Venice, Italy

It’s been so long since I was in Venice — almost a year and a half — that I had to jog my memory by reading the notes I jotted down on my phone at the time. They start with, “Venice = mission-driven with not enough time for the mission.” On second thought, that could describe my whole life. Here are some pictures.

I figured I could get away with spending just one night in Venice since I had already been there once before, for two days in March, 2000. I knew I would want to stay longer — probably much longer — but I also knew that in order to spend more time there, I would have had to give up a night in the Dolomites or another city along my route, and I wasn’t willing to do that. So instead, I spent nine or ten hours running around like a chicken with my head cut off, feeling rather stressed out. Not a great way to be on vacation. The funny thing is, it made me realize that I must have spent my previous sojourn in Venice in much the same way. There was a distinct nostalgia to the feeling of rushing, and this would also explain why I can barely recall that visit, either.

First thing I did after arrival, this time around, was walk to Piazzo San Marco, which I did vaguely remember (mostly because of the copious pigeons both times).

I was disappointed that the big tower was closed for renovations. I took in the slightly less vast, but still pretty, view from the top of the basilica instead.

The inside of the basilica was beautiful, too — I have no idea if this was my first or second time seeing it.

I walked by Harry’s Bar and stopped in to take a peek. I used to work next door to a Cipriani in New York, and I was a regular at their cafe. Harry’s Bar iconography was all over the place there, so I knew the two must be affiliated, but I didn’t know how.

A very kind bartender filled me in on the history. (And here I refer to my notes again): the Venice bar/restaurant, which was the very first one (opened in 1931), is owned and managed by the son of the original co-owner. His name is Arrigo, which is the Italian version of Harry. There is also an American Harry involved in the story, but it gets complicated. In any case, 88 year-old Arrigo was in Harry’s Bar that day, in a very dapper suit, having lunch with the staff, all of them also in suits, as they apparently do almost every day. It was so old world; I loved it.

The bartender told me that the upstairs portion of the restaurant was closed because, “it’s dead this time of year.” (It was late January.) I had been battling crowds all morning and I asked incredulously, “This is dead?” He just laughed and said, “Oh yeah.” It makes me really sad to think about this now. Neither of us could have imagined just how empty Venice would get only a month or so later.

I was getting hungry but didn’t want to eat at Harry’s Bar. Following the New York Times’ advice, I was in search of a bacaro that served cicchetti (two words I didn’t know before reading the article). The only problem is that I hadn’t written down those two words, nor the names of any of the places recommended by the Times, nor their addresses, and I only had slow roaming data, which is pretty much like having no Internet at all. The only thing I remembered was that I was supposed to find a wine bar on the other side of the Rialto bridge, somewhere behind the Rialto fish market, that served little tapas-like thingies. This proved more difficult than it sounds.

By the time I found a place, it was way past lunchtime and I had gone from hungry to hangry. There was a selection of maybe fifteen different cicchetti, but since so much is fried in flour, there were only five gluten-free things I could eat. I ordered all five.

Everything was delicious. There was a scallop served in an actual seashell! My note about the meal: I thought the shell was a decorative plate until I found the scallop firmly stuck to it and had to pry it off. [This delighted me, by the way. I grew up very sheltered, as it were, from seafood.]

My next note says: Everyone seems to be wearing their most luxurious, glamorous outfits in Venice. Meanwhile, I got locked in a toilet and had a panic attack.

This part of my visit, I unfortunately do remember quite well. After eating a really nice meal and lingering over an espresso, I looked at the time and thought, “It’s getting late — I better get to Murano!” I wanted to make an unhurried visit to the glass museum and then do a lot of window shopping and treat myself to a really stunning piece of glass from one of the factory shops. (Murano glass is expensive but exquisite. I had not been to the island known for its unique glassblowing techniques on my first trip to Venice — I didn’t know a thing about glass then — but in the intervening two decades I have become a small-time art glass lover.)

So, I gathered my things and decided to make a quick pit stop in the bathroom before getting on the vaporetto. That turned into twenty minutes of anguish, which I don’t need to get into here. Suffice it to say I left that place close to tears and the only thing that made me feel better was telling myself, “Nothing a little Venetian dessert won’t fix.” I walked into the nearest bakery and asked if they had panna cotta. No. Gelato? No. Mousse? No. Anything gluten-free? No.

I arrived in Murano with an anxiety hangover, and also feeling hurried, dejected, and rejected. But I was immediately buoyed by the sight of the glass marvels all around me.

I didn’t have time to visit the glass museum after all, but instead I stopped in to a glass factory where the owner, Stefano, showed me how he can make a glass horse in a minute flat. It was stunning.

Stefano offered me the horse, but I was too incredulous to accept it. Before I knew what was happening, he shrugged and threw the creature into the fire, melting it back into the molten ooze from whence it came. It felt like a fable. I started sputtering and Stefano just said, “Good artist is crazy. If you don’t crazy, you don’t artist.”

After leaving Stefano’s place, I hurried around to a few different shops, trying to find the specific caning and swirling patterns I adore so much. I ended up spending probably 25% of the total cost of my vacation on five pieces of glass, but they are so exceptionally beautiful and they make me so happy, that I have no regrets. In fact, I am looking at them lovingly as I type these words.

By the time I left the island, the sun was setting, which had not been my intention.

Ah well. There was one final thing I wanted to do. I had the last-minute idea to visit the Jewish ghetto as a sort of redemption for Innsbruck and Salzburg’s disappointments. Unfortunately, by the time I got there it was too dark to see a thing. I tried to lurk around the edges of an English-language walking tour without being caught eavesdropping. All I could gather was that the main square was the site of a mass round-up and deportation. Then I got really sad and left to find dinner. (On the way I passed by Marco Polo’s house, but again it was too dark to see. Street lights don’t seem to be very common in Venice. I guess because the streets are mostly canals.)

The next morning I took one last, gorgeous vaporetto ride back to the train station, and I departed for the Dolomites.

It was definitely too short a trip, but every moment of it (except the toilet debacle) was molto dulce.

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