VENICE, ITALY- I had no plans of visiting this city. The only images that I had seen so far of the place, aside from sticky lovers on gondolas, were secret agents and fiends blasting at each other on the city canals and rooftops, blowing up old buildings in the process. Venice seems to be both beautiful and sinister. The creepy “Don’t Look Now” with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie is still etched in my mind. This was also the locale where Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale” led James Bond into an era of being real and human, thereby obliterating the need for arsenal gimmickries.
In addition, I have read about a famous Venetian named Marco Polo, explorer and writer, and from him I could adopt a stronger spirit of adventure. There is also the painter Tintoretto, with his portrayal of disrobed voluptuous women. And Antonio Vivaldi, composer of “Four Seasons” that has been overused for commercials and graduation walks. Then there are the famous Venetian glass and the theatrical masks, some inspired by the Bubonic plague that almost annihilated its populace centuries before. Those are just about what I know about Venice.
Tourist brochures indicate that Venice is a city in northeastern Italy with a total of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, mostly pedestrian bridges. As movie productions suggest, Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its art. The entire city is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.
It took the wife and me some 24 grueling hours to reach Venice from Manila, with nine hours flight to Qatar, eight hours lay over at the Doha International Airport, and a seven hour flight to Italy. Thank God for lovely in-flight movies like “The Book Thief”, “The Invisible Woman” and “Iloilo”, flying time became easy to bear.
Getting Lost in Fun
For the first day, we were booked at the Carlton Hotel, an old but charming place but with front desk people having the brusko attitude of New Yorkers before 9/11. The hotel is along the busy Grand Canal and faces the hideous looking train station on the other side. The Olimpia, our second hotel, is more elegant, with beauteous, gracious and helpful front desk employees giving that expected Italian warmth. Our room was much more spacious, and it let some sunshine in.
Venice could be brutal for senior citizens with heavy luggage to move from their bus to the hotels. You have to cross up and down several bridges that are hostile to PWDs and geriatric folks. It becomes obvious why the city government has deployed porters along the routes. For a fee, of course.
On the first night, the wife and I went out of the hotel to look for a trattoria or a snack bar. I am not exactly a fan of Italian food, pasta, pizza, ‘paghetti, or whatever, but this trip is wife’s time so she gets to have first crack at everything. In stead, we got lured by the sights of rushing people, the dark winding streets, the shops, and the edifices, until we got lost in the maze of narrow passageways, archs, alleys, and piers.
I marveled at the textures and more textures, of centuries old layers of brick walls, some proud and some disintegrating with their plasters falling off with them; at the multi-faced buildings that seem to grow organically with tiny-leafed shrubs and vines, at the variety of window grill works; at the character of doors and the worn-out knobs oftentimes positioned at the center of the panels. The whole city it seems – with walls, the gates, and the roofs having distressed look -has been described as one elegant decay.
Glimpses of Day In A Life
My friend Chito Irigo says that the knobs carry the identity of families living within, and are supposed to distinguish them from the others. Even the mailboxes and the knockers could speak volumes. We saw lone men and families with prams going in and out of dimly lit doors and we wondered how life could be in this rich tourist town with a long history of heritage.
I learned that Venice was, one time or another, a major maritime power, the fulcrum of commerce and trade in the world, the fashion capital rivaling Paris, and the center of arts and literature. New York Times has called it “the most beautiful city built by man”. Give me a few days more, and I might agree.
The wife and I stopped by an unmarked small pizza and ice-cream shop where we halved a focaccia stuffed generously with prosciutto ham, mushrooms, and Mozzarella cheese. We finished this off with green tea while standing and so, for an equivalent of 350 pesos, we had our first fine dinner in Venice. We would have wanted some of the tempting gelato, but we were full.
We walked and walked, observing the surroundings, the steeples, the various faces of homes, and the people. I am wont to lug my camera whenever I go but, this time, I purposely left it to be able to take all the images in with my naked eyes. Then it suddenly rained; we had no umbrella. The temperature was probably 16 degrees Celsius, meaning cold, and we got wet. After probably six kilometers and three hours of being lost, without panicking, giggling like children even, we got back to our hotel like drenched cats.
The wife and her dozen or so high school buddies, most of whom have retired from their successful careers, have promised to themselves that, as a gang, they will see parts of the world in the next few years. And whenever they do, they promised that they will bring no husbands, no boyfriends, and no significant others. But this time, I am the designated photographer.
These dragon women have conceived of a calendar spread of golden ladies – them in white beach ensemble at Santorini and in little black dresses in another exotic location. They needed someone with Sports Illustrated or Vogue ambitions to do the camera works. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. May the Santo Papa help me.