Venice, they say, is sinking. But Venice, as a literary construct, sunk under a weight of words years ago. I had determined not to write about Venice in the same way that I had determined not to fall in love with it. In both cases I failed. All I wanted was a quick fling. What I got was this . . .
The Ryanair flight to Treviso is the ideal way to arrive in Venice. Not only do you get to drive into the island on a coach, thus heightening your pleasure at the absence of cars when you reach Venice proper, but you also get to see ordinary Italians in their ordinary lives: a woman in her thirties eyeing up the topless workman; a young couple simmering hatred after an argument; old people doddering. That is, you get to see human nature, universal human nature. This is important because Venice is apt to blind you with its superficial displays of coquetry: the duomos, the facades, the gondoliers, the sinuous progress of the Grand Canal. These sights inspire more verbiage, more cliched comment than do the sights of any other city. It is horrible, really horrible, to overhear people repeat some tired observation (“It’s so unique!” “Oh, but all the interesting things are up the side-streets.”), especially if the thought had occurred to you also. As Regis Debray says: we must kill the construct of Venice inside of us. See it for what it really is. So: arriving at Treviso at least gives you an impression of what the Italian residents of Venice are like when not locked into the tourist continuum.
Our apartment, situated near the Arsenale, was perfect for a short stay. People say that Venice is expensive, well, it isn’t so bad if five are you are staying in a one bedroom flat. People say many things that aren’t true: “All the bars are shut by 10.30 pm” No, they’re not. When we staggered away from one bar on Via Garibaldi at 4 am there were still loads of people chatting. My advice would be to go to the cheapest hotel possible in the best location, making sure of only one thing: air conditioning.
Venice, in mid-June, was sweltering; it was the kind of heat that is memorable, like the summer of ’76 (which I remember, despite it being 3 years before I was born). The Artworld, saddled with the generous paunches that come from one too many vernissage, seemed to suffer immensely for their Art. Indeed, on the opening press day, some queued (without shade) in searing heat for up to four hours to get the necessary passes. Some of us, however, had taken the trouble to get up early that day and thus had the opportunity to sample some of Venice’s other pleasures.
The Lido has cars, true. It is a typical seaside resort, sure. Nevertheless, it is also the supreme place to relax after a hard days gawping at international contemporary art. Really, some of the press people had exhausting itineraries: how could they appreciate so much without pausing a moment to admire the locals sunning themselves? There is something spiritual about sunbathing on a beach. So close to the sea with its lapping waves, the sense of monumental boredom, the sand between your toes (you take a handful and watch it fall in tiny grains, like life): these are deep mysteries. Far deeper, I would say, than the majority of postmodern posturing in the biennale.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, I walked around Venice trying to cover as much ground as possible. Going round in circles because I followed my instinct too often, I saw masque shops, decaying buildings and . . .
I cannot quite describe what it is about Venice that made me fall in love with her (her!!!). I tried ever so hard to resist. I despise her cliches: the pigeons, the gondolas, the campanale. And I believe it is because of this that I did fall in love, for one realises that Venice is more than her cliches. However much flesh she displays in magazines and films, coming on like a third-rate washed up actress, there is always something more to be discovered. The smallest details fluoresce like iridescent twinkles in a future lover’s eyes . . .
The ground beneath your feet may seem solid, but after an hour on the vaporettos of Venice, it sways to the music of your soul.