Venice is beautiful. It’s touristy. It’s living history. It’s artistic. It’s sinking. And it’s stinky. But, love it or love it “not so much”, it is intriguing. This is a Venice love story.
Tranquility. I can’t believe it. There are only a few locals hurrying off to work as I run through Piazza San Marco. The pigeons slowly strut about, no worries of being chased by snotty-nosed kids. I relish this peaceful moment, looking up to the iconic Basilica di San Marco, thinking how different this is from the afternoon before when there were tons of tourists wandering around the piazza. I make a note to myself to come back tomorrow morning if there is time before I leave for Vicenza.
I know from the moment I step out of my guesthouse that running here this morning will be special. My senses tell me the chaos hasn’t begun yet. Having arrived the day before, I have mixed emotions about Venice. It is beautiful, looking like the images I have seen in books and magazines. But, there are A LOT of tourists. Too many. It also seems a bit commercialized: the gondola rides with indifferent gondoliers, the designer shops that many tourists see as the main reason to come to Venice (don’t these people see this amazing architecture?), the overpriced restaurants with so-so food. I want something quieter, less touristy – the off-season, laid-back Venice of the locals. And I am getting that now as I am running.
As I wandered about with my camera yesterday, I felt kind of stressed. I watched the other tourists, almost tripping over each other, hurrying from one site to another and I came to a conclusion: I don’t think most of the people who come here really notice all the details of a building, a statue, or a church façade. They stop, take a picture, post it to their Facebook page, then move on. It bugs me for some reason. I imagine them telling friends, “Yeah, I went to Venice.” But, are they really seeing Venice? Experiencing Venice? Or is it just a another place to check off on their list?
After passing through the piazza, I head toward the Grand Canal, winding my way through the narrow streets that are still shaded. I’m unsure how far I can run along the Grand Canal, but decide to check it out. I make mental notes of where I am, looking at buildings, signs, and street names. Although Venice is not that big, it can be confusing. But, there’s no such thing as getting lost. You just wander. Often this is when you stumble upon something memorable: a small church, a cute shop or a piazza where the locals sit and gossip.
I reach the Grand Canal and make a right. I see the Venetians, many with briefcases or laptop bags, boarding the vaporettos (water buses). Where are they going to work? Back to the mainland? I am curious as to what life would be like, living in a place that is in some ways dying. It is quite possible that Venice will be underwater some day. The new lost city of Atlantis, I speculate. It is expensive to live here, to keep up the buildings. More people are moving to the mainland due to the cost. But, it would be difficult to leave such a beautiful place. Everywhere I look as I run down the wide pedestrian way there are gorgeous buildings, works of art. I’m a sucker for this kind of architecture. Man, those dudes back then knew how to create a building. Our structures today, hmpf. Not impressive compared to this.
Running up and down some steps along the way, I take it all in: columned, colorful buildings; the busy canal with boats of all sizes motoring along; men and women dressed stylishly for work; the salty, fishy smell of the sea. It feels real to me.
The sun is climbing higher, losing some of its warm glow as I hit the end of the pedestrian way. I turn around I make my way back into the labyrinth of narrow walkways and old buildings, anxious to be out of the heat. It’s cooler here, still shaded.
I look up at the buildings, none taller than 4 stories, in awe of their intricacies. Columns of stone lead upward; sculpted, half-naked bodies and daisy-like flowers meld into the façades. There are oranges, pinks, yellows and reds. Large wooden, earthy brown shutters lead into a homes that have been around for centuries. I imagine a woman in a long, full dress busting open the shutters, stepping onto her flower-covered balcony to call to her lover. What would Venice have been like in the 14th century? Would I have been one of those women married to some old guy, but in love with someone more my age? Ahh, forbidden love.
As I run across the Piazza San Marco again, my mind comes back to the present. I need to decide where to run to next.
I run back toward Campo Santo Stefano, near my guesthouse, then make a right. Crossing over one of the many small canals, I see a man hauling bottles of water and soda in a big cart. So this is how they transport goods. First on the boats, then on the carts to their final destination. A lot of work. No wonder things are so expensive. My appreciation of Venetian life grows.
Passing by a fruit and veg market, my eyes are drawn to all the colors and good food. I hear the sound of Italian – music to my ears – as the locals buy fresh food for the day. I take note of the location so I can come back here after breakfast. The tomatoes, pomodori, look tasty.
After running to another campo (small piazza), I hit a dead end at one of the small canals. It’s time to run back to the guesthouse.
The bedlam is beginning, the pedestrian way busier now. My Venice is fading away. I ponder coming back here someday, during the off season, so I can enjoy the Venice of the locals. I imagine it being peaceful, as it has been on this run.
Freshly baked bread permeates the air as I turn the corner. It smells delicious. Just a short run down this road and I will be back. I cherish these last few minutes of the quieter Venice. My Venice.