All posts by V. Hansmann

LA SERENISSIMA – October 6th

Today, we cross the river via the New Bridge (built in 1540) to visit the Teatro Romano, built in the 1st century. Temporary seating is being installed for an upcoming performance. The view over the Adige to old Verona is lovely, but the river makes quite a racket. On a bluff above the theater is the Museo Archeologico, accessible by a ‘Man from Uncle’ style elevator built into the cliff. There are some intriguing items, but mostly architectural fragments. It used to be a monastery; some of the monk’s cells have spectacular views of the tile roofs and campaniles of the city, in other words – the World.

I would like to go to Santa Maria in (the) Organo, known for its outstanding wood inlays. Joss is a tad reluctant, but it’s not far. Turns out, it’s an operational church, so parishioners ask for a donation and offer guidance/supervision. I drop five euros in a box and poke around, but Joss hangs back. The inlays in the sacristy and choir stalls feature highly articulated birds, fantastical landscapes, biblical parables, and still lifes. Also of interest is a nearly life-size wooden statue of an amused Christ astride a donkey meant to be carried through the streets during Lenten processions.

Nearby is the real goal of the day’s peregrination – Giardino Giusti. These Italian Renaissance gardens were planted in 1580 and are regarded as some of the most beautiful Renaissance gardens in Europe, a splendid park of parterres mounting up a steep slope. Goethe mentions them in his Italian Journey (1786-88), published 200 years ago. One cypress near the entrance is honored as have been seen and noted by the great German. At present, the tree’s some 600 years old. Joss and I trace the central allée and climb up the hill, through a groomed forest with half-hidden follies. The vistas of the garden and Verona beyond are breathtaking. Suddenly, church bells ring twelve noon not in unison. As we zigzag down again, we’re met by the squeals and hollers of unrestrained children loose in the hedge maze. Little bastards.

We wander back in the general direction of Piazza Erbe and Gabbia d’Oro. Many windows are shopped, though our progress halts but once for the purchase a cool unit for Alice. We linger in the courtyards of the Palace of Reason (the Law Courts), right off Piazza Erbe. One features a very large statue of Dante, a sometime Veronese. Some post-hoof gelato at Pretto, then a late afternoon fade. Rather than tempt fate, the mutual decision is to go back to Ristorante Greppia. Good choice. Good night.

 

LA SERENISSIMA – October 5th

It turns out Gabbia d’Oro means Gilded Cage. I get the décor now. Copious is the breakfast spread. It includes several forms of chocolate and honey straight from the comb. Among the many frutta arrayed are slices of a most delicious melon like a slightly subdued cantaloupe, which, with a generous slice of prosciutto, contributes to the wellbeing of the universe. Scanning the joint, our auditory faculties reveal that we are the only Americans. Good.

The revolutionary itinerary for today begins at the Castelvecchio, Verona’s medieval fortress built by the ruling Scaligeri family in the 14th century. The Castelvecchio is now the repository for ecclesiastic art from ancient local churches unable to care for their treasures. Chronologically, we meander halls beginning with solemn medieval statuary and ending with dark mannerist agonies. Our path sometimes leads out of doors around battlements and through the keep. One side of the castle abuts the river and from there we get a good look at the bridge the Scaligeris built at the same time. The retreating Germans blew it up in 1945, but the enterprising Veronese recovered the brick and stones from the river and rebuilt it.

Verona was a perfectly situated medieval city – the Adige River on three sides and on the fourth, a wall extending from river to river. The Scaligeris were swaggerers way ahead of their time, giving their progeny proto-hip hop first names like Cangrande (Big Dog) and Mastino (Pit Bull). For several hundred years, Verona maintained a fierce independence, only to succumb to inevitable Venetian dominance.

After a short long walk, we arrive in the Piazza San Zeno. The Basilica of San Zeno may be considered a minor one Catholicism-wise, but the church itself is an utterly glorious structure. The façade of pale golden stone includes one of the earliest examples of a rose window in Western architecture. St. Zeno was a local guy martyred in the fourth century; this church of his was begun in the 10th century and completed in the 12th. Its remarkable features include a ship’s keel ceiling, really two wooden hemispheres, a lower one split at the apex and an identically proportioned one inserted above, a vivid altarpiece by Mantegna, and a set of monumental bronze doors with 48 panels of great charm and emotion and varying decipherability. Oh God, Zeno himself is either lying in the crypt or in an urn somehow part of a sculptural diorama labeled as ‘Laughing San Zeno’. This is exhausting and fascinating.

We have worked up an appetite, yet mill around the piazza in a daze. “Over there, Joss,” and I point to a row of red tablecloths under a row of plane trees. We sit. The waiter recites the menu. Three kinds of lasagna are available. Joss orders the radicchio one and I pick the artichoke. They come and they are exquisite, just perfect in their savory modesty. We stroll back to the hotel along the river.

