Every couple of years my wife and I have to come up for air, which is to go to Venice.
We arrived three days ago, too tired to explore the place for real. An obligatory stroll to Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco was all we could manage, which brings me to:
Snippet 1. I espied a famous left-wing talk-show host, obviously revelling in the anonymity denied him in London.
The chap suffered a bad stroke some time ago but is back at work now, having presumably recovered. Well, that presumption would be wrong.
He’s paralysed on the left side of his body, and watching him trying to negotiate a hunchbacked bridge was painful. Mercifully he was propped up on on his right side by a good-looking but tastelessly dressed girl, knee-high PVC boots and all.
Predictably I made a tasteless joke, along the lines of his paralysis obviously being only partial. Just as predictably my wife responded by pointing out indignantly that the girl could be the celebrity’s daughter or friend.
Not likely, I suggested. I doubt he’d let his daughter go out dressed like that in a country that has elevated bella figura to the status of religion. Nor, for all his progressivism, would he be friends with a silly girl who dresses that way.
What do you know, last night we went out for dinner way off the beaten track, where we like to spend our time in Venice – and there he was, walking into the restaurant leaning on another woman, this one somewhat closer to his own age and therefore relying on peroxide to look younger.
Another tasteless joke from me, another angry rebuke from my wife, but I caught myself feeling sorry for the poor sod. Getting soft in my dotage – 20 years ago I was constitutionally incapable of having such emotions for lefties.
If Tony Benn had died then, my reaction would have been “another one bites the dust”. As it was, I felt sad, as I did now for the chat show man. Should I eat more red meat?
Snippet 2. A fresh graffito on the wall of a dilapidated palazzo: “Brits out of Europe”. And I didn’t even know Nigel Farage was in Venice too. Did he have a paint spray with him or did he buy it locally? Oh the mysteries of life.
Snippet 3. A middle-aged American woman loudly demanding directions for Ferrovia, which in her rendition rhymed with Monrovia. Ferro – iron. Via – way, road. Put them together and you get ‘railway’ or, for Americans, ‘railroad’. What do they teach them out there? Same things as in Britain, I suppose.
Snippet 4. Asked a newsagent for “giornali inglesi”. He showed me a copy of The New York Times and said, “Quasi inglesi.” Wish I knew how to say “Quasi my a***. Not even close, mate,” in Italian.
Snippet 5. Two posters side by side. One says “smoking prohibited”, the other “free boat ride to the casino”.
If I uncharacteristically wanted to ban anything, I’d ban pop concerts that unfailingly resemble a cross between an orgy and a Nuremberg rally.
But of the two juxtaposed options, I’d ban gambling rather than smoking. True, the odd flutter with nothing much riding on it could be good fun. But then the odd cigar after dinner isn’t going to kill you either.
However, if pushed to their compulsive extreme, smoking only corrupts the body, not the soul. On the other hand gambling leaves your body alone but goes straight for the soul. I know which one I’d choose to ban, even though I’m painfully aware that my choice would buck the Zeitgeist.
Snippet 6. And speaking of bella figura, walked through a council estate in Canareggio. Two blocks of flats, separated by a lane about 40 feet wide. In London they’d stay separated, but here their roofs are tied together by an elegant archway in the mock-Romanesque style. Beauty doesn’t have to be married to wealth.
Snippet 7. In spite of our concerted efforts to avoid Piazza San Marco, we found ourselves there again, being jostled by a gaggle of young Japanese determined to conform to the snapshot-taking stereotype.
The Doge’s Palace is gorgeous, but is it really the most beautiful Gothic building in the world, as John Ruskin insisted it was? Matter of taste, I suppose, but did he see the great French cathedrals? Then again, Ruskin maintained that all Gothic portals were vaginally shaped, so there.
Snippet 8. Popped over to Padua for a few hours to see the Giottos at Capella degli Scrovegni, in anticipation of the Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery I so much look forward to avoiding. From the sublime Giotto to the soulless Veronese. If this is progress, I’d like to know what decline looks like.
Snippet 9 and last. Venice is of course a large tourist trap single-mindedly dedicated to fleecing tourists.
Yet it’s amazing how easy it is to get away from the crowds and have the city all to yourself. Just came back after a 2-hour postprandial walk, having seen no one but a few people who talked loudly, in Italian and using their hands to help the verbal communication along.
I could tell you where you can go to get away from the stampeding herds of tourists and really enjoy Venice, but I won’t. I want those places to remain pristine next time we come.