Diary ~ September 2004 Everyone
knows Venice. You've seen it so many times in pictures
and tv programmes you feel that you know it, but I think
nothing prepares you for your first sight of the city.
Our train was slowly rattling its way along the causeway from
Mestre to Ferrovia, Venice's train station, and I strained to
get a glimpse across the water out of the window. I
couldn't wait to get there, and as we stepped out of the
station onto the busy forecourt, I just stood still and
stared, bathed in a warm glow of late afternoon sunshine.
Venice is truly breathtaking, the most photogenic city in the
world, and its hard to feel as though you have really taken in
the fact of the city: that it is built on wooden piles
in a lagoon.
found our hotel, which was on foot down a street leading off
from the station square, and I was delighted to find it was an
old palazzo - the ceilings and the chandeliers on the first
floor were unbelievable and to eat your breakfast beneath them
was very different to our normal morning ritual. I knew there
were quite a lot of streets in Venice because we'd researched
our visit beforehand, but I think the fact still surprises
you; that you can get around quite a bit of Venice without
riding the canals. But who would want to miss them? The
vaporetti are fun and fascinating, if a bit crowded and
smelly, and to get the feel of the city we took one that
travelled a circular route.
main street is busy, but a few steps down a side street or
alley (calli) and it's a completely different world. The
tourists and day-trippers rarely seem to venture away from the
acknowledged sights, but getting lost in these side streets is
a real pleasure if you're not in a hurry. The ghetto was very
sobering, and a little unnerving with the watchful police and
security men in abundance; they definitely did not like our
camera, and cared little for the reason for it. We did
not linger, which is a pity because it is an amazing place
with a fascinating history.
churches are abundant and amazing in Venice; you fear for all
that marble dragging the city down into the lagoon. The
Jesuiti church has some stunning marble but the weight of it
over the centuries has been a real concern. The little
Miracoli church is like a jewel casket and houses a picture
that is said to perform miracles, tucked away among the alleys
and canals. We took an extended gondola ride, guided by
Lino, and I quickly lost track of where we were on the map,
unlike Dave, who has an uncanny ability to do this in his
head. There are times I think he is actually plugged
into the planet; he is incapable of getting lost. I was very
nervous of this part of the trip - I knew I had to do it (no
visit to Venice is complete without it) but as a non-swimmer
and in such a narrow vessel, I really was having to 'show no
fear' for the camera! I told Lino to save me first if we
capsized; Dave can doggy paddle and as for the camera, it
would have to take its chances. And as luck would have it, our
gondola crashed into a motor boat around a blind corner - my
personal nightmare coming true. Luckily, it was a
glancing blow that the beak of the gondola took from the
motorboat and after much gesticulating and shouting, each of
us went our separate ways unscathed. It's moments like
these when you understand the purpose of a hip flask.
Shame they went out of fashion.
Rialto bridge was beautiful; even more so at dawn when the
fishermen are selling their wares in the Pescheria. The
market made up for the early start, the scale of the variety
on sale was staggering. Well, it was to me, anyway, not
being a fisherperson of any kind. I soon gave up trying
to identify them and just frankly goggled at the stalls.
The fruit and veg market was astonishing in its colours; it's
clear I've led a very sheltered life because I simply didn't
realise there were so many versions wearing such stunning
colours. Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is one of my
favourite plays, and to see the ancient admonition to traders
on the walls of the church at the Rialto really brought home
to me that this was the kind of market square old Shylock
would have traversed and why the exactness of the trial was so
important. A merchant's honesty was prized above all
else in this place.
had a bit of fun with the gondoliers; no, they were not all as
gorgeous as the calendar in our film suggested. The food
also was not as good as we had hoped. Neither was the
service. The Venetians don't have to work hard to get
tourists, and I'm afraid it shows. Unfortunately, we felt the
hostility towards tourists quite strongly, observing and
absorbing as we were. We were told quite categorically
by one source that Venetians hated the tourists and wished
they would all go away. Which is a strange reaction to
the very thing that keeps their city alive. Only 70,000
residents remain in Venice nowadays. We tended to find
places to eat away from the main tourist restaurants which
were expensive, but I have to admit I didn't have a
particularly good meal at all in Venice.
feeling aside, we had a very entertaining and really
interesting interview with a mask maker in Dorsoduro, which we
reached via the Accademia bridge. This sestieri - the
Hog's Back - was less busy and was very pleasant to wander.
I also enjoyed the walk away from San Marco's Piazza down to
the Arsenale. You get a really wonderful view of St.
George's church across the water and it's not very crowded,
although the bistros and cafes still managed to charge the
Marco Piazza was terrific, but the queue to go up the
Campanile was very long. No concessions to Press,
unfortunately. I enjoyed the mummers with their constant
tremours to make the bells on their headdress jingle, and
there are plenty of market stalls selling the usual souvenirs
along the quayside. I did enjoy dusk in Venice -
suddenly all the day trippers have disappeared and the staying
guests have returned to their hotels and accomodations.
The squares belong to the Venetians again, and come alive with
captive little dogs from gardenless apartments; children's
toys and their owners, watched over by black garbed
grandmothers who gather and chat as the residents return from
their work across the water in Mestre. It's a gentle
time to be observing, and the light is particularly soft.
As night falls, the shop windows light up, and I think it's
one of life's little pleasures to be window shopping in a
took a trip across the lagoon to Murano, and spent a very
interesting afternoon watching glass blowing and chatting with
a glass salesman who seemed to think I could not possibly
leave Venice without half his shop in my luggage. It was
a pleasant place to wander through in the warm sunshine,
although it does have the rather left-over look of a suburb of
the great city. The next day we took the afternoon off from
filming and took a boat to the Lido. It was closed and
it pelted with rain.
is so gorgeous you forgive graffiti on a wall that says (in
English) 'kill the tourist', and instead focus on the history.
It's such a sumptuous city; I think of velvets, and rich
brocades; masked balls and palazzos when I think of Venice and
the sign simply fades away.
your experience in