After a rest in Gabbia d’Oro, we attempt shopping. Joss can’t seem to psyche herself up to spend euros. I’m too dumpy these days for Italian cut clothes. Pfeh. We chance upon Juliet Capulet’s putative residence, which is a horrid tourist magnet slimed with sentimental graffiti. We are drawn and repelled in equal measure. But we learn that San Zeno’s crypt, legend has it, was the duo’s fatal rendezvous. Another discovery, right next to Gabbia d’Oro – Pretto, purveyors of the most excellent gelato. Coconut and coffee in a cone, per favore.

I pull a name out of a guidebook and motivate us to a noted restaurant.  We’re early and requested to return at 19:30. Wandering the neighborhood, we stumble upon the Scaligeri tombs, over-the-fucking-top confections of gothic nonsense, spotlit in the twilight. We are seated at the restaurant and throughout the experience, remain the sole diners, enjoying a semi-adequate meal.

 

LA SERENISSIMA – October 4th

This be our last breakfast not-on-the-terrace. Aquamare has been very hospitable and gracious. Packing is simple. On the Riva degli Schiavoni, we board the same slow vaporetto (#1) to the train station, a couple stops further than yesterday. A vision passes on the other side of the Grand Canal this time. Ca’ d’Oro is as delicate a palazzo as we were led to believe.

We navigate the rail ticket purchase okay, but the train car’s mystifying, what with different classes of ticketing and reserved seats and everything. . On platform #5 next to ours is the Orient Express, shiny dark blue antique-looking cars with berths and formal place settings in the dining car. We just plop our butts, but at the next stop, someone asks us to move. Joss finds us seats near where we’re supposed to be, but someone’s in our seats. Oh, who the fuck cares. It’s only a half hour ride to Padua at 150mph, something we can’t seem to manage in the US.

Hertz is not easy to find and then they don’t have our reservation, because, evidently, I didn’t make one or didn’t follow through with a ‘confirm’. I don’t have any documentation on hand and no way to get online. I suffer a small, discreet meltdown. After much fumbling, we’re informed that a car will be available at 2:30. Big sigh. We spend two hours at a nearby café, the haven of bewildered Hertz customers. And at 2:30, when the place reopens after lunch, voila!, a VW. Joss and I are much relieved, but worn out by the agita and the wait.

Joss skillfully navigates us onto, then off, the Autostrada, but once in Verona, we are confounded. We can’t seem to get even within spitting distance of Hotel Gabbia d’Oro (the Golden Chatterbox?), because of a restricted traffic zone and pathos generale. Desperately, impulsively, we dump the VW in an underground parking lot called ‘Arena’ and head off on foot, dragging the rolly noise behind us. Yep, that’s Verona’s Roman arena to the right – home to much ancient blood spilling and tomorrow night, Andrea Bocelli! Grouchiness is bubbling to the surface again.

Sort of by chance and damp exasperation, we roll up to the vine-covered entry of the Hotel Gabbia d’Oro. The lobby is all red velvet plush, oriental carpets, and polished wood. Engravings and watercolors cover the walls, e.g. Airedales of the 20th Century. There are hutches with odd silver pieces and fine porcelain and bowls of candy. Our rooms are on the fourth floor, under the eaves. The room keys feature a decorative iron key that must weigh as much as my suitcase. Joss takes the expansive ‘princess’ room, I the more modest ‘jester’ one. She is thrilled by the discovery of a tub and exploits it immediately.

There’s a decent restaurant nearby, I discover – Ristorante Greppia. We dine outdoors to our great satisfaction. On our way home, we pause for semi-adequate gelato, which is better than inadequate gelato or no fucking gelato at all.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 3rd

A mid-morning vaporetto (#1) ride up the Grand Canal from San Marco; past the baroque extravagance of La Salute and Peggy’s collection and then under the Accademia bridge and, around the next turn, under the Rialto. Vessels of all sorts replicate of every kind of land-based activity you could imagine. Observing them as they weave in and out among one another is entrancing. Not a personal flotation device in sight. We stand by the port side railing, gazing as this vision of unspeakable loveliness drifts by. Our vaporetto stops at every local juncture, which makes the journey all the more fascinating because of the people watching.

“Jesus Fucking Christ,” I mutter and point to a passing barge. Joss chuckles. The barge is a floating advertisement for a brand of hotdog called – WUDY. Oh, the language of love.

