LA SERENISSIMA – October 1st

Another not-on-the-terrace breakfast at Aquamare: this time due to foreboding cloud cover. We had planned a trip to the islands today – Murano, Burano, and Torcello – but I’m discouraged by the weather. It should always be sunny when one crosses a lagoon. So, I say to Joss – Let’s stay inside-ish and hoof it to some semi-faraway museums, over the Rialto Bridge and deep in San Polo e Santa Croce. I’ll bring my umbrella. We’re underway by 10am. Threading our way through alleys clotted with distracted folk, we cross over the bottleneck of the Rialto again. The ‘sound’ of Venice is the wheels of the rolly suitcase on uneven pavement, just as the ‘smell’ of Venice is that oddly startling canal aroma. To stop on the Rialto for any reason is high foolishness. Aiming for the Frari and Titian’s famous Assumption of Mary altarpiece, we arrive to find services ongoing. Sunday, of course. Recalculate.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is ‘around the corner.’ As far as I can tell, a ‘scuola’ is a sort of local organization (of men) dedicated to charitable deeds in the name of St. Roch, an inspirational dude of his day. They are not only good-deed-doers, but enthusiastically aggrandizing in a spectacular way. The first floor of the scuola consists of a very large hall surrounded by very large Marian dramas. We ascend a grand double staircase. The most prosaic aspect about the hall on the second floor is the folding chairs set up for a concert or lecture. Wooden allegorical sculptures line the walls, setting off a series of balloon-like lamps, then up the walls and over the ceiling, acres of Tintorettos, basically the whole Bible. The renaissance at its most rococo. An unassuming door with the word ‘Tesoro’ above it leads us to San Rocco’s treasury. The weird stuff, mostly reliquaries, some containing thorns from Christ’s final headgear and others holding two or three finger joints from assorted saints. The single relatable thing is a beautiful candelabra constructed from pieces of coral joined together with gold. Fully saturated with godly geegaws, I follow Joss down the stairs, pausing for a moment to glance at some shiny thing, and when I look up, she’s gone. Disappeared. We spend the next twenty minutes not finding each other. Joss strides up and down the grand staircase a resentful number of times. I sit by the restroom, always the glum default location, then park my butt on a bench outside the front door. Joss and I find one another soon enough and recriminations evaporate.

Scavenging for lunch can be the most viable option while waiting for the church services to end. And they do. The Frari is magnificent, if a bit daunting, even after San Rocco’s scuola. Titian’s famous altarpiece, The Assumption of Mary is too far away to really appreciate, so we take its glory for granted. A divided u-shaped choir stall of exquisite proportions and workmanship embraces the Assumption. Canova’s striking pyramidal tomb is against a wall near the front, one of the most melancholy sculptures I’ve ever beheld. He originally designed it as a posthumous monument to Titian. It went unbuilt until his students raised the money after he died. It contains an urn with his heart: the rest of him is elsewhere.

The Palazzo Mocenigo purports to be a textile museum, but its current exhibit surveys the history of perfume, not exactly a topic of interest. Odor – pfeh! The rooms are sort of period and some of the details are interesting, but we don’t linger. Hey, look! Not far! A Natural History Museum! Dinosaurs in Venice! This turns out to be the most intriguing stop of the day. There are no English subtitles anywhere, which gives evolution an enigmatic Italian twist. The walk through earth’s earliest times is very contemporary, but we’re ultimately deposited among many cabinets of curiosities, all manner of preserved vertebrates and invertebrates. Particularly curious are the small sharks with mammalian eyes. One room features elaborate displays of taxidermy illuminated by a grand murano glass chandelier.

We spill onto the fondamenta in desperate need of gelato. Amazingly, one of Venice’s best, Alaska Gelatoria, is a short walk. We’re finished today.

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