the magic of rainy days in Venice

The week in review: It’s been fairly quiet this week along the Wasatch. The snowstorm that swamped us for three days last weekend finally quit sometime Sunday, and we were able to get out of the house and into the city for our bi-monthly lecture from the Forum for Questioning Minds, where Jill B. Jones, author of CASINO WOMEN, shared stories of women casino workers in Reno and Las Vegas.  Monday night I had a longgggg night in the Sleep/Wake Center at the University to learn whether I ever learned to sleep and/or breathe correctly upon birth 70 years ago. In other words, “why do I snore so bad?” More on that when I have results. Also, got good news from my Halloween colonoscopy. No more of that, thank goodness, for three years.  Now all that’s left until January, barring unforeseen maladies, is another blood test. Now let’s go to Venice to see how rainy weather only adds to the magic of the city.

The Grand Canal, Venice (the 8th day): Here our driver guides us along one of the major water-traffic corridors in Venice, which the Italians pronounce Venezia (ve-nit-zi-a) by the way, in a water taxi or water bus, not sure what to call it. The S-shaped canal continues for about two miles, and most of the 170+ buildings date from the 13th-18th century. Rich Venetian families apparently vie with each other to show off their richness with these picturesque palazzos. Most buildings emerge directly from water with no sidewalk pavements, and can only be viewed from the front by boat. And here I am looking and feeling like a country bumpkin all agog in the big city, hardly able to believe where I am… It’s mid- to late-afternoon and we’ve been warned to take along our rain gear as clouds gathering suggest there’s a real possibility of some showers later. At the moment I’m not concerned about getting wet. All I can think about are scenes from movies (like James Bond’s Casino Royal & Moonraker, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and wasn’t there one with Meg Ryan or some other American sweetheart?); all I can hear in my head are the voices of Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and Placido Domingo, and even Dean Martin pops in with That’s Amore.  Here’s one of my favorite waterfront palazzos. Two things never fail to catch my eye: flowers in flowerboxes and color.

All too soon we’ve covered the full two-mile length, past idle trade ships and and impressive cathedrals (so many we can’t possibly remember all the names; we’ve discovered it’s fairly safe to say either St. Mark’s or Santa Maria’s and be right 30% of the time) and pass through the famous Rialto Bridge to enter the area of St. Mark’s Square where we’ll disembark and get ready for our much-anticipated Gondola ride.

Back at the boatdock, we all line up into six-person groups waiting for our turn. Three or four boats with our groups had already loaded and left the dock when the rain began. It didn’t seem so threatening at first, and then it was nearly our turn to take the next boat. Suddenly the sky darkened and all the clouds overhead seemed to burst at the seams all at once. Someone saw a gondola with our people aboard, already drenched to the skin, trying to make it to one of the smaller canal bridges where they would wait out the storm looking rather miserable. For a change I was really happy we weren’t in one of the first groups, hence we stayed reasonably dry under the canopied waiting dock. When it became clear the rain had no plans to stop, our tour director announced the gondola rides had been cancelled.

If we were lucky we’d have one more chance for that Venetian gondola ride tomorrow, weather permitting. We proceeded to our hotel in Venice’s mainland suburb. While Mestre is modern and industrial and cheaper than its neighbor, the “canals” we viewed from our hotel window, admittedly picturesque in their own way, could not compare to the romantic canals of Venice. On the way to the coach, a dazzling rainbow set against a brightening sky seems to promise our group, many of us understandably disappointed–many wet and hungry–that our chances were very good. (That’s me in the green jacket with the street lamp jutting out from my head.)

Sure enough, the next morning we made it, and, again, I learned the gondola rides featured in movie settings and picture books are a little more complicated. Should my readers visit Venice someday and seek out your own gondola adventure,  be advised that there are different ways to navigate the canals. And I’m pretty sure if you want to snap a digital or two, you’ll have loads of opportunities. The chances are more than even that you’ll encounter a bride and groom along the way. But where were the singing gondoliers from the movies? You know…the ones with the striped shirts and straw hats? The reality is that you see all kinds of boats on the canals used for different purposes, weddings, funerals, pageants, even races. It’s considered a special occasion boat and the current cost of a ride is around €80 for a 40-minute cruise (sometimes with a glass of wine). There are cheaper deals available, but our tour was apparently one of those. Six to a boat instead of two, no serenade. I had to content myself with the voices in my head–Bocelli, Pavarotti, and Domingo, and danged if Dean Martin didn’t pop in again once or twice!

You may be struck, as I was, at the vast number of clothesline you’ll see hanging outside. Seems because of the high cost of electricity, most Italian homes do not have clothes dryers, only about 3-4% from what I’ve read. Most Italians hang their clothes to dry in yards, on folding racks set out on the porch, or clotheslines outside in front of their windows. They reason that it’s not only easy, but economical, an important consideration when you consider how expensive it must be to rent or own a home in Venice.

Lest you think all of Venice as a city exclusively spread out along water canals, I offer this alley view. That’s Hubby waiting for me to catch up along one of the mazes of sidewalks leading back to St. Mark’s Square. Always at a loss for navigating, I’m always asking, Are you sure this is the way out? Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, he’s right, as he was this time, thank goodness!

Back on St. Mark’s Square is  the great church (St. Mark’s Basilica) with its beautiful clock tower. On the top terrace below the winged lion  with an open book are two bronze figures, hinged at the waist, which strike the hours on a bell. One figure is old, the other young, to show the passing of time. They are said to represent shepherds as they are wearing sheepskins, and are giant in size so that their form can be recognized at a distance. Although the clock tower has undergone numerous restorations over the years (originally a statue was kneeling before the lion but was removed in by the French in 1797 after the city surrendered to Napoleon), the bell is the original one.

Now you may have heard or read about the flooding in northern Italy the last few weeks, and of course scientists have been saying for years that Venice is slowly sinking. Every time the rains come, the winds blow, and tides sweep more water in. It’s easy to see from this picture taken along the boat docking area how flooding would be a big problem for Venice.

And it’s no secret that in this 21st century, there are few places a person can’t get to within a day of travel, and more people than ever are now realizing long-held dreams of seeing the world, fulfilling their own “bucket-dreams.” Thus the tourist industry continues to flourish, particularly in Italy. It continues to be an important part of our global economy. Thus, in an effort not to discourage visitors to Italy’s famous city built on the seas, Venetians came up with alternative ways for tourists to get around the square in the (more and more) likely event of flooding. Indeed, you can see the props scattered around the square when not in use although you may not recognize what they are. When they are needed, here’s how they look.

Rather than complain, since you can’t argue with Mother Nature anyhow, nor can we yet agree among us that global warming is real, floods are now a fairly regular part of the Venetian tourism experience. Ever resilient, the tourists have learned to take it all in stride and make the best of it, even thinking of it as an different kind of travel adventure. This picture is from Reuters News Agency, but you can go online and do your own search (floods in Italy) and come up with your own assortment of tourists flopping around straddling floating tubes or surfboarding through the streets. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad philosophy for life. Let me add quickly, however, that in spite of the magic of that Venetian rainbow, I’m glad we saw it while you can still navigate on foot there. We got out at just the right time. Venice, or Venezia, as my new Italian friends would say, still holds a lot of magic.