A special month is engraved now in my heart and mind. Every month is special, of course, but the blessings of time in this city have once again charmed and enthralled me.
I leave with so many wonderful memories of time with my daughter and husband, too many to try to share or write down, I wish I could, but those are mine, and you shall make your own.
Venice itself is a priceless museum, a moment in time, evolving and frozen, the people here have exuded their class and enthusiasm like some invisible atmosphere, their love of life and sense of wonder are contagious, and Joseph and I are, as always, infected, saturated with the germs of life and laughter.
I have fabulous pictures, of course, but one thing I will always remember, and the suggestion of which will produce waves of sense memory, are the smells. Yes, sometimes Venice smells of the sea, of tides, of moisture, of mossy damp, but as you walk, ah, as you walk.
We exit our apartment and the warmth of radiated heat interspersed in the moist air of the marble stairwell greets us. We open the huge wooden doors onto the street and the canal and the bakeries with their yeasty love assault us. The wind brings us hints of the sea and the marsh, inviting, secret scents. We cross a stone bridge, listening to the chatter of joy and the calls of greeting and pass a tiny shop in a narrow brick alleyway, where everyday, all day, they bake fresh pizza rustico. This is not the delicious thin version so often served here, but thick, bread-like slabs smeared in sauce and cheeses and every delicious accompaniment you can imagine.
As we pass it we move on to the square, hitting the open avenue where each evening the locals ‘promenade.’ Many a twilight found us seated at a café table with an aperitif in hand, a bowl of salty, crisp and thin, homemade potato chips at our fingertips, watching the ebbing tapestry of life. Children on scooters and rollerblades, friends calling out enthusiastic “Ciao!”s and every version of intense conversation moving or still in the constant flow of people, conversations that take more than just words to participate in, they take punctuation of hands, rolls of eyes, symphonies of syllables and intonation.
And nearby, they serve hot chocolate, not hot chocolate like we do, thin as water, but thick, melted chocolate with fresh cream, dense as snow, laid over the top with a spoon. This is a treat so rich it must be served not on a plate, but in a mug.
And on it goes. The smell of rich sauces cooking on every other corner as the locals prepare their dinners of the richest ingredients bought daily from stalls on the street. Ripe tomatoes, basil grown in pots, never dried, sweet peppers, onions pulled from the earth yesterday, meats from a tiny butcher, who sells only what is best, from cows contentedly grazing only days before. Preservatives are scoffed at, as is pasteurization or freezing, and the result is not only taste, but health. It was hard, when we visited the cemetery, to find a grave of someone less than 80. I think that should tell us something.
As for the treasures of Venice, the art, the architecture, the city itself, these things are remarkable, irreplaceable, and indelibly printed in our hearts.
But it’s the simple things that I remember the most. So I will leave this city with this story.
We were visiting the Scuola de Rocco. One of the most famous and magnificent buildings here, the entire interior is decorated by gigantic painting by Tintoretto, carved wood walls and seating for the great members of that great Union that are works of art in themselves. On the top floor is a room filled with their religious relicts, goblets, crosses, grails, each of them wrought of gold and silver and priceless jewels. Many of them are so ornate that they required years of an artisans’ life to complete. A guard sits sentry at all times. One of these objects could feed a village for a year, and that doesn’t take into account the artistry and skill of their beauty.
We were not alone as we walked through this room. A young father was holding his daughter, she was probably between 2 and 3. As they went from stunning treasure to priceless work of art, I heard her childish voice ask, “What’s that Daddy?”
The father was English, and with typical patience and grace, he answered, “That’s the fire extinguisher, darling.”
And the sound of my laughter in the hallowed, hushed room rang out so that the long dead craftsmen must have stirred in their heaven and smiled down at us.
Sometimes, it’s the treasures, and sometimes, it’s the thing you wouldn’t usually notice that you carry with you.
I take home the scents and the weather and the laughter of Venice. If you ask me why I chose to turn down that narrow passageway, with no idea where it would lead me, I will answer you, “Because the wind invited me.”
Ciao, Venezia, a la prossima volta.
Shari March 18th, 2013.