Venice - I

When your plane flies over a city, you cannot look down and tell if the city looks like it does on the map. That’s because the borders marking the city on a map are man-made and the are not sketched out on earth. But if it’s a small city on a cluster of small islands, then the water marks those boundaries out. Venice from above therefore looks exactly like Venice on the map - two interlocked wrench heads. The Venice Marco Polo Airport is on the Italian mainland and is a short bus ride away from the Venice of Bollywood and Hollywood movies. Our tickets had to be stamped by a yellow, mechanical machine at the bus-stop. No matter which way you’d put in the ticket, it wouldn’t work. When the bus arrived, the conductor got down, gave a contemptuous look to tourists struggling with the machine and then without a warning proceeded to give this machine a hearty smack or two. It started working immediately. The incident reminded me of the general apathy and the ways of dealing with it at home in India.

Our hotel was a short walk away from the bus stop. The sun was about to set and Venice was bathed in its (fast fading) golden light.

The reception desk at the hotel was being attended to by a balding man in his late 30s who loved to chat. Since the weather is usually a safe middle ground for conversation with strangers, we began discussing how cold it still was in Amsterdam. We were visiting Venice in March and just a month ago the canals in Amsterdam had frozen, so naturally, it came up during the course of this conversation. We learned that the canals in Venice too had come quite close to freezing - the man had photos on his phone to prove it which he showed to us with unfettered enthusiasm.

When we stepped out the sun had set but since it was a clear night, the sky retained a touch of light and was a beautiful cobalt blue. After walking a little we felt the need for a good cup of coffee. Almost by chance we found ourselves at this small café that called itself The Tea Room’. There was something about this place that drew us in. The blue walls were covered with colourful paintings of birds and animals. Bach’s Goldberg Variations played softly in the background. The wooden shelf standing against one of the walls was packed with quaint ceramic jars and tin boxes full of different varieties of tea. The old couple running the place reminded us of ourselves in a parallel universe 30 years from now.

Venice at night is hauntingly beautiful. The street lights, their shimmering reflections in the numerous canals and the abandoned gondolas all feel a bit unreal.

Venice is also famous for its elaborate masquerade masks which look at you from the shop windows and add to the dreaminess.

We wandered aimlessly for a few hours and once our feet could take it no longer, returned to our hotel for a deep, dreamless sleep - the dream after all was outside.

November 26, 2012