Unfortunately, Venice is quite literally sinking into the sea.
A 1966 project utilizing a series of moveable dams is just not quite enough to protect the city from floods, nor are its rotting pylons. When I arrived in the Piazza San Marco, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The famous square had been completely taken over by dirty evil pigeons. Walking through a moving gray carpet of cooing, I found a pigeon perching on my foot—before I booted it into the wild blue yonder like a black-and-white soccer ball.
According to humorist Mark Twain, the Basilica of San Marco (with details ranging from 13th-century Byzantine to 16th-century Rennaissance) was like “a vast and warty bug taking a meditative walk.” Venice is indeed a dream, an illusion, a marvel.
I dug the Doge’s Palace, with its 15th-century carving of a seasick Noah, as well as its wall-size interior of Tintoretto’s “Coronation of the Virgin.” In Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” the genius Italian fabulist describes how Marco Polo entertains Kublai Khan with tales of impossible cities he has seen throughout his travels through the Mongolian Empire—hidden cities, trading cities, cities in the sky, cities of the dead—which are attempts to mimic one place: Venice.
“If I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time,” Polo says, “now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop.” I too stand upon unstable grounds. Now everyone loves the Grand Canal, even Mary McCarthy, who says (no: gushes) in “Venice Observed,” “Venice is the world’s unconscious: a miser’s glittering hoard, guarded by a beast whose eyes are made of white agate and by a saint who is really a prince who has just slain a dragon.”
Verily, this capital of the vast Venetian Empire was built by greed and commerce, as well as a mean-eyed commercial milieux who lived solely for gain, the ultimate caricature being The Merchant of Venice, the not-very-well-liked “Shylock” who demanded a pound of flesh to repay his rapacious usury. Much like Bela Lugosi skinning Boris Karloff alive in the film classic parable The Black Cat.
The Crusades were solely a business venture for the Venetians, including such masters as Tintoretto and Tiepolo who plucked painting from plunder. The defiant columns of St. Mark and St. Theodore are like two solitary middle fingers warning against all attackers, including paranormal paparazzo like me.
D.H. Lawrence however did not like it, calling it “An abhorrent, green, slippery city,” while Thomas Mann used it as a setting for his horrifying fable “Death in Venice.” Exploring the canals via gondola, with striped-shirted grinning gondoliers romancing anything that moved, I fancied, wait a triple-sec, I really want a Sambuca!
Built on 118 pieces of islet-like land crisscrossed by narrow streets and bridges, and linked of course by canals graced not only by gondolas but by vaporetti, Venice is a Paid Advertisement for young lovers locking tongues on floating coffins in a tomb-like museum of the mind.
With commedia della arte in check, I stared at the Ca’ d’ Oro (House of Gold), the Santa Maria della Salute, and the glittering glint of ghostly towers and crowns wavering off the phlegmatic flowing waters, beckoning lovesick sightseers and suicides.
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