About Venice, writes Henry James in Italian Hours, "There is notoriously nothing more to be said about the subject." Yet he, like I, find that even the most exhausted topic, the most-written about city of the world, can be added to.

Yes, Venice has been visited before, and written about before. But I am not so jaded a traveler as to believe that a place is not worth visiting -- or writing about -- if it has already been "discovered" by others. I have tried that kind of travel before, as when I sought out abandoned Jesuit missions in northern Argentina, or found someone to take me to the Chilean altiplano to see the peaks of the high cordillera. There are thrills to be had in ordinary, plain-Jane travel as much as in those kinds of adventure, although they may be more exotic and breath-taking.

One doesn't have to visit Venice. One chooses to visit Venice and one visits Venice for pleasure -- as we did in these last few days -- not for duty. And so Venice became a city for just the two of us, for my husband and I, a breathless interlude between one Tuscan day and another -- Venice! There could not be a place in Italy more different from the Tuscan hill towns that we have frequented as of late, with their somber stone citadels overlooking olive groves and hay fields. Venice is baroque, extravagant, a wedding-cake of a metropolis, decadent and in decay.

Like Rio de Janeiro or Hong Kong, Venice is so spectacularly situated between land and sky that this would be enough to call attention to itself, even if Venice were not full of Medieval and Renaissance palaces, charming gondoliers, and hidden passageways. We spent our days divided between exploring the city on foot, and cruising the canals and ports of Venice and its neighboring islands by vaporetti, Venetian ferries. I cannot think of a more delightful way to spend a summer afternoon than to board a vaporetto and make one's way to Burano, Murano, and Torcello, the outer islands. This was our itinerary for one day and, despite getting a bad sunburn, I preferred the sea air and the sun to the city's many churches and museums, which run together in my memory.
Venice is still here, but the seas are rising, and it is uncertain how much longer the city will be able to withstand the tides. More than anything, the knowledge of the city's possible demise, and its current state as a living museum, make Venice a city of double losses: the geopolitical decline of the maritime republic (a loss which has already occurred) and the destruction of the physical city to the waves and salt (a future loss). Caught between such images of the fall, is it any wonder than Venice is somewhat melancholy, somewhat tawdry in its shine and gloss?

I would return to Venice again, if it were possible for the same person to visit the same city twice (Heroclitus), but I suspect that Venice is better once-visited, as a young bride, than left for future comparisons, for who is to say that both the city and I won't be worse for the wear?

1 comment:

Katharine said...

I heard recently a discussion on NPR about mystery and detective novels. One of the things discussed was about how one of the strengths of the genre was the strong sense of place and environment. Not only do they serve as a travel log but also as a character in itself reflecting or contrasting themes in the book.
I write this because there is an extremely well-written series of detective novels by Donna Leon featuring Venice with the protagonist Commissario Guido Brunetti. It deals with a lot of ambiguity of right and wrong, corruption, and of course Venice.
Here is an interview with Donna Leon:


You should check out her books. They are not at all conventional of the genre.