This weekend was a quiet one. The grandkids were off on an outing with their mom, several friends out-of-town on end of summer vacations, and I just didn’t have the heart to weed all weekend….so I did what I always do…I painted!
This weekend, I was thumbing through some of my old photos from my year in Florence, Italy….always a good source of inspiration. I came upon some beautiful photos of Venice I had taken while chaperoning a group of students on an art history field trip. I had successfully herded about 50 students onto the trains in Florence with 50 tickets in my hands and was thankful we’d all gotten on, noses counted, and were on our way to Venice. Many of these students were in Italy for the first time, and it was all still pretty new to me as well. Although I’d been to Venice before, I’d never been responsible for so many other people. Most of the students were in their 20′s, so it’s not like they couldn’t take care of themselves…but knowing college students the way I did, I also knew there was a huge potential for their adventurous souls getting everyone in trouble. So I felt it my responsibility to warn them about getting in trouble in a foreign country, and the fact that the Carabiniari (Italian equivalent of National Guard) was none too sympathetic to foolish American college students. Even though I felt like my mother, I felt I needed to give them fair warning. My job was to make sure they got back on the train at the end of our visit, and at least made an attempt at visiting the Art History sites on our approved list. In the end, they behaved surprisingly well, and we had a good time, and by the time noses were counted, I could relax on the train ride back to Florence.
Thanks to their good behavior and them gamely listening to the art history notes I gave them on the works of art found in the Basilica of San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, and the outer island glass factories of Murano and Burano, I did have some time to explore on my own. Getting lost down the calles in Venice is a delightful experience. The best way to discover the residential Venice – the everyday workings of the elegant city is by riding in a gondola – a rare (and expensive) pleasure these days. However, one of my co-sponsors on the trip, a homegrown Italian man, insisted we try it…and what a delight it was! We did not rent a gondola near the tourist packed Bridge of Sighs, we ventured farther afield into the back canals and he hailed a gondola there, just like a veteran New Yorker would hail a taxi. We climbed aboard and settled into the luxurious velvet pillowed seat, and he gave out staccato directions. The gondolier poled us along through the bright summer day with the sun glinting off the water into a winding maze of waterways through the residential district. Lorenzo was showing me the “real” Venice, he said…off the beaten path. Being the professor he is, he lectured on the storied history of the once city-state and its fascinating beginnings in the spice trade. After fending off Dalmatian pirates for over 100 years, the Venetian sailors finally succeeded in securing the trade routes and Venice became a very wealthy nation. Venice is built on an archipelago of over a hundred islands formed by canals in a shallow lagoon. Many of the luxurious palaces were built on wooden pilings sunk deep in the soft sand down into the harder clay bottom of the lagoon. Over time, these alder pilings have petrified in the mineral rich waters and continue to hold the grand palaces steady on their foundations. The homes are connected by waterways and hundreds of bridges. In the old centre, the canals serve the function of roads, and almost every form of transport is on water or on foot. Travelling by gondola was a rare treat indeed.
I snapped a few pictures of the grand palaces along the way. Many had private gondolas or motor taxis tied up outside the entrances. Traveling the canals provided a peek at everyday Venetian life. I returned to counting heads on the train very satisfied with my Venetian experience.