My friend David once described Venice as a theme park for grown ups where the rides never end. There’s no denying the magic that’s woven into the network of interconnecting canals and the gravity defying gondoliers, but I just don’t recall coming across so many touts and fake handbag sellers in Disney. Or so many whinging Americans for that matter Oh, and there is another big difference – Disney is not drowning (see photo).
This has been a holiday of nearlys – like how we nearly missed our flight (making check-in with 5 mins to go), or how we nearly made it to Harry’s Bar for a Bellini, or how we nearly dined at Vini di Gigio or nearly tucked into tagliatelli con granseola at the Trattoria Favorita, and how we nearly visited the cemetery island of San Michele. But for all the near misses, we made some interesting discoveries that I suspect Venetians would like to keep out of tourist guide books – for example, ending up in a wonderful hotel on the Grand Canal ideally located for the buses, trains and vaporetti, sipping lots of Bellinis at Bacaro Jazz with Diana Krall playing in the background, or having the full 3-courses (seafood antipasti including the local Venetian delicacy of sarde in saor (fried sardines braised in wine vinegar, onions, pine nuts and raisins) followed by spaghetti bursara and carpaccio) in the garden restaurant of Al Nono Risorto, or sitting Wagamama-style in long benches at the Osteria al Bomba where J declared she had the best ravioli ever as I slurped at my very tasty spaghetti nero, cooked in squid ink and full of bits of cuttlefish, or how we ended up walking on the long island of Lido, admiring the huge country villas that would make nice holiday and/or retirement homes.
In a recent BBC TV series, Francesco da Mosto lamented the passing of his beautiful city from a historic strategic trading post to a mecca for street traders, peddling imitation Murano glassware, tacky carnival masks and dodgy leather goods. And while I sympathise with him and the 40,000 or so Venetians who have to put up with the commercialisation of this beautiful city, Venice just wouldn’t be half as interesting without the quaint shopping alleys in Rialto and San Marco. I mean, try to imagine the Champs-Elysee without shops, or the Khan in Cairo without the souks – without commerce, these places would be interesting only to architects, hard core historians and romantics like da Mosto, all pining after a era that is not as encapsulating or relevant to a materialistic 21st century society who is armed to the teeth with the ubiquitous credit card. I’m sure Casanova (or Byron for that matter) never had this problem with shopping – but during his day, he probably had more things to occupy himself … like going skinny-dipping in the canals with his girlies – a practice that is no longer allowed, clothed or otherwise Ummm, there’s a thought – if I was the Doge in 8th century Venice, I would order the sinking of Murano (to obliterate any future in glass making), become more friendly with the Pope, sack a few more cities in Asia, and turn the Lido into a nudist colony. And then I would call my pal Walt to build a giant underwater roller-coaster along the Grand Canal, which will stay open despite the rising sea levels caused by future global warming.