This year’s winter escape was to Venice… where the cold was even more intense than Paris, but the sun shone all weekend, drowning the city in strong, diffuse light.
It was my first visit to city. One of the most striking qualities of the city is indeed its light… where the sky and lagoon meld into one, as if the city is riding on clouds, rather than sitting on the ocean. In the view across the lagoon from the boatyard at Giudecca, the poles marking the shipping lanes slip quietly into the invisible horizon.
After the sun sank beneath the lagoon, we walked back across Venice, which had assumed the guise of some Expressionist horror film. Emptied of tourists, small hidden squares awaited macabre intrigue involving Shylock or Donald Sutherland, and the dock of La Fenice theatre stood ready to receive phantom guests from the other side.
Somebody once wrote that Venice was the most beautiful city built by man. Everybody should visit once, if they have the chance… by travelling in January, we missed the oppressive crowds of Carnavale and Summer, but there were still plenty of visitors, willing to part with their euros for a trip through the morning mist of the Grand Canal.
Wishing to save our money for food (and Venice provided some of the best seafood we’ve ever tasted), we contented ourselves with a short crossing by traghetto... the bare-bones gondolas that ferry passengers across the Grand Canal, charging just 50 cents a trip.
I cannot imagine that I will not be back. For this first reconnaissance mission, we stuck to exploring the city, and travelling by vaporetto between the city’s islands. This was feast enough for us. Next time, we might start digging into the art museums, or the churches, or the markets.
In Venice the light reached everywhere. It stabbed the heart of Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and glowed deep and green at night on the basin opposite St Mark’s Square. When Thomas Mann’s composer Gustave von Aschenbach went searching for ideal beauty, it is no wonder that he found it in Venice.
Yes, we will be back.