Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thoughts of Venice

Prior to our arrival, and knowing nothing particular about Venice except rumour, I was prepared for mosquitoes, overcharging traders and muddy paths leading to bridges over the canals. None of this turned out to be true.

On the main island where we were, Venice has no cars, buses, taxis or bikes. People walk, dragging their luggage over the steps of the bridges, or they take a water bus or water taxi.

Venice is also clean and safe. We saw rubbish bags being put out in the evening: by next morning they were gone. The mechanism remained elusive.

Walkways are cheap, canals are much more expensive and bridges over them more so again. This creates a connectivity structure where there are many walkways at all scales from broad thoroughfares through to alleys so narrow that only one person can walk down them. Because bridges are so expensive, most walkways meander into dead ends, or stop at the edge of a canal, or slowly drift in orientation until one is walking imperceptibly in the opposite direction. It is easy to get lost, especially as the maps freely donated by hotels and the web bear little relationship to on-the-ground reality.

Restaurants normally charged us what it said on the menu and we saw few signs of tourist-specific mark-up. There were few mosquitoes or flies of any description, and we were not bitten.

At one of the art galleries we saw a huge painting of St Mark’s Square, created in the 15th century. It looked exactly like it does today. I had had little idea of the extreme antiquity of Venice before this.

I should add that the birds are extremely tame and aggressive. We frequently had sparrows hopping onto our restaurant tables looking for scraps of bread and dolces. We had our hair brushed by transient pigeon wings more than once.

The author in Venice