Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Passion - Venezia

I write to you from our charming room at Al Teatro B & B in Venice. As my fingers tap the keys, gondolas are passing below me. They are cliché, yet slightly individualistic, some hosted by accordion-playing Venetians, some navigated by quite talented operatics, others by serious Venetian history buffs (or bullshitters depending). Venice is another of Italy’s sensual feasts. What a culturally rich country Italy is! Each locale we’ve visited with its own nuances, its singular tone.

Yet today I found myself both charmed and disgusted by the Venice that is presented for (probably demanded by) the tourist. I wonder what I can do to try to sit within the experience, rather than observing it from the vantage point of a spectator at a zoo. My sardonic impulses suggest that colonizing countries (the ones most predominantly representing the tourist, the U.S., England, Spain, Germany and Japan) are programmed for a sort of “experiential presentation.” The performative aspect of that “charming” expectation of touring a country is sought and fulfilled. And I, too, often find myself “ooohing” and “ahhhhing” at the theatrical. But I have learned to step back occasionally and contemplate the themes … I turned to Aaron this morning from our open French window where a gondolier was regaling our small rialto with a standard Italian opera tune, and said, “isn’t it lovely?” We both paused for a moment, and then I said, “but it feels a tad like a dog and pony show, doesn’t it?” He agreed.

That said, Venice is wonderful. It must be seen, because it is, as Rick Steve points out, a precious, enigmatic, one-of-a-kind city in decay. The city is being reclaimed by the Adriatic, and nearly all literature you receive makes this notation. Our B & B has only three rooms to let, and the owner, Eleanora, tells us the building has been in the possession of her family for at least 600 years! This can be ascertained partially by a lovely fresco that we eat beneath every morning at breakfast.

As we wander through the narrow alleyways and over bridges curving us into areas we have to chance out of, I think of Jeanette Winterson’s evocative historical fiction novel, The Passion. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. The setting is Napoleon’s Venice, and I am reminding of the heroine who viscerally knows the ins and outs of the labyrinth that is Venice.

Speaking of labyrinths, we arrived yesterday in approximately 103 degrees heat, with about 80% humidity, and toting a good amount of luggage (although we merged two suitcases into one). We had no idea how to catch a vaparetto, or really how to get to our lodging. To give you an idea of the chaos—paying our toll to exit the expressway toward Venice took over 30 minutes, and once that was accomplished one had to weave through a wall of cars, trucks, vespas and tour buses all aiming in opposite directions. At that point I found myself praying, and I’m not a religious girl! Then we had to queue at the parking structure and watch a man who looked like an escaped inmate of an insane asylum direct you to a parking spot and eyeball you eerily. Aaron, ill-advisedly, asked the guy for information on public transportation, and he immediately launched into the line of B.S. that every travel book warns you about, suggesting that you must take a “water taxi” which costs about 50 euro a person and 5 euro for each bag (and he counted my purse as a chargeable bag!).

• sidenote: Aaron just told me that 7 gondolas are backlogged waiting to get through our rialto, and I just heard an accordion start up, playing at a rather frantic pace. Later I’ll tell you about the way the vaparettos and water taxis drive—just think Roman drivers on the water!

Anyway, after realizing that we were parked as far from the vaparetto stop as we could possibly have been, and trying to decipher the vaparetto map which brought to mind the algorithm problems I had to solve in college algebra, we finally boarded the correct line. It should have been a relatively simple excursion, but apparently every so often, the vaparetto simply does not go all the way. Before our destination we were all shuttled off the vaparetto, and then the trouble started. Suffice it to say that Aaron and I saw the same section of the Grand Canal about 3 times, and that by the time we arrived at our B & B, we had each unwittingly participated in the ritual the American Indians call “a sweat.” We were literally devoid of any remaining bodily fluids.

But then the universe shifted and we got cleaned up and went out into the cooler evening bustle. It was wonderful, vibrant, invigorating. The shopping is pretty spectacular with most of the finest stores of the world represented. We passed all that (although I made a few yearning stops—Missoni, Valentino, Frette) and headed toward a small, charming, off in some alleyway little bistro recommended by Eleanora and had a wonderful, reasonably-priced dinner. Better yet, Aaron befriended an Italian from Milan who was dining alone next to us. He was a fashion merchandiser for Gucci, and a wonderful font of information about European fashion (up my alley) and Italian culture. Aaron got a big kick out of asking the waitress in halting Italian if it was OK if we washed the dishes when she presented the check. This sent our new friend, and the waitress, into peels of laughter.

These are the evenings you cherish as you travel. Chance meetings, good food, universal humor. We’ve met some people I hope to hear from again. Every day is an adventure, every challenging (stressful) experience a chance to use one’s facilities and problem-solving skills. And there are so many surprises—small moments of kindness or extraordinary patience in explaining the everyday or obvious.

I feel continually stimulated and full. But I also feel small and finite … a miniscule speck in some infinite continuum (is that an oxymoron?). But more about that later, we must go seek out some dinner!

So much to tell, so little time. I so wish I could download some photos, we’ve taken some beauties.


At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to be able to keep up with your trek. It is painfully hot here if you hadn't heard - in the 100's. Sweaty and gross all around. So much has been happening...suppose I'll send you a regular email to catch up. Sam and I miss you both and look forward to seeing you when we return from our trip - guess that won't be until mid to late September. Give our love to Aaron!


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