Remembering Venezia, how the character of the city changed at night. Stone
and water all around: ancient, pitted stone, gold paint flaking from decaying
palazzos, heraldic mouldings mouldering gently in a flickering party light,
shadows of people and lights and sound everywhere echoing oddly, from all this
stone, from the ancient slimy canals. Emerging from dark holes of doorways in
a wall to find a sudden surprising stretch of water, a tiny ornate bridge and
people floating by below, laughing: thin black boat knifelike cuts the smooth
oily water with scarcely a sound, sliding by almost miraculously. And all the
time those party lights stringing mellow light like flower garlands, the
beautiful people passing, the sense of pageantry.
Some dismiss Venice as
too touristy, too kitsch. But it sucks you in.
We were in love, and there was the Rialto Bridge. A high bridge, humpbacked
and walled with creamy pale stone balustrades. Crowned with a string trio,
playing an old tune, 'Jealousy', and a flower-seller, with roses. And hundreds
of candles, and moonlight, and us. Standing there grinning ironic modern grins
at the full-blown cheesy romanticism of it all. Like most of us these days -
reared on Hollywood, with neat cultural references popping up each time we
experience things we've seen in films - when we encounter the truly romantic,
we are inclined to mistrust it. It feels unreal: in some way suspect. But we're
young and in love, so we play anyway. Beautiful girl on romantic bridge in white
dress, being approached by little man with an armful of roses: does she want
one? The Signorina says yes, and everyone - the string players, the passers-by,
the flower seller and the tall boy at her side - is smiling at her. The violins
pour their hearts out, the candles flicker, the couple kiss under a starry night
sky of movielike perfection. Zoom in on their tender kissing faces, closed eyes,
lashes on tender cheeks. Behind the closed eyes the Signorina is thinking that
she will remember this moment for the rest of her life.
And she does.
she is not certain that she is able to distinguish it from memories of films
once seen, and also vaguely remembered..
We linger on a stone bench. The crowds die away. The string players pack up
to go home. The cafés and bars close their doors, clear away tables and
umbrellas, and lights begin to go out. Midnight: and suddenly the city
changes. There are no cars here, and the night silence is almost complete. With
the lights out the old walls and the echoing stone begin to take on a quality of
menace: laughter from the few late-night stragglers turns into distorted evil
cackling. Our whispers are magically magnified so that we no longer feel like
talking. Empty dark holes of alleyways lurk in the shadows. We spy a closed but
still-lit bar full of unsmiling men, who stare at me. They look like Mafiosi. We walk faster.
With relief we reach Cannaregio, and the hotel. A former palazzo, all crumbling
grandeur and enormous faded wall paintings, our balcony looking out over the
canal. Hours later we lie still in the darkness, listening to the faint sound of
the water slapping against the lower walls. Floating off to sleep in the
floating city. All is quiet, except for the faint chime of