27 September 2007
'tis the season
I'd never seen a gondolier float past my bedroom window. But in Venice, if you check into your room and there's mysterious live music in the distance take a glance out the window. The source of the tune may be gliding past in his striped t-shirt, piloting a gondola full of tourists.
It could be a romantic moment.... what with the dreamy Italian love songs, the weepy accordion, the canal waters undulating past. Unless, of course, you're sharing a room with beloved relatives and between the 3 of you there's not a mattress in the room that doesn't sink sadly to the floor in response to any weight set upon it. And let's refrain from discussing the décor.
For decoration less an affront to the senses there was a unique marble staircase spiraling its way up the courtyard outside of our lodging. We hadn't known of its existence but apparently other tourists come looking for it. And you do need to hunt. It's in a place where once you feel like maybe you shouldn't be wandering around those parts, you know you've landed in just the right spot.
Returning to the matter of the hotel room, it was a lesson in the differences between Italian and American views on air conditioning. In our experience we've learned that many Italians prefer searing heat to the cool draft of air conditioning. We've been on summer trains, sweating, while Italians talked among themselves about their fear of freezing to death - and then piled on the sweaters to prove it.
Our trip to Venice was two weekends ago and when I asked the proprietress of our quarters to furnish us with the air conditioner's remote control so that we could cool the room, she informed me - as if I were an innocent and wayward child - that my poor dear girl, air conditioning season is over.
And that's where we encountered a substantial difference in opinion. I could get over the lack of shampoo in the room. And the saggy sad mattresses. And maybe even the ludicrous bedding combinations. (Have I started talking about the décor?) But I would not be convinced that air conditioning season was done and gone.
As an American I have been trained to think that it is always air conditioning season. Because although I may choose not to use it, I can't help but feel that air conditioning should most always be available. Especially in rooms along slow-moving canals that harbor, without a doubt, mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds.
The lady and I chatted and although she insisted that Italians are done with air conditioning for the year, I convinced her that we Americans were not. Happily, the air conditioner's remote control magically appeared in our room later that afternoon.
That morning we'd made sure to visit our favorite Venetian bar (as in espresso). It's a small place and you end up tripping over locals to enter. But it's wonderful because with the exception of us, nearly every person who enters is greeted by name. It's like Cheers except that instead of "Norm" they're belting out "Mario!" In a city where you are always surrounded by tourists, and you never feel like anything but, it's nice to sneak into a place where you're the only folks from out of town.
We also stopped by our favorite place for snacks. There you have to elbow your way up to the guy dishing-out plates of miniature antipasti from a crowded display window. And once you point at enough of the tiny delicacies to fill a plate, you get a few glasses of wine and make your way out to the canal to eat alongside its waters. The regulars seem to keep to the far end of the bar, drinking wine and talking shop.
After appetizers we took a walk to our favorite pizza place - passing a boat laden with colorful produce along the way. When we got there we ordered giant slices of pizza and parked ourselves on a bench. Our view was that of the closing fish market in one direction, and the world's most amorous teenage couple in the other. It was a toss-up over which induced a stronger bout of nausea. Fish scales and tails, or teenage make-out session on nearby bench? Believe me, it was a close call.
We also had a chance to take a great tour of the Palazzo Ducale. Called the Secret Itineraries Tour a guidebook might describe it as an enjoyable romp through prison cells and private passageways. And they'd be right - it's great. Although our visit was plagued by the background noise of Lega Nord supporters shouting into megaphones at a large rally outside. (Lega Nord is a political party that wants Northern Italy to secede from the South. Will my sarcasm show if I say they're "quite charming"?)
It's true that Venice is always full of wanderers, and pausers, and random lingerers. Sometimes you'll be stuck behind an unknown wanderer and be tempted to nudge them along to hurry them through Venice's skinny and crowded passageways. But at other times you'll become the wanderer and stop crowds behind you as you pause to explore some random crack and cranny. But that's the joy of Venice: cracks and crannies.
And gondoliers floating past.