One of the reasons Venice was one of my favorite cities in Italy is because everywhere you look, there are beautiful, rustic buildings in warm, rich colors, each sitting in front of a scenic canal or pedestrian-only street (calle), post-card ready. The hundreds of stone arch bridges that span the small canals reminded me of the lovely covered bridges of the midwest: not merely a causeway, but each a work of art and no two exactly alike.
Venice is a city for photographers. I could have taken a new photo every 50-feet of the trip, and practically did at first before I realized we’d never make it to any destination at that pace. I was reminded of my first Northern British Columbia kayaking trip in the 1990’s. At the trip’s start, each time we saw a bald eagle, everyone would point and shout, “bald eagle!” By the end of the two-week trip, bald eagles felt as common as crows and we instead would say sarcastically, “oh, look, another bald eagle.” Although I wasn’t in Venice long enough to see a new canal and think, “just another bald eagle,” I eventually did stop taking pictures of every one we passed.
The masks that were for sale in tourist shops, and this oddly Chuckie-esque display of dolls (their eyes followed me!) reminded me of Venice’s history as the original home of Carnivale, an annual festival held in Venice that starts 40 days before easter and ends on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (Martedi Grasso), the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras as celebrated in New Orleans and the practice of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, is based on this event. The masks that were traditionally worn to hide any form of identity between social classes have become a major tourist item in Venetian shops.
Of course, Venice would be what it is without gondola rides. Our group didn’t choose to take one, but we saw others enjoying them all day long in the little canals. We were told a ride could cost around $80 U.S., and for an extra $80 you could add an accordion player and singer. These two gondoliers exchanged heated words in italian about communication and turn taking as they passed under the bridge. The gondoliers have a precise etiquette among them, that involves calling out as they approach bridges and corners to avoid collisions in these tight spaces. The boats are very special in that the hull is not symmetrical, so they can be paddled with an oar on only one side. Because of their unique design, they reportedly cost more than $15,000. Before going on the trip I watched a documentary about how difficult it is to become a gondolier, a secure and coveted profession in Venice.
Tomorrow I’ll write about the day we spent exploring La Piazza de San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and the Doge’s Palace of Venice.