16 March 2015

Venetian Horizons

This blog seems to be going in all sorts of different directions (which, perhaps, is hardly surprising, given its name). It was intially supposed to be geared towards music, but I think that it would be such a waste not to write about my recent travel experiences here...

   A post about Venice is long overdue. I went out there for a few days in January to visit a friend, and fell in love with the place. Apart from the setback of (potentially) lousy weather, and the fact that riding in a gondola is really not pleasant in winter, trips to Venice in January are ideal, because it's the only time of year that the place isn't swarming with tourists. Only in the winter months does the city retain its quiet and somewhat doleful charm, untainted by the noise of crowds thronging to see the Piazza San Marco, Ponte di Rialto and the other big tourist attractions. Although these hotspots are worth visiting for their splendour, it's also worth straying off the beaten track and doing a bit of exploration, to find the places that are a little more quiet and a little more tucked away.

Basilica di San Marco

One of the smaller canals 

The very north of the Cannaregio area
Venice is susceptible to unexpected flooding due to high tides - called acqua alta in Italian - which often makes life difficult for locals and tourists alike. Flood defences are hastily installed and unsuspecting tourists are caught unawares, rushing to buy wellies and raincoats. I'm very glad it didn't happen when I went!
My friend's door was fitted at the bottom with a metal frame which bamboozled me, as it bore the appearance of a glaringly obvious and substandard booby trap, to be tripped over by those who entered and left the house. But apparently defences like that are always installed on doors during periods of high tide.

     The Venetian phenomenon gives its name to one of Venice's (badly) hidden gems- the Libreria Acqua Alta. This beautiful bookshop is in the Castello area, and well worth a visit. The shop is positively sinking (pardon the pun) under tons of books- new and old, on all subjects, and in all languages. You will be greeted as you walk in by a few of the bookshop's very own cats who will smirk at you lazily and reluctantly allow themselves to be stroked; you will barely make it through the door and already you'll be rummaging in the heaps of books, magazines, newspapers and posters piled on to tables and inside bathtubs. Bathtubs? Yes -  it's done to preserve the books from unpredicted flooding. Sadly, a lot of the books have been ruined by water in past years despite these precautions, giving the shop a decaying and musty smell (which nonetheless does not detract from the general charm of the place).

Libreria Acqua Alta

Our trip was just around the time of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, and there was a protest held in Venice at Campo Manin on 12th January, to which we went. It was such a mournful atmosphere, but also one of unyielding solidarity. These shots that my sister took capture it quite well:

Protestors in Campo Manin

That's one of the great things about Venice- it may seem a little isolated from the rest of the continent (indeed, from the rest of Italy) but this is really not the case, as it is active both culturally and politically the whole year round.

Venice at night seems even more captivating than during the daytime, and even a little eerie. I read before going there that there are hardly any streetlights and that it gets pretty gloomy, but I didn't realise the extent to which this would be true. It really is just as dark as it's made out to be, which makes map-reading and getting your way around that little bit more difficult. Yet I wouldn't swap night-time walks in Venice for anything. We thoroughly explored the Cannaregio district in the dark, and came out onto a kind of platform which faces the sea... 

You stand there, look out onto the water, and imagine that you're not standing on solid ground. You wonder- why am I hovering above the water? Why am I not sinking? And there's this feeling of infinity, of permanence. It's incredible. It's a shame that this photo is blurred... It's also a shame that the more and more these Venetian memories retreat into the past, the more blurred they get, until they're just about visible on the horizon...

But I'll do my best to never forget the experience.
The Arsenale in Castello

This Tchaikovsky piece sums up the mood of Venice quite nicely I think:

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