More Than a Walk Around the Block

After our Clock Tower tour, the four of us parted to do our own thing. The air was warm — perfect for exploring the nooks and crannies of Venice. We just wandered, turning right or left on a whim.

Don’t forget to look up!

Cat in a corner

Remembering I would like to see the Gran Teatro La Fenice, Venice’s grand opera house, we headed that way. This theater was gutted by an arson fire in 1996, but has since been completely restored. I had recently read The City of Fallen Angels, a book about the history of this amazing building and the fire that destroyed its interior.

True to the meaning of its name (La Fenice = The Phoenix), this fabulous theater is once again gilded with gold and encrusted with sparkling chandeliers, dizzying designs, and flying putti (the pudgy-winged children so common in Italian art). We sat in its hushed interior, craning our necks to admire the encrusted ceiling and corners dripping with decor.

The entrance the La Fenice -- Venice's famed opera house

After our visit to the theater, we were happy just to continue roaming about aimlessly. Coming across the large spot where several gondolas are always docked, we stood for a long time watching the glistening sleek black boats gently bobbing on their watery parking lot.

Gondola parking lot

As with Piazza San Marco, one cannot see Venice, even for the fifth time, without crossing the Rialto Bridge. In 1181, this bridge was nothing but a collection of pontoons across the canal. Finally, in 1591, after a few fits and starts, the stone bridge we see today was completed. A central corridor is lined with shops catering to tourists, but the outer balustrades offer unobstructed views of the truly Grand Canal below. At sunset, people gather for a magical vision so beautiful it seems unreal.

A few yards from the bridge, we passed by an outdoor cafe and stumbled upon Mom and Dad seated at a table just ordering lunch and enjoying a bottle of wine. We all laughed at the incredible chance of running into them amongst this crush of humanity. Leaving them to their relaxing repast, we ambled on.

We bumped into Mom and Dad near the Rialto Bridge

Our explorations brought us down alleys so narrow I could touch one side and the other at the same time. We passed windows in Moorish shapes, festooned with flowers and iron, and by shops guarded by suits of armor, Gino’s tin men friends. (Coming soon: a separate post on Windows of Venice and of Gino’s Tin Men.)

This alley is impossibly narrow!

Little me in a little alley

Near the corner of one building, a wreath of russet-colored leaves and tiny silvery balls hung on an outside wall. It was garnished with a bow made of colors of the Italian flag; two streamers bearing words inscribed with gold lettering draped down the front of the wreath: Citta’ di Venezia — the City of Venice. It had been placed there as a symbol of mourning..

A memorial wreath for the Italian troops killed by the Taliban on 9/17/09

While we had been in Umbria, I had noticed the word lutto appear in the headlines of newspapers that lay in racks outside the tabacchi. I had asked Fabrizio what it meant and what it was for: “mourning,” he told me.

On September 17, a few days before, the Taliban had rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into an Italian military convoy as it moved down Kabul’s airport road. Six Italian soldiers died and four were seriously injured in the suicide car bomb attack. Now I understood why the city of Venice and the whole of Italia was in lutto.

Later that night, as we had the night before, we returned to Piazza San Marco to listen to the dueling orchestras that filled the evening air with music, usually American show tunes.

Musicians entertaining the crowds in Piazza San Marco


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