For the pious – Christians at least – today begins the 40 days of Lenten fasting after the glorious excesses of Carnevale in the preceding days. Last year we spent a weekend in Venice with my darling Cathy and Isabelle joining in that most gaudy of celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras. It was another chance to enjoy one of my favourite cities in the world: I have often recalled the first time I flew into Venice and as we passed over the city with all those familiar sites glistening in the bright sunlight thinking, “well this is either a city I will truly love or truly hate!” I went back four more times so I will let you decide what the verdict was.
Yes it is touristy, yes the prices are inflated, yes it is crowded and yes occasionally – though not often – the people can be a bit surly but it is still one of the most magical places on earth. Wander into Piazza San Marco from the Ala Napoleonica after midnight; sit in the shadow of the leaning bell tower of San Stefano as your spoon scoops into a gelato at Paolin; stroll the back calle around the Arsenal; walk the fondementi in Dorsodura; peak into a church in Santa Sofia and discover the most incredible marble trompe l’oeil.
But Venice is more than a stage set for Carnivale, gondolieri and music students in soiled 18th century drag hawking concerts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Despite its dwindling population, it is a place where people live but live in constant threat from the sea that gives the city and their lives their uniqueness. This video that my friend Anna posted on Facebook is a “Backstage” look at what it takes to keep that magic image for the visitor and the niceties of day to day life for the Venetians.
In 1876 John Ruskin, whose three volume work The Stones of Venice (an exhaustive study of the city) was published in 1851, was struck by the amount of damage that had been caused in 30 years by the combination of the climatic conditions, neglect and poor restorations techniques. He would no doubt be astonished to see that many of those “stones” he wrote about and drew in such detail were still around and hopefully he would be pleased with the new efforts at restoration and more important preservation.
22 February – 1632: Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems is published.