train to Padova in the morning. And then we said goodbye until that night, and we left in search of more beauty, and food.
We bought takeaway food for the hordes and then walked slowly around; looking at everything. We found our way back to the apartment; and regrouped. Some members of the party were too cold and needed more clothes; there was clothes washing to consider - Paris needed good pants for the Sunday lunch plus drying time.
When we left again, we were ready to tackle anything.
Myles decided that he wanted to see more churches (you can imagine how much fun the kids thought this plan). We began with San Polo. I've never been in this church. We discovered you could buy a 'church' pass (called a Chorus pass) with which you can visit a tonne of churches for 20 euro for the family. This seemed like a good idea. San Polo has many Tintoretto paintings and a pretty confronting series of paintings for the Stations of the Cross. The kids were a bit interested in this ('why is he being whipped there?', 'who is helping him there?' 'what is with that kid's pants?', 'how do you die if you are crucified?'). There was a Nativity scene (again, no donkey, but lots of sheep). We thanked the woman who was manning the booth and left. Back over Rialto and down to San Marco, but this time we turned right and walked towards Accademia rather than the other way. This is the posh part of Venice, designer shops everywhere and well heeled shoppers spending small fortunes on small outfits. There were a lot more posh dogs here too, turned out in lovely little coats. We almost kidnapped on because it was wearing a puffy jacket and looked like it might belong to us. But we also considered that the person who was holding the leash might not appreciate our enthusiasim. We avoided the shopping palaces and opted for a church instead; San Moise. It has the sort of facade that makes you want to walk in. This was not one of our Chorus churches but it was free. This church has a very strange altar, it has God handing Moses the ten commandments. We liked this very much.
Then we went into another church with a similar facade; Santa Maria del Giglio. Clearly we have a preference for the Baroque. I was reading a bit about this and the facades; apparently Ruskin - that stern type - hated these facades, thought they were a 'manifestation of insolent atheism'. Oh, whatever. I happend to enjoy the over-the-top elements of Catholiticism and quite like it when there is a direct clash between the tenents of the church and the demands of the human condition. Ruskin and I can agree to disagree (if we so choose). This church has the only Rubens in Venice, and you can see why it might be kept in a baroque church - it is the Virgin and Child and they are both very well fed and rather juicy. And this was one of our Chorus churches so we have made good use of the card already.
Our last chuch was San Maurizio - this one was a free entry too and it had an exhibition in it - Vivaldi and his Times - with a display of instruments from various periods. This the kids loved and had their photos taken with their favourite instrument - Paris; an ancient double bass, Zelda; a lute, and Niccolo; a viola.
It was getting dark and we had a dinner date. We walked over the Accademia bridge (the only wooden one in Venice) and scurried through the darkening alleys. Through Campo Santa Margharita where we had stayed with Paris was little and we took a photo of him on the bridge he had claimed for himself when he was three.
Now it was really dark. A quick trip to the supermarket for necessities, and then home to change. You think it won't take too long to get around, and it takes forever. But did we heed this when we left for dinner? No. And we were due at Paolo's at 6.30pm. The bells were ringing this time as we walked over Rialto. Which wasn't terrible; it was about ten minutes from there. But Myles wanted shoes; so I left him alone with Paris and continued on to Paolo. We were late and then had to retrace our steps to find Myles. Paolo was understanding. I explained that he needed new shoes for the lunch on Sunday. He thought that was very funny.
We went and had a wonderful dinner at a place on Bacino San Marco, and the food was great; three courses - we were groaning by the end. The kids ate what was put before them, so proud. Niccolo even ploughed through a whole piece of veal. Kudos to him.
We talked about food and politics and food some more. And Australia and Venice and shoes. My very bad Italian, a dictionary and Paolo's patience won the day. It was a lovely night.
And then through the streets of Venice again to go home. This is the most amazing place. You couldn't want for anything more. Surely.

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