Due Settimana in Italia
An Apolitical Travelogue
by Eric S. Piotrowski
Day Eight: Venice It Time To Rest?
Get it? Like "when is" it time to rest? It's a play on words.
Day Eight was exhausting it's a good thing we'd been resting for two days. We woke up around 10:00 and caught breakfast at a very pricey cafe around the corner from our hotel. A bathing suit-clad 13-year old American girl was pretending to be hip-hop and sand along to the chorus of "The Message".
Determined to take at least one boat ride in Venice, we boarded the vaporetto (water bus) and after a few stops landed a coveted seat on the Back Deck. Unfortunately, at the next stop, a horde of rude dorks boarded and stampeded out to join us, despite the fact that there were no more seats in the back (and the deck is tiny). A guy who looked like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elbowed Diane in the eye (gently) in his zeal to videotape the sights around us. Meanwhile, an annoying woman in a very ugly shirt blocked much of our view in the other direction.
Eventually we made it to Piazza San Marco, a very lovely place with lots and lots of pigeons, and lots of people (most of them kids, more than a few not) who have apparently never seen pigeons before. Some kids took great pleasure in feeding the birds, sometimes right from their hands. Other kids took much greater pleasure in chasing the birds. (I wanted to smack those kids.) When a group of pigeons took off en masse, there was a reverent gasp from the crowd. WTF? "Look ma them birds can fly!"
San Marco is home to Basilica di San Marco a Venezia, but the line was ludicrous. Instead, we waited in the much shorter line for the campanile (the big tower). We rode up an elevator and got a really killer view of the city. I put together this composite shot from one of the windows, and realized only later I could have done a 360 image from all four directions. Still, you get the idea.
Since looking out at the city is all there is to do in the tower (with one exception, to be discussed below), you're done in about 10-15 minutes. Then it's time to stand in line for 15-20 minutes for the elevator ride down. The only other amusement (aside from pay-telescopes, in case you want to see slack-jawed tourists really close-up from really far away) is a machine which will, for two Euros, give you a cheap gold-colored plastic "medal" that says "Basilica di San Marco a Venezia Campanile" with a picture of the tower. It ought to have, engraved on the back: "Place directly in trash or change jar, to be examined with confused expression every seven years."
Afterwards, we ate at a Chinese restaurant for a change of pace. Diane has a weird gastrointestinal problem which causes her to occasionally desire variety in her diet. (I've suggested she see a doctor, but ultimately it's her problem. There's only so much I can do.) The Chinese food was okay, but I'd never seen "Buddha's Delight" translated as "Plate of Cabbage with Three Tiny Zucchini Slices". I borrowed heavily from Diane's House Tofu dish. In the restroom, the toilet was very low, with no seat.
After lunch we wandered through some shops. We got some glass beads for a friend in Madison, and I bought two neckties. (Venice is known for its silkwork and its glass products.) We also found Rio Tera Farsetti, clearly named in honor of Diane's family.
In the afternoon we spent some time at the Accademia Museum. It was un-air-conditioned, much to our sweaty chagrin. Between the museum and the classical music concert later in the evening, we thought it best to wear our Nice Clothes but Ra has a cruel sense of humor sometimes. The art in the Accademia was lovely, of course but it can be wearisome to find in each room: Crucifixion. Pieta. Pieta. Ascension. St. Mark. Ascension. St. Jerome. St. Mark. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I feel my Boorish Americanism swell with pride when I say that the highlight of the building was when I found the washroom, which featured really really cold water. As in the faucet had condensation on it. I nearly climbed into the sink for a bath. Most refreshing.
The problem came when I got a little ahead of Diane toward the end of the rooms. (She was actually appreciating the art; I had managed to limit my eye-to-art ratio to three seconds or less per piece.) I moved into three rooms set off to one side, while she missed these and headed for the exit. When I got done, she was nowhere in sight, so I backtracked and tried to find her. Long story short: She'd been at the exit, and waited for half and hour, wondering where I'd vanished to. D'oh!
The concert was just across the Grand Canal, so we didn't want to go too far for dinner. We couldn't find anything near the church (the concert was in a church), but eventually we found a nice spot. We noticed that the waitress spoke French in addition to the usual Italian and English.
At one point during the meal, a jerk-ass American at the next table ordered a beer and then whined about the "foam on top". After she explained that it was the standard mode of beer service at bartending school, he insisted it was not served that way in the US. He then demanded that she get rid of the foam and add more beer. When she checked in on us, I tried to say in French, so he wouldn't understand that he didn't speak for all Americans and that many people in the US often drink beer with ample foam. She didn't understand me very well, so I tried to explain in whispered English, after which she muffled some giggles as we all laughed at his expense.
The food was yummy and Diane, feeling adventurous, ordered the supposedly digestion-aiding liqueur Grappa. Apparently it's known in Italy as "firewater", which is quite apt, given its paint-thinner-like flavor. Clear, and apocalyptically potent. Diane didn't finish it, but she drank much more than I would have. Then, I guess to thank me for my solidaritous jest, the waitress brought us a lemon-flavor digestif on the house. It was sweet in two ways.
The concert was held in Chiesa San Vidal, which was very hot with all the people inside. (Two oblong fans on the stage did nothing to abate the swelter in the audience. I hope the musicians were cooler than we.) The group, Interpreti Veneziani, is quite talented, and gave a lovely performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
We applauded after the first movement, which is apparently a big classical music no-no. One of the guys on stage waved a hand for quiet, and some folks in the audience (afficionados, I suppose) hissed the clappers. It wasn't a big deal, but at the intermission Diane and I had a discussion about how rude people have a right to be in such a scenario. I see it as them trying to get us to follow the standard procedure for the setting.
If I went to a hip-hop show and did the Macarena, someone would probably try to get me to stop. It's something you just don't do. Diane pointed out that the applause was our positive response to the musicians, and as such didn't deserve derisive sanction.
Whatever. The music was pretty.
We caught the vaporetto home, stopped at a vendor's hut for a lemon soda (Diane had some coconut recommended highly by a friend in the States), and crashed. Wotta day!