G and C along the Zattere (Venice)
Venice is a stunningly beautiful place. This is a universal truth. Not everyone, however, likes it that much. Yes, the crowds seem omnipresent and smothering.
This, however, is only partially true. Ninety percent of the tourists are always in ten percent of Venice - prinicpally in and around Piazza San Marco. But there are some ways to avoid the crowds and not spend all day in line waiting to see the
dazzling Basilica San Marco or the Doge's Palace.
Go later in the day. The tour groups and the hordes from the cruise ships start rolling in around 10 in the morning.
Lots of them are gone by mid-afternoon.
As for the Piazza itself - one of the world's great outdoor public spaces - go after the sun goes down. The Piazza at night is virtually
deserted (and reasonably safe). Cafe Florian and Cafe Quadri have been around for centuries and although ridiculously expensive offer a night under the heavens, a bellini and an orchestra. If you need more than that - well, I can't help you.
If you're intent on getting a break from the crowds and still seeing Venice, it's actually quite easy. First of all, buy a vaporetto (water bus) pass. This will allow you to
hop on and off these overgrown barges and go from one neighborhood to another in no time. There are only 3 bridges that cross the Grand Canal and getting from one place to another can be time consuming (not to mention confusing and tiring). The
vaporetto pass will save time and money (and you can never see too much of the Grand Canal).
The Zattere (a pedestrian walkway that runs along Giudecca Canal between Dorsoduro
and Giudecca) is easy to find: cross the Accademia Bridge, keeping going straight past the Accademia until you fall into the Giudecca Canal - you have gone too far. Get out of canal. You are now standing on the zattere. It runs from one end
of Dorsoduro to the other and offers a view of the canal (much wider and far less traffic than the Grand Canal) and Giudecca. You will never have to elbow past crowds. Walk to the end and visit Santa Maria della Salute and La Dogana da Mar and
gaze at the mouth of the Grand Canal. From this vantage point, with the sun going down, it is easy to imagine that centuries ago this city ruled the world. Not in the way Rome ruled the world - with occupying armies. But by bringing the world
what it wanted - spices, silk, furs, fruits.
The neighborhood of Santa Croce (between the train station and the neighborhood of San Marco) is home to two of Venezia's greatest
artistic treasures: Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (commonly referred to as the "Frari") and Chiesa di San Rocco/Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The Frari contains Titian's "Assumption of The Virgin". Commissioned in 1516 "The Assumption",
about 30 feet high, is set behind the main altar and framed by the entirety of the 13th Century church in which it has always existed There is no more dramatically situated painting in the Western world.
Titian (1488-1576) is buried in the Frari, although the tomb in which he lies was not sculpted until the mid-1800's.
is the Church of S. Rocco and the Scuola Grande. During the Renaissance a "scuola" (Italian for school) was a fraternal/charitable organization of sorts, designed to provide for the poor and promote the arts (and to give the rich guys a place to hang
In the mid-16th century one of Venice's greatest sons, Tintoretto worked out a deal with the scuola. In exchange for a yearly stipend he would decorate the walls
and ceiling of the scuola. The bargain enabled Tintoretto to spend the next two decades on the project. The result is what many call Tintoretto's Sistine Chapel. Well, yes and no. True much of the work is on the ceiling and it is Christo-centric.
However, Tinoretto's work employs a much different style and lacks the color shock of Michelangelo's work. That said, it is a work of unquestionable genius.
have a great history of storytelling, embroidered with precisely choreagraphed hand gestures (not to be used by amateurs - this can easily result in unintended insults or, at best, confusion, if not actual danger). So powerful is the need to tell stories
that they invented an entirely novel way of doing so - opera. Words alone were insufficient. The addition of music was necessary to convey a fuller, unmediated sense of the intensity and range of emotions experienced by human beings.
So, one night, Cindy and I found ourselves at the opera. Well, not the opera as presented in La Fenice, Venice's beautiful Opera House with a full orchestra and cast of thousands.
We attended something called "Musica a Palazzo".
Set in a palace on the Grand Canal we were presented with a musical quartet (pianoforte and strings) along with a scaled
down cast (four singing parts in our case). The various scenes are played out in the rooms of the palace. This is not high school theatre. These are professional musicians in every respect and the show is quite thrilling. With only
50 or so people in the audience, you are close enough to hear the actors breathe. Naturally, no amplification is needed. It's just you, the musicians and the singers. We saw "The Barber of Seville" (you know, Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!
- that one).
Almost as interesting as the performance itself was the process of getting a ticket.
was a display of Italy's love/hate relationship with procedure, forms and stamping those forms. You make tentative reservations on line, which are confirmed by phone the day before the scheduled performance. You bring with you to the performance
a form previously completed that contains name, address, e-mail. When you arrive you give one person your money. You are directed to another person who takes your completed form and places it in a loose leaf binder. Another person then gives
you a little card and Presto! we were official members of the Circolo Culturale (The Culture Club). You gotta love it.