LA SERENISSIMA – September 29th

Slumber my sorry ass. Oh, lagging jets. Describing a night’s erratic sleep is like describing a lame date. No one gives a fuck. Breakfast at Aquamare occurs up on the terrace, but there’s a German couple on the terrace. I step back inside. No Buongiorno. No nothing. At ten o’clock I have booked us a ‘special’ ticket to the Doge’s Palace. No line waiting. The Doge had an apartment, a small one, in the building, but the palace served primarily as the seat of government. Venice called itself a Republic; not in the 20th century way or even the Roman way. Only noble men could participate. Nevertheless, the Doge was elected for life. Many many committees – Justice, Customs, Military, etc – all elected, all served the Republic. Somehow it worked. Venice was incredibly rich and powerful, dominating the eastern Mediterranean commercially and militarily as the Byzantine Empire went into protracted decline. We make our way through a seemingly endless series of enormous rooms paneled to a fare-thee-well or adorned with portraits of red-robed, white-bearded eminences and, in the Greater Council Room, Tintoretto’s Il Paradiso, the longest canvas painting in the world, some eighty feet. Many rooms of renaissance armament lead us over the Bridge of Sighs to the “New” Prison, a stark hellhole devoid of stench and lamentation.

At last, we stumble back onto Piazza San Marco, which teems with a kind of humanity dismayingly assured that they are worthy of selfies. I’ve scheduled another tour for us that doesn’t leave for an hour and a half. Let’s hydrate on the piazza and people-watch. No. Not after a quick scan of the menu. No fifteen euro iced tea. Instead, we show up at the pre-arranged meeting place early only to discover that our tour is for Saturday, tomorrow. Recalculate.

Restored by a slice of pizza and Coke, we readjust our sights toward the minor basilica of San Zanipolo (Santi Giovanni e Paolo). Joss navigates with hand-held confidence. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly easy to get turned around. Still we persevere. The crowds dwindle, then we turn a corner and they’ve vanished. The sun sparkles. The air is crisp. We have found Venice’s second most important church; towering brick walls held together with delicate cross beams. Light suffuses the interior through great leaded windows made of rondels of clear glass. Four simple, breathtaking chapels flank the altar.

Outside again, we can see the lagoon. Walking along, the cool breeze invigorates us. All manner of nautical vessel glides past. The island of San Michele, across the way, is Venice’s cemetery. We duck into a Biennale exhibit (the Iranian Pavilion, I think). Oh, Biennale, you are everywhere. “Let’s go find the Rialto; it can’t be far.” “Sure, Dad.” We stall out in a piazza, footsore and grouchy. I see a red bench. A place to drop our weary asses. We settle next to a Venetian woman in deep conversation on her smart phone. “Where to next, Joss?” “There,” and she indicates with a wave of her phone, “Saint South Chicken Road.” It must lead to the Rialto.

The Rialto Bridge spans the Grand Canal at its narrowest part. It is jammed with gawkers, dalliers, wavers of selfie sticks, and other folk whose progress has incomprehensibly come to a standstill. “Now that we’re on the other side of Grand Canal, let’s go find where that English-speaking AA might be,” I suggest lightheartedly. The directions from the website were measured in paces from Campo San Barnaba and I have a childlike belief in our proximity to Campo San Barnaba. We cannot fail.

From the vaporetto stop, Ca’ Rezzonico, walk along the alleyway to Campo San Barnaba. When you reach the square, look for an archway between two shops on your left. Walk under the archway, over a bridge and turn immediately to the right. Walk about thirty paces, then turn left and walk another ten. The entrance to the Institute is on the other side of the canal, opposite you. Walk a little further on and then turn right to cross the canal. Then turn right and walk a few paces to the entrance.

 There it is. We found the meeting! Sure, it meets tomorrow, but this may be as good as it gets. And now we must traverse the Grand Fucking Canal again, but since we’re right near Ca’Rezzonico, we can visit the baroque palace and take in its treasures. The ballroom is an airy space of frescoed columns and pilasters that rise to a putti-fest of airborne, naked bambini. I want to have a party there, but it’s time to navigate back to Aquamare. The nearest bridge is the Accademia, a graceful wooden bridge not as clusterfucked as the Rialto. From there, it’s a straight shot to our lodgings.

We rest before we must forage for pasta. I have picked out a place. We share a plate of heavenly cheese, then dig into gnocchi (Joss) and grilled octopus (V.). On our way back from the Accademia, we had picked up a pair of tickets to a concert of Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach at Chiesa San Vidal that would start at nine o’clock. Finding it again is easy. The church’s acoustics are remarkable and the music is just bliss. Venice after ten o’clock at night is nearly empty. It is a dream.

Bedtime. Tomorrow begins at dawn’s crack.

By the way, remind me, if and when I’m ever filling out an online dating profile, that my preferred type is ‘gondolier’.

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