Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23: Venice, the Dolomiti, and One Lost Cheerio

This morning when I got up, Sadie had already got up to feed her bird. Amazing. I had a bit of worry over the bird’s general silence and sort of floppiness, but she seemed to be eating well and was able to cling onto the kids’ fingers today, which was more than she could do yesterday. I sort of began to have hope that she might actually live. Having fed the bird as much as she would eat, we set out in the car to go grocery shopping and get some cash for the landlord.

The “Polli” grocery shop was down on the main drag, quite a drop down the hill from our little nest, which was much brighter and more cheerful with the morning sun pouring in than it had been in the rainy cold of last night. We got our supplies, got some cash from the Bancomat, and went home. The kids played with the bird while Dan met with the landlord, leaving me to walk down to the market, which was fortuitously happening today. I now understand these tiny town markets and exactly what their purpose is. Yes, there are fruit and plant and vegetable vendors. But mostly this is like a moving shopping mall, selling everything from shoes to underwear to dresses to handbags. I get that these tiny rural towns do not have a variety of stores to give people access to necessary stuff like this, and I now get that the weekly market is when this variety of stores actually makes its way to the town. I did not find anything I wanted to buy, except a used Italo Calvino in Italian, but I did like seeing all the people shopping.

When I got home, we all got ready and went off to Venice. We fed the bird as much as possible and left her in a warm spot, hoping for the best. Driving back through the mountains to get out to the flat southland again was just insane and deathdefying. I’m shocked neither of the children vomited – they certainly seemed near to it many times. The Autostrade took us right across the water and into Venice, and now I will tell you how to do Venice in a very short time, and fully enjoy every minute.

1. Drive into town and park your car in one of the garages at the Piazale Roma. There are several.

2. Walk north to the Grand Canal and to the Vaporetto stand there. Vaporettos are water buses, very awesome, that go up and down the Grand Canal and to other places. Buy four one-way tickets to Piazza San Marco.

3. Get in line so that you’re first into the Vaporetto after it empties. This will ensure you can sit right in the front and have awesome views and happy times.

4. Be driven all the way down the length of the Grand Canal and out into the Venetian Bay before stopping and getting out at Piazza San Marco.

5. Climb the Campanile.

6. Go through the Basilica.

7. Go back out to the water, where the Grand Canal meets up with the bay, and head left down the walk there. Find a café that suits you and get something to eat and drink, watching people and the illegal vendors mill about. Eat gelato. Drink cappuccino.

8. Go to La Pieta and stand there pondering the fact that in the hotel next door Vivaldi worked as a music teacher. These were the stones he stood on. These were the buildings he saw each day on the way to work. This water. That door. Ponder more.

9. Walk back to the Piazza San Marco and just north of the Basilica there is an alley, go down it and find gondolas.

10. Get in a gondola and pay the man to push you around through the back canals. Not the Grand Canal. The remote ones. This is a wonderful, expensive, lovely, excellent and worthwhile experience. It was extra fun because we had a hip-hop gondolier who spoke excellent English and answered all our questions and was charming. I very nearly cried several times as I felt I was having a really Henry James sort of experience. It’s romantic in the broad sense of the word. You can see the watermarks on the buildings from the floods. You can see the steps leading down into the water, even at low tide.

11. Get out of the gondola at the end of the ride. Now you are going to hoof it all the way through Venice back to the Piazale Roma. If you want to buy something, choose a store that is in a small side street. The prices are directly proportional to the size of the street. The souvenir vendors next to the Vaporetto stop on Piazza San Marco were the most expensive of all. Diet Coke ranges from 1 euro to 3,50, depending on where you are in the city.

12. First follow the signs to the Rialta Bridge. On your way, window shop the glass, the masks, and the fashion. Stand there on the bridge and gaze upon the grand canal and think beautiful thoughts.

13. Then follow the signs to the Piazale Roma. You may get lost. That’s okay – just head vaguely Northwest and you’ll eventually see another sign. Venice is mercifully and accurately full of signage. Just because something looks like a tiny alleyway doesn’t mean it’s not the correct way to go.

14. Don’t forget to look up, down and all around. Those things so tightly lidded – are they the old wells? How many winged lions can you spot?

15. When you are back at the Piazale Roma, go to the bathroom, find your car, get in it and drive away.

16. While on the bridge going away from Venice, looking at the sun going down, make sure you annoy your husband who is trying to drive by making him look at ALL the pictures you took.

Venice was as wonderful as everyone said it would be. I really, really loved it. It was like stepping into a book or a movie set, just every little detail is so beautiful and so nice. There is something sorrowful about it, and something brave. The water level rises a bit each year, and the city also sinks a bit each year. Between the global water level and the inherent instability of the spot, the city is going underwater. Yet there it is, beautiful and functioning, marking out its time. The Carnavale is a sort of flaunting, doomed laugh in the face of death. Gorgeous in its morbidity. Masks are death. I need to read Wings of the Dove again.

Looking at the Dolomites on the way home, and thinking about Venice, I had one of those moments where you feel like humanity on earth is just a hiccup. The mountains are composed of volcanic magma and also the fossilized remains of a bazillion sea creatures that fell to the bottom of the sea that used to be where the mountains are now. All that residue of life, shot through with volcanic rock, then lifted high into the air (and still lifting) by the earth. It’s amazing to look at. It used to be at the bottom of an ocean, long before anyone who is now alive could tell you. Will the beautiful Basilica di San Marco sink into the sea? Yes, and so will everything else, ultimately. All this celebration of antiquity is interesting and just, but looking at these enormous mountains of dessicated seashells, so big it takes forty-seven switchbacks at 18% grade to get to the top, you know that nothing we make can really last.

When we got home, we found that the bird had died in its little nest. Sadie was devastated. At first she blamed herself for leaving it, but we talked her through that and reassured her that she had done everything she could do, had fed it and kept it warm, had given it love and companionship and care, and that little birds that fall out of their nests just usually die. The hand was dealt when the bird dropped from that tall tree – Sadie just made its ending a little more sweet and soft, and less like being torn apart by a cat. Or maybe she didn’t, maybe the cat would have been more swift. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The mountains are out there, grinding their way up a millimeter at a time, and no one notices, for millennia, the difference.

At first it was terrible sobbing, and then a nice dinner and a hot bath, and sadness, and after an hour of finding her little playmate departed, she was looking at pictures of her bird and smiling. I know she’s not done being sad, but I asked her if she would, knowing the outcome, still rescue the bird, and she said yes. I know I would make the same choice also, because I would far rather be the guy that says “Yes, let’s try to save it” than I would the guy who says “Leave it there, it’s hopeless.” Even if in the end it means more tears, I’m glad we tried to help the silly little thing.

A long day, a lot of beauty, and in the end a powerful sadness.

Tomorrow, I *have to* find a Laundromat.

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