Today, we have an 8:15am ticket to the Accademia, Venice’s Renaissance art museum. Can we rise to maybe the foothills of consciousness? Fuckin’ A. Piazza San Marco is deserted at that time of morning: even pigeons need a rest. Gone, too, are the nocturnal noodges who ceaselessly importune us with a rose or one of those illuminated heli-things that shoots high into the air and drifts down boringly. During the day they sell these balls of puke that reconstitute themselves into spheres after you hurl them onto a piece of cardboard. Like I’ve never been to Times Square.
I digress. We know the way to the Accademia, but we time it poorly and arrive too soon. Thus thwarted, we walk some more. The Lagoon is visible, barely two hundred feet off. We follow the fondamenta along the small canal. Suddenly, we turn to each other – “Whoa.” Passing in front of the entry to this canal is a giant cruise ship, not unlike a ten-story building floating on its side with a great blue ‘C’ on its yellow smokestack. “Gross. Really gross.” We turn away and across the water we spy a workyard with four or five gondoli (gondolas) in various states. Some very, very old frame buildings surround the yard and on one wall is a collection of straw gondolier hats. This, it turns out, is Squero di San Trovaso, a gondola maintenance shop, one of the last remaining.
The Accademia is open. It houses the world’s largest collection of Venetian art. Many many Jesuses and Biblical stories told frontwards and backwards. The highlight for us is a series of paintings, recently restored, by Heironymous Bosch. The man was so dark and funny. But not enough, really, to keep us Accademizing. We are beaten.
A short walk and a double espresso away is Peggy Guggenheim’s museum. She bought an unfinished palazzo on the Grand Canal in the late 40s and made it her home. Now it is home to her wonderful collection of 20th century art. Many (heretofore unseen by me) masterpieces to behold. Particularly fascinating was Picasso’s On the Beach, both eerie and lighthearted. What’s left of Peggy’s household furnishings includes a gorgeous silver filigreed headboard fashioned by Alexander Calder. Heeding the call to lunch, we partake of a very cosmopolitan salad in the courtyard café.
So, trailing a nimbus of sheepishness, Joss and I show up at the appointed time and place for the 12:45 tour of the ‘secret’ passages of the Doge’s Palace. Well, yeah, not so much ‘secret’, as not trod by the usual hordes. We mount narrow stone stairs to a series of rooms under the eaves that served as the bureaucrats’ offices, the state archives, and special prison cells that housed, for instance, Casanova. Also, the torture chamber. Our guide then squired us through the Basilica San Marco. We gape at the brilliant mosaic glory above. Particularly eye-catching was the right hand lunette on the church’s façade that depicts the escapade by which two enterprising Venetians stole the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist from the Muslims of Alexandria in order to present Venice with a patron saint worthy of its ambition. They packed Mark’s old bones in a wicker basket and then covered them with pork. What? Another dramatic mosaic involved the Genesis stories of Creation and Adam & Eve swirling inside a small dome in the narthex, much like panels in a comic. It’s still a bum’s rush through the church, no loitering, fifteen minutes and you’re out, unless, of course, you pony up another five euro to climb a steep flight to see the original Greek horses that overlooked the piazza (replaced now by replicas, to save wear and tear on the antiques). The tour finally ends at four.
Is it physically possible to pull ourselves together for the AA meeting? We’re elementally bushed. The dogs are barking. We find dinner at a busy nearby trattoria our hosts had recommended where we eat ‘family style’ crammed into a corner. Food’s good, though.
Yet another fucking tour. This one is a nighttime visit to the Basilica of Saint Mark. We are to be the only people in the Basilica. Our guide is genial, repetitive, and charming. In the dimmest light, we are seated in the nave and slowly the lights come up revealing the five vast golden domes and countless ecclesiastic luminaries. Utmost grandeur in absolute silence. I have rarely been privy to such magnificence. Behind the high altar, where the bones of St. Mark reside, we are shown an enormous screen with ordinary church portraiture, which pivots revealing on the other side, row upon row of enameled saints and angels, encrusted with precious stones. Our guide then takes us down into the crypt (Venice has a crypt?), where church muckety-mucks have been interred (since they drained the crypt and installed a pump system).
What a day! My crypt has been drained.