Changing Temples Pt. 14
Disneyland Mediterranean – Pt. 2
“Even the most hopeful city planners worry that in a few decades Venice will not be a city at all, but a museum, a cultural theme park, a decaying Disneyland for adults.”
Imagine being in the midst of a truly fine Roman Amphitheatre in Croatia. You are chatting with someone from Holland who asks where you are from. Rather than go through the long dialogue about America, Montana, why I left, the giorno per giorno nature of the stay in Venezia, I just say I am staying in Venezia. “Oh” comes the reply, “that’s a lot like Disneyland isn’t it?” If Venezia is not quite Disneyland Mediterranean, as I contend, then what descriptors would best capture it. For, if Venezia does “not quite” resemble a cultural theme park, what does it resemble.
The term “Venice” is a descriptor itself. To Venezians and Italians it is Venezia – what kind of magic does that convey, what kind of mystery? But, the image, the imagination, the mystery that is conveyed when I say Venice! Venice is probably easier to describe than Venezia, for many of us carry latent images of it in our memory, while some carry them in their hearts – having visited once. Have you ever met anyone who has been to Venice (even those numerous ones who landed in the a.m. and left in the p.m.) who does not convey to you some degree of ambience of delight in their descriptors about the city?
Venice: “Improbable”. Venice: “Otherworldly”. Venice: “A continuous surprise for the eye and the heart”. You walk along a Fundamenta, a walkway along a canal, there just ahead in the early evening light the prow of a gondola juts into view from an even smaller side canal, and rounds the corner in your direction. The gondolier crawls forward to lower the bow so that the magnificent, thrusting prow will not be sheared off by the low ponte he is crossing under.
You have no doubt seen pictures of traffic cops in foreign countries with peculiar white hats, white gloves, uniform always impeccable midst the chaos of traffic, arms extended, almost serene midst the endless stream. In Venezia, those traffic cops are precisely the same, except they are in Piazza San Marco and the endless streams are the swirling, swarming tourists – those waiting to get into the Basilica or the Campanile (Bell Tower) or just trying to transit.
I debate myself often whether Venezia is a city more for doing or more for relishing. I suppose either choice is a strong indicator of being a cultural theme park. Still, I see the difference as Venice being genus to the amusement park species that is Disneyland. For one, it is inhabited (albeit with ever decreasing numbers, as the native population has dropped from around 110,000 to 60,000 in ten years). Venice is certainly 15th, 16th and 17th Century relish for the eye – canals, pontes, houses, flowers decorating nearly every second window – the one rather plain exception, interestingly enough, to the profusion of flower lovers, is on the Grande Canale, perhaps because the wealthy can not be bothered to appear but on show-case occasions like Carnivale or Biennale.
To me, it is a city that startles the eyes: Around every corner is a canal, a ponte arching over, and pastel colored dwellings gently creating a more perpendicular curve with just enough foreground to create a mysterious longing to float down, under, around. Venice startles the eye as it catches the small shrine, they do not call them that, surprisingly, they are simply Maria or Jesu, but they appear in so many places and so surprisingly that they can be said to be common. Venezia jumps into your eye suddenly with the small marble inset sculptures, statues grand or delicate, majestic or touching, friezes. by some of history’s finest. There are constant, every so constant, reminders that those who built did not just build but instilled their faith, their esthetic, their pride (pompous or simple, as the case might be), their desire for a more transcendent atmosphere around them. I speculate it was so because it helps one rise above the pains of this world – pains I contend have scarcely changed in all these hundreds and hundreds of years.
The whole, tutti (all), captures one’s heart or soul just long enough that we too rise above. That rising has somehow occurred in people for all these five to six hundred year. Yea, it can be argued that it has done so for two thousand years if one remembers the floor mosaic – The Punishment of Dirce – in a Roman home in Pula, Croatia for example.
But, do not stop there. There is more, if not deeper, then appealing and absorbing. Waves lapping, church bells deeply toning their duty, rather soft sounds of boats, human voices. Nothing else competes for the ear (OK, occasionally a barking dog or the rather cacophonous sound of a sea gull). Unimaginable to the modern sensibility, there is no automobile drone – the drone that so dominates our world ear that we do not realize its ever present, unrelenting demand upon the senses unless we are lucky enough to escape far onto a mountain trail. One can hardly know anymore, really, what that drone has become in its own pervasive way. We drown it with TV, music, suburban enclave, but it greets us always, ever ready to climb into the ear and make a home where we do not even realize that squatting has occurred. Not so in Venice. Not so in Venezia.
Continued . . .