Chopsticks in Italy

The seagulls in Venice, of which there are many, eat the pigeons, apparently. According to the guide book we’re using, the Venetians quite like this as they detest the pigeons. In fact, it’s illegal to feed them. The pigeons not the Venetians. Through the night I was awakened abruptly a number of times by the squawks of the seagulls, punctuated by the screeching of what I can only imagine was the death throes of a number of hapless pigeons. They sounded like hastily decapitated babies. Obviously not a pleasant sound, though, surprisingly it did not wake Mirinda.

Today we wandered around the less travelled parts of Venice as well as the most often travelled parts of Venice. But firstly the more crowded. We went to Saint Mark’s Square. To be completely honest, as we passed the bag search and huge police presence, I was somewhat mystified. Most London museums and other visitor attractions have bag searches and obvious security these days because of idiots with nothing better to do than believe some ancient twaddle, but rarely do you find it in big, open spaces.

To be fair, it is easier to control in St Mark’s Square seeing as it is bordered by canals and one entry point from the land-side. I thought it a bit excessive anyway and for what? The whole place resembled a shopping arcade that hadn’t been quite finished. Long colonnades of shops with half attached plaster on the walls and creased blinds with a look of the temporary.

And, of course, there’s the ever present hoardings. Clearly, somewhere like Venice is going to be in need of restoration and work of this type requires scaffolding but is it really necessary to do more than one building at a time? The whole place looked like a building site. And then we walked across the square and stood before St Mark’s Basilica.

Now I understand why people are impressed. The basilica and the Doge’s Palace beside it, are truly stunning to behold. The seafront area is also amazing. This was what I thought Venice would be like. And the crowds. Truly massive rivers of humanity flowing forwards, filling empty spaces.

St Mark's basilica, Venice

All around St Mark’s Square, barriers had been erected, creating a walkway down the centre with room for spectators either side. We walked down the middle of it while people looked at us from each side, clearly waiting for someone’s arrival. There were cameras and a big screen outside the basilica. We have no idea what it was all about but there’s been an awful lot of helicopters. Mirinda thinks it could be the pope. Could be, I suppose. I mean he is a Catholic and it was a Sunday. Only right he should attend church.

This is the odd thing. It’s quite difficult to find a church to visit on a Sunday when you’re a tourist. They are either locked up or there’s a service on. Fair enough, I suppose, but really, they actively encourage people to come in at other times.

We soon tired of the multitudes and wandered off the main drag into the more residential parts of Venice, trying to avoid smelling anything. The trouble with a place like Venice is that when you charge people to use a toilet that you lock up at night, people tend to use back alleys instead. You can’t blame them. It’s perfectly natural and everyone has to go. One of my over-riding impressions of Venice will be that it smells like the latrines at the Old Trafford cricket ground by about 4pm on a test day.

A back alley canal, Venice

But we found a wonderful restaurant. Down a little back alley, looking for all the world like it was someone’s house, the Ostaria Ace do’Marie is a definite must visit. If you can find it. I doubt that we’ll be able to locate it again. I had pizza and Mirinda had pasta, both of which were lovely but the best thing was the guy who obviously runs the place. Marvellous. And so nice to eat somewhere that is not full of tourists. I totally recommend it to anyone adventurous enough to find it.

After lunch we continued our journey around the deserted parts of Venice, spotting nuns and groups of priests with sunglasses and mobile phones every now and then. Mirinda wondered where all the children were. It is true. We didn’t see any. I figure they must have an island of their own and that’s where they live until they’re about 18 and are fit to live among adults.

Mirinda studies the map of Venice

We eventually made it back to the flat where we watched an unknown Harrison Ford film which included Captain Brass from CSI in it from when he had hair. It was quite a silly movie although it was supposed to be a thriller/romance. Interesting that it was directed by Sidney Pollack who generally makes quite decent movies. Still, it was harmless enough. Though we had to pause it when all the helicopters came over. I think it may have had something to do with whoever is visiting Venice today.

We decided to have a wander over the Rialto Bridge and head off in that direction in search of food. Most of this side of town appears to be made up of little sheds erected between pillars and made into little shops. It probably looks quite good when they’re all open and plying their trade but on a Sunday night with the crowds reduced to a trickle, it looks a bit desolate and the ever-present graffiti gives it all an air of unloved abandonment.

I haven’t spoken about the graffiti. It’s everywhere. It was invented by the Romans and the Italians see it as their right to scrawl anything, anywhere. Generally I don’t mind and sometimes I’m genuinely amused. There are places it really works, like Juliet’s balcony in Verona where lovers scrawl little messages to each other. In Venice, however, it tends to amplify the feeling that it’s all falling into ruin and the glory that was once there has been buried under years of grimy splashes of paint.

When the shops are shut and their shutters have been pulled down, they are covered in graffiti. On the other side of the Rialto bridge, this means a long line of graffiti stretching for the length of streets, shutter after shutter. Rather than spoil it, as such, it adds to the general decrepit nature of the place. I think it should be given a proper funeral then be left to crumble away on its own. The fact that it’s sinking and rising sea levels are threatening it, can only be a good thing. It could wind up being a real Atlantis, in bits beneath the Adriatic.

Anyway, enough of my opinions; there’s an awful lot of people who’d readily disagree with me and probably be shocked at them. We did come across a lovely scene last night. In a small campo, set up in one corner, was a group of three musicians playing something classical – probably Vivaldi. The sounds echoed around the stone walls giving them an air of magic. It was wonderful as day turned to night and the few remaining tourists stopped to listen and drop a few coins in the open violin case.

We eventually decided to have Chinese for tea. It was a mistake, not to be repeated. The food was quite odd and not the kind of Chinese we’re used to. Where Chinese is often the healthy option in terms of the amount of fat involved in the creation, this was nothing of the sort. Mind you, it was quite popular. A steady stream of Italians arrived as we ate then left. Hopefully the taste will go away sooner rather than later.

Apparently the very important visitor today was the pope. We put the TV on when we returned from the Chinese restaurant and there he was, speaking in Italian while sitting in St Mark’s basilica. I’m really glad we managed to avoid him! The crowd would have been horrendous.

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