Our destination is Venice’s Ghetto, a place of great historical and emotional resonance. It’s the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world, instituted by the Venetian Republic in the early 16th century. Jews were confined to an island called ‘Ghetto’. Locked in at night, during the day they were free to move about the city, though always with some identifying mark, perhaps a yellow hat or shawl. The origin of the word ‘ghetto’ is disputed; most commonly, it is suggested to derive from ‘getto’, the Venetian word for ‘foundry’. It seems more likely to me that ‘ghetto’ is abbreviation of ‘borghetto’, or ‘little neighborhood’.

We cross one of the Ghetto’s two bridges and step into the main square, the community being encircled by canals. The entrance to the museum is a modern gray one-story addition to the front of an otherwise nondescript building. Security. We thrust our bags into the x-ray device and receive a wand-down and couple of pats. The tour begins in fifteen minutes, so we hurry through some exhibits upstairs and proceed to wait.

There are five synagogues in the Ghetto, three in the New Ghetto (which is actually the old ghetto) and two in the Old Ghetto (yeah, the new one). We are shown the German or Ashkenazi Synagogue, the first built in the early 17th century, and the Spanish/Portuguese Synagogue, built a hundred years later, and then, in the Old Ghetto, the Levantine synagogue. They have been restored and are quite evocative and beautiful. Restrictions required that the German synagogue be constructed wholly out of wood. These were relaxed over time and later ones had ornate, almost baroque, marble elements.

When Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797, he did away with the restrictions on the Jews and they began to disperse throughout the city. In the Second World War, two hundred Jews from the Ghetto were taken to the camps by the Germans. Eight returned after the war. Venice’s Jewish population considers this the center of Jewish life. The two synagogues in the Old Ghetto still hold regular services, while the others do on the High Holy Days.

Joss’ precision guidance is confounded by the crypto-grid of Canareggio’s canals and byways. Finding the Church of the Madonna dell’Orto involves first being drawn to the vaporetto stop of that name. The church is unremarkable, famous mostly for the Madonna and Child painted in 1480 by Giovanni Bellini and stolen in 1993 and for being the final resting place of Tintoretto.

We could use a resting place ourselves at this point. Our fitful efforts to locate a suitable lunch venue finally bear fruit and we land at an outdoor café. Two pizzas are ordered for sharing purposes. As the meal progresses, a plague of aggressive asshole pigeons completely freaks the couple eating next to us and after they flee, the birds start hopping on the backs of unoccupied chairs and scuttling under the table in an attempt to get us to abandon our meal. Fuck you, lizard brains. Joss finishes her last slice and places the crust on the tray when a ballsy bird jumps on the table. We leap up. Outta there.

Finding the Ca’ d’Oro (the House of Gold) requires maybe five minutes. We don’t fall for the ol’ vaporetto stop trick this time. The Ca’ d’Oro was built around 1430 and after centuries of use and misuse, was purchased by Baron Franchetti at the end of the 19th century expressly to restore it to its former glory. Its façade facing the Grand Canal may be the most beautiful of all the palazzos facing it. Our next ride up the Grand Canal (tomorrow on the way to the train station), we will get to savor the façade. We find ourselves inside, in the entrance hall that opens through a loggia to the Canal itself. The floor is covered with intricate geometric inlayed marble. The galleries with the Baron’s art collection begin on the piano nobile (the 2nd floor).

Our final stop in Canareggio is Santa Maria dei Miracoli. This small church is unremarkable in every aspect save for its exquisite beauty. Clad in marble of various pale shades and roofed with a barrel vault, it is truly breathtaking. Here is where George Clooney should have gotten married.

We’re pretty footsore, yet efficiently hoof it back to the digs using our internal GPS. Our last night, we have reservations at a Michelin-starred restaurant, Il Ridotto, very near Aquamare. We both get the meat and fish tasting menu. It is fun being treated to cuisine, though the final dessert course is unsettlingly medicinal.

LA SERENISSIMA – October 2nd

Good Day! Sunshine! At Fondamente Nove, we board Vaporetto 12 for Murano, Burano, and Torcello, daytrippers on the blue-green lagoon. We glide past Isola di San Michele, the cemetery of Venice, where apparently your entombment will only last for a decade unless you’re Ezra Pound or Igor Stravinsky. We disembark in Murano, the famous island of glassblowing. Venice ‘exiled’ the industry in 13th century because of the risk of fire and it became a world-renowned industry. Its buildings are only two stories high, and the thoroughfares wide, so much more sky intrudes. Countless shops feature the same touristic shit. Scoff as we might, to our surprise we find Xmas gifts for both Kif and Alice.

We reconnoiter the island pretty quickly, where the glass museum is and where the recommended lunch place is. The Museo del Vetro covers the history of western glassmaking in general and Murano’s contribution specifically. Videos of the techniques are mesmerizing. Some examples of glasswork really capture the imagination, but quite a bit is just gaudy or clunky or both.

