Venetian Calm and Venetian Crowds

Saint Mark’s basilica, Venice, Italy

“Venice has been painted and described many thousands of times” wrote Henry James in Italian Hours, published in 1909 (and which I downloaded for free on my Kindle). A century later, my visit there, as a single mom with her teenage son, was probably no more or less remarkable. The surprise to me was that the Turkish/Muslim influence is so very present, in the keyhole window openings in buildings, in the art that remains itself. In Venice, I began to remember, as I had learned back in college, that Italy is made up of former city-states and wasn’t unified until the 1800s. Basilica San Marco is modeled after a Greek Orthodox cross, not the Roman Catholic one. The lavishness is nice to look at but contrasts so with the humbleness of priests, nuns dressed conservatively. It’s a palace of a church, yet my son and I marveled at the Doge Palace next door, where it was the pope who would climb the steps to kiss the ring of the doge. Or so our tour guide said. Between the two buildings, there was plenty to keep the Youthful Adventurer engaged, from the water at the entrance of San Marco to our walk on the terrace upstairs.

Doge Palace in Venice, Italy

In between, we saw a coffin containing the bones of Marco, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, and a stone from a post at which Jesus Christ was flogged. The sad walk from the Doge Palace along the interior of the Bridge of Sighs to the prison cells below held plenty of intrigue for a 13 year old. We ended one of our days in Venezia with a ghost tour we met at the Rialto Bridge. A visit to Murano didn’t quite go as well, given that young boys and expensive glass objects don’t often mix, and then we headed out of town via a crowded vaporetto ride to the train station. I was reminded of James’s comment of this city on water where “there is no noise there save distinctly human noise; no rumbling, no vague uproar, nor rattle of wheels and hoofs.” A century later, it was crowded but still pacific. I am hopeful that I’ll be able to follow James’s guidance, as he suggested that “the only way to care for Venice as she deserves it is to give her a chance to touch you often—to linger and remain and return.”

© Lori Tripoli

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