Dear Readers, I was wondering if we were actually going to get to Venice, following this news on the night before we departed:
Apparently a gang of about 200 gulls landed on the runway at Marco Polo, forcing the plane carrying the president of the Veneto to be diverted to Trieste. The usual measures to dissuade birds were used (which involve a falconer and an ‘acoustic deterrent’) and eventually the gulls sighed and moved on. Here is one waiting on the Canareggio Canal for someone to pass by with an ice-cream or an unguarded pizza slice, though to be fair this is just a young ‘un, it’s the adults who have learned all the tricks of the trade.
Clearly some restauranteurs along the canal have found the birds annoying, as evidenced by these anti-seagull measures:
And I rather like the way that the ‘seagulls’ dance to the sound of the church bells in the clip below.
Anyhow, our flight was perfectly fine and we arrived in Cannaregio, found our apartment and set out to explore. We usually just spend the first day hanging out and drinking too much coffee, but as this is where John proposed to me back in 2000, we always try to find our way back to the café where he popped the question. In previous years it was no longer a café but a pizzeria, but this time it was back to being a café again, so we had to stop for old times sake. When John proposed we were seated between two German tourists and a Venetian lady with pink hair and a small white poodle on her lap, and when I said yes everyone applauded, so it will always have a special place in my heart.
And so we headed off to St Marks Square, because it has to be done at least once. They were clearly expecting an Aqua Alta as they had the raised boards out – these are basically trestle tables, just wide enough for people to pass one another, which make getting around Venice (especially on the path to and from St Marks) even more of a pain than it is usually. But nonetheless it is an extraordinary public square, with something spectacular wherever you turn.
A man was selling pigeon food, but I suspected that it would be the gulls who got most of it – the young ones sit on the ground looking pathetic, while the adults keep an eye on the square for anyone not paying attention.
The best time to visit the main sites of Venice (there are so many, but St Marks Square, the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile are probably the most well-known) is definitely first thing in the morning. Having said which, I have never been inside any of these buildings, because the crush is always too much, and I like the smaller, less well-known sites, of which more later this week. But in the meantime, I’d never had a close look at the capitols on the pillars around the Doge’s palace. What are these monkeys doing? I’m sure there’s a story here.
Then we head in the general direction of the School of the Dalmatians (better known as the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni), home to a series of paintings by Carpaccio, probably my favourite Venetian painter. Alas, as we turned the corner a tour group of about 30 people were entering the church, and that’s at least 20 people too many for a comfortable viewing. We’ll be back later in the week for sure, but in the meantime here’s one of my favourites. It shows St Augustine in his study, and while there have been different interpretations, the one that I favour is that it shows St Augustine at the exact moment that his beloved mentor, St Jerome, died – it’s said that a divine light filled the room, which can be seen from the long shadows in the study. What I love most, of course, is the little dog. Carpaccio, as we will see, was a close observer of animals and people, and his paintings are often full of strange creatures and complicated goings on. What I love most about this one is its serenity.
And then we head back to Cannaregio via an increasingly confusing set of alleyways and squares. At one point, we head through a covered archway, where a small Italian tour group are gathered. As we wander through, they cry, as one,
“Don’t stand on the red stone!”
Well of course I had to investigate when I got home, and it turns out that this alley way was the turning point in the 1630 outbreak of the plague – it’s said that the disease never got any further than this spot, and therefore it’s very bad luck to step on the red stone. The reason was that a local woman, Giovanna, had a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared to her and asked for a painting of the Madonna, St Roch and St Sebastian to be painted on the walls of the portico containing the red stone (between Calle Zorzi and Calle della Corte Nova since you ask). After this, the plague dared go no further, and the red stone was placed to indicate where it turned back.
So on we go. Here we have a gas holder. I had no idea that Venice even had gas, but clearly it does.
Of course, in honour of my friend Margaret and her adventures, we had to pay tribute to the hospital in Venice, right next door to the Basilica Giovanni i Paolo. Because it’s Sunday and services were in progress we weren’t able to go into the Basilica, but I fully intend to light a candle for Margaret, and one for all the other people that I’ve lost over the past few years, which will make for quite a display.
And by now the water is rising, and it’s definitely time to head home before we get too wet. Plus, it must surely be time for another coffee? You can never have too much coffee in Venice.