At this point, we’re running on breakfast fumes. In a square or ‘campo’ featuring a lame Chihuly ripoff of Lame Chihuly, is the Busa Alla Torre Da Lele, an outdoor café under yellow umbrellas. We snag a table after replenishing our cash situation. Both of us, hankering for clams, order Spaghetti alla Telline, assuming telline to be basically vongole except from the lagoon. Clam Surprise! Telline are micro-clams the size of your thumbnail. This presents a challenge we meet without comment. Delicious. I snap a shot of the pile of shells.

Slowly, we stroll back to the vaporetto stop for transport to Burano and Torcello. The boat goes to Torcello first. We disembark and wander up a brick fondamente of small canal with fields on either side. Torcello is home to the oldest church on the Lagoon, a Byzantine structure begun in the 9th century and completed in the 11th. It has a striking mosaic that covers the west wall – the Harrowing of Hell and the Last Judgment. Nothing murky here, like so many frescos and painting; the colors and imagery are bold. You are fucking damned.

There are pieces of random stonework in the yard in front of the church/basilica. Most prominent is a chair reputed to the ‘Throne of Attila’ – real or just a fucking photo op. We take turns, trying to conjure up the ‘Hun’ vibe to no avail. We have photos. Be aware of the upcoming Attila Off. Who is most likely to storm the gates of Constantinople?

Back at Aquamare, a little downtime, then dinner in the neighborhood. I’m determined to find the mysterious gelato and we do. We also locate the costume shop that designs for theater. Joss buys a mask that adheres to your face by way of the device you hold in your teeth. The gelatoria, La Mela Verde, has exotic flavors. I try pine nut, while Joss sticks with hazelnut.

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.

LA SERENISSIMA – September 30th

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.

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’.

La Serenissima – Thursday, September 28th

Joss and I converge on JFK despite typical traffic bullshit. She was late and I was a little later. Not a race. We wait with the rest of humanity on cusp of trajectory. Escape velocity arrives in a timely fashion and we are aloft. Passengers are weird. They have quirks and needs that magnify when hurtling through time and space in a metal tube. Like the young woman who won’t stop talking to her mute companion or the guy who gets out of his seat at regular intervals to bounce on the balls of his feet and stretch his lanky frame in the aisle. I manage to sleep: Joss not so much. Immigration and customs pass in a blur. A ferry, which we locate with ease, transports us over the lagoon. Our ship maintains a stately pace as water taxis buffet our craft with their wakes. We approach Venice from the north – first stop Murano, the island of glassmakers. The journey winds around the city, passing the Arsenale, Venice’s enormous shipyard, where in the 13th century a galley could be built in a day. This was the first instance of mass-production on a scale not duplicated until Henry Ford devised the assembly line. I point this out to her, feeling the self-consciousness of internalized guidebook knowledge for the first time. We debark at San Zaccaria, the Piazza San Marco stop. Our B&B is up an alleyway and down another and behind a not very well-marked door. Many flights of stairs, toting valises. We are offered water and coffee on a terrace overlooking rooftops and the crosses atop the Basilica. The color scheme throughout our lodgings relies heavily on lime sherbert green.

After a blessed shower, we hit the pavement. I suggest it might be a good idea to find Piazza San Marco in order to theoretically give us a sense of location. It’s not far. Jesus, is it congested. They tell you, but words cannot convey the mass of not-moving humanity. At least in Times Square, there’s some tectonic movement to the crowd. Still, the vast scale of the plaza strikes awe. The façade of the Basilica. The shimmer of the Doge’s Palace. The majesty of the Campanile, replaced in the early 20th century when the Renaissance one collapsed. The glitz of the high-fashion shops lining the narrow streets that radiate from the piazza. Gradually, we leave the touristic maw behind, arcing on footbridges over nameless canals, catching vistas of listing campanile blazing the setting sun, slowly copping to our epic hunger. “Where do you want to eat?” “Any place.” We just stop at the café we will never deliberately find again for a semi-adequate meal and the promise of future gelato.

More wandering. Then, attempted slumber.

CUBA LIBRO, Volume Two – May 5, 2017

I wake up before dawn has had a chance to crack with a song from The Great Comet stuck in my head. Goodbye, my gypsy lovers. / All my revels here are over. A quick breakfast is scarfed and suitcase reorg accomplished. Mas cafe, por favor. Alden and I duck back over to Parque Central for cafe con leche. Sweet. The appointed driver appears at 10:30, escorting Linda and me to the airport for our 1:35 flight. In the terminal, members of our genial group come and go, waiting or milling or boarding, as does an apocalyptically black downpour. And then we’re aloft. The flight is asshole-free. Customs at JFK consists of a lot of walking, but no hassles. I bid Linda a dulce adios. She’s going into Manhattan and I to a Hooters in Queens to catch the jitney to Greenport.