Canals, Boats and Pigeons in Venice (12/11/03)

Last updated 12/25/03                                                                                                                                

Venezia, the mysterious city on water, the knotted landscape of canals criss-crossed by overarching bridges and labyrinthine streets that have never been defiled by automobile tires, you stole my heart and entered my dreams, Venezia, Venezia! One glance at the Ponte Degli Scalzi that bridges the banks of your Canal Grande like a stretching cat who curves his flexible spine towards the sun, and I fell in love with you to the exclusion of all other places of romance in this world. I lost myself to the grandeur of your palaces, the whisper of your lapping waves, the sunstreaks across your reflection in the mirror of your countless waterways, the filth and quiet of their stagnant corners, the stones that remember carnival adventures of cloaked doges and their masked mistresses in wide skirts, the irresistible draw of your past, the ageless pride of the coquette who knows her own beauty.

Your waters are playful by day, inviting to a ride in a gliding gondola or a walk across the many bridges that seem made for lovers to kiss on, but they grow treacherous by nightfall when the fog settles in, muffling steps on the cobblestones, hiding the splashes of oars, muting conversations, and making dead-end streets open onto the canals without any safeguard all the more suddenly. The marble-edged steps of your bridges and algae-overgrown stairs that descend right into the canals become dangerously slippery, and stillness of the water with its greenish tinge seems to conceal many secrets, some innocent, some murderous... On such nights, barely illuminated by the foggy moonlight, it is easy to imagine the ghosts of your glorious history still striding along the raised walkways -- the doges dance once again in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale, their prisoners cross the Bridge of Sighs to enter the dungeons where they will waste away while your free citizens go wild in the streets during masquerade, and Casanova himself charms the hearts of females who have not yet abandoned themselves to the songs of gondoliers. The ghosts make your empty streets alive with laughter and whispers, but unfortunate is the traveller who senses their shadows, hears the tales of murders unsolved and bodies never discovered in the pale murky depths of your canals, and screams with fright in the thick milky fog, for no help will come, and no comfort is to be found during those long, lonely winter nights when your inhabitants close the shutters against the mermaid call of their floating city.

The sun does not choose to rise early here, and the town takes a long while to shake off the dreams of the night just ended. Only by noon does the web of your sky-blue arteries come fully alive with traffic of delivery boats, joyride gondolas, workhorse ferries and waterbuses, and the streets grow awake with the footsteps of locals and visitors walking towards their new day in the city of a thousand bridges. Hurry, now, for there is so much to see, hear, inhale and digest! Traditional Venetian glass-blowing shops await on the island of Murano, the pigeons on San Marco square are hungry for their daily feed, the palazzos along the Grand Canal desire to show off their marble facades to the passengers of vaporetto boats, the shopkeepers on Ponte Di Rialto bridge are hoping for new sales, the bells of dozens of churches are tired of tolling the hours without an audience to mind them, and cafes have already opened their doors to emanate sweet aroma of freshly baked pastries. Canals welcome the boat riders with sunny glitter on the water, bridges stretch out their backs to the caress of pedestrian soles, oh Venice! You are reborn from the sea foam again, like your namesake goddess, and ready to lure your guests into the embrace of unforgettable earthly beauty that will leave their souls aching to return to the tangle of canals, bridges and streets whose name chimes like a breaking goblet -- Venezia.


Boats of all forms are an integral part of Venetian life since the city is made up of over a hundred little islands. There are no cars allowed on the streets (which are tiny in any case -- and we didn't see any rollerbladers or bikers) so boats are used for deliveries (of all kinds) and transportation. Deliveries seem to be a major pain since not all streets are close to canals (and the delivery boats may be too large for nearby canals). This necessitates the use of dollies, which can be quite inconvenient to take across bridges (which only have steps, sometimes pretty darn slippery ones at that). We've seen plenty of hapless individuals trying to manuver their dollies up the steps with large packages.

Of all the grand things in Venice, none is more amazing than the Grand Canal (get it, "grand things" and "Grand Canal"? anyways...) There are no embankments along the canal, and the only way to see many of the facades of buildings which face the canal is by boat. Luckily there is a vaporetto (one of Venice's public water-busses) which goes the entire length of the canal (you can spend about 10.50 euros to buy a 24 hour transportation card that allows access to all vaporettoes, including the one that travels the Grand Canal). Oh, in case you were wondering about the ride down this canal... let me just say that it was a *grand* experience.

St. Mark's Square is the most famous place in all of Venice. One might think it's for the tall bell-tower, or the beautiful basilica nearby, but I venture it's for all the pigeons that make this large square their territory of terror. Woe to the clumsy tourist who accidentally drops a portion of his or her sandwich, and anyone that willfully throws some food nearby as an offering to these vultures is certainly deserving of their fate. You see the minute you throw any sort of food (bread-related products are probably best) near yourself, even if you were in a previously empty portion of the square, you will soon see a swarm of pigeons heading your way and they'll surround you and fly near your body and probably land on your person. I think it's a touristic ritual to dump some food and then shriek and flail your arms (all the while taking pictures, or having someone else do this for you) when the pigeons actually arrive for whatever you've offered them. If you do this a couple of times, the damn things actually recognize you and will proceed to follow you (it's actually a pretty scary thing) awaiting more food. Between me and Daria, she was the first to brave the pigeons, and then I tried it, and it's an experience that will live with me to my dying days -- you've gotta experience it for yourself to believe it. When the pigeons are actually on you it's not that bad... the scariest part is when you drop something and you see all of them flying toward you -- coming for what you've got.

                              Some fun at the beach in Lido (an island close to Venice --- you can get there using a vaporetto, so it's all good). Lido used to be a world-class beach resort for the rich vacationers, and is supposed to retain some of its old chic to this day, but maybe not in the dead of the winter season. The seashells are awesome!


          Some random sights from Venice. Notice the identical towers in the last two pictures -- they are separated by a wide canal and seen as a "twin towers" pair from the ships coming into Venetian harbor. Famous painting of Venice often represent this sight, which we were unable to capture from a vaporetto boat.