Travel Tuesday: Venice

Que Sera Sara Venice street

 

Venice.

You’ve seen it in the movies: marbled ballrooms, grand canal boats, Harry’s Bar.

It’s a place of beauty and magic and wonder.

Ancient mystery and quintessential glamor romantically crumble into the sea.

Gilded balconies and rustic window boxes tower in ever lane, filling the city with color and life.

Those famous winding waterways tuck and dart between buildings. They shimmer by moonlight and slosh softly around every bend.

With no straight lines, no logical pattern, the whole city meanders organically along the coast, perfect for romantic wanderings.

A City of Lovers. In Venice, buskers are opera stars. Filling the night with music that tugs at heartstrings and serenades the dawn. It is sort of place you want to camp out on your balcony, cuddle under the stars, and wonder at the beauty of the earth.

[It also, incidentally, has hands down the best gelato in Italy, and therefore the best ice cream in the world.]

 

Que Sera Sara Venice house

But as with so many places, Venice is more than its facade.

I often think of it as a place of opposites. A city as duplicitous as Janus. Fickle, perplexing and mesmerizing in turn.

The entire place, it seems, can shift on a dime and all of a sudden the swirling jubilant dance is a sickening twirl too far.

The ever-winding waterways are precarious. With inadequate drainage, foul-smelling standing water and abandoned boats fester with algae down ill-lit passages.

On lazy docks waiting boatmen stare in that casual Italian way that feels like offer and threat rolled into one.

The buildings sloughing off layers paint with a casual, romantic sigh, but sometimes a spade is a spade and it is just peeling-wall-dingy.

Doors are chipped, railings rust, basements flood.

   Que Sera Sara Venice streetlamp

With very little signage beyond the tourist mainstays, Lost in Venice isn’t just a quaint fairy tale. At least 75% of the time you’ll arrive somewhere you thought you’d left behind miles ago, spinning in ever more confounding circles.

At 4am after a grueling cross-country train journey, when you’ve passed the same piazza three times and you want your bed so badly you could cry, the dark, winding alleyways can hold more menace than magic.

Over and over again broken bridges are corded off with striped tape, insisting you retrace your steps and find some other way home.

The sound of lapping water faintly but incessantly ringing in your ears only fuels the claustrophobia and you wonder if you will die on a Venetian doorstep carrying a hand-me-down rucksack before you find a way out.

When you do at last make your way to the embracing light of the hostel you collapse in a heap on the bed, but the final turn of the screw is yet to come.

In the crowded streets of the medieval town you are lucky to have a french door balcony. It offers breeze and view from the cramped little room you share with four strangers. But given the narrowness of the alley, your balcony is within arms reach of the one across the street.

And let’s just say someone else’s night of romance al fresco was my pre-dawn surprise.

In the wrong mindset (or when sleep deprived and chronically single) the mystique of Venice can seem like a cosmic joke.

*

On our way out of town, despite all the wonderful adventures, amazing gelato, unexpected joy and unrivaled beauty, I was giddy from lack of sleep and exhausted from the miles and miles of lost wandering.

When we came upon this street sign I laughed myself sick.

In my hysteria (which my weary travel companion did not share in the slightest) I insisted she take a photo for me to remember Venice by. It seemed like the perfect encapsulation of our (mis)adventures.

The next year, this screenprint canvas arrived in neatly wrapped Christmas paper.

 

Que Sera Sara Venice Screenprint

It is amusing now, but at the time it was totally, infuriatingly confusing. For the tourist on a timetabled schedule it was downright cruel. How is this helpful?!  my brain would scream.

But, after these softening years, it has a certain integrity, too.

In life, as in Venice, usually there is no right answer.

Yes, it’s mysterious.

Yes, it’s chaotic.

Venice, for all her mercurial charm, is at least straight about this.

Sometimes crumbly walls are beautiful and sometimes they are disgusting.

Sometimes you get lost and its magical. Sometimes you get lost and it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s both at once.

Sometimes you cannot know which alternative is best.

And sometimes, just sometimes, all roads lead to the glorious San Marco anyway.

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