Loving it up in the chapel

Anyone who has been to Italy will know how noisy the traffic is. Italians are a loud lot – not that there’s anything wrong with that and it clearly shows great passion. This translates easily to the road where their cars seem to make more noise, they use the horn for basic conversation rather than warnings and they yell a lot. Sometimes you really can’t be sure whether they’re yelling because they’re angry or because they’re pleased. Don’t take that as criticism because it’s not meant that way at all. I love the Italians so much I wish I was one and the passion is big part of it.

The thing with Venice is, of course, there’s no cars. Absolutely none. There’s a big carpark at the end of the causeway and then nothing. Apart from trolleys, we have seen only one wheeled contraption and that was a mobility scooter which, given the steps everywhere, can only have limited range. But does this vehicular lack make Venice quiet? Not in the least.

The flat we rented is a building away from a side canal. It can’t be seen from the windows which look out over a small courtyard on one side and the internal well of the building on the other. And yet, you’d think you were living in a houseboat right on it. The boats honk, the engines rev, the drivers yell and whistle and laugh. It goes on all day with brief periods of silence just long enough for your body to think it can relax. And then it starts up again. Still, I really like the lack of cars and trucks and not having to look every which way when crossing a road.

Today we were going to attempt to visit the Doge’s Palace but the crowds were so awful we changed direction and visited a few churches instead. The first was one that was closed when we originally went. It is the Basilica of Saints John and Paul. It was not only beautiful it was also virtually empty.

The church was built after Jacopo Tiepolo (the doge) had a dream in which God told him to build it. By sheer coincidence, he had the dream at the same time as he decided to assign some land to the Dominicans. Originally it was dedicated to St Mary but for reasons not entirely made clear by the guidebook, it ended up being changed to John and Paul (nothing whatsoever to do with the Beatles, I should add). Strangely, this double dedication gets changed to the contracted name of St Zanipolo.

It was started sometime in the 1200s and was held up for a bit by the plague (which ravaged the Venetian population by a third in 1348) to be finally completed (which is never really the case) in 1430 when it was consecrated.

Outside the church there’s a big statue of a guy on a horse. Who he is, isn’t really important but the artist who created the statue was Leonardo da Vinci’s old master, Andrea di Francesco di Cione. The mannerisms of the statue reflect the gestures of many of the sculptures in the church.

Inside, it is, basically, a huge empty space which houses some remarkable paintings and statues. Among them is a wonderful St Sebastien by Giovanni Bellini which forms part of an altarpiece dedicated to Tommaso Caffarini, founder of the Dominican Tertiary Order.

Saint Sebastien by Bellini

There are many wonderful pieces in this church. Rather than go through them all I’d just like to point out two of my favourites (after the St Sebastien, of course). Firstly the ceiling in one of the aisles is gorgeous if you lie down on your back and look up through a telescope. If you lay your camera down and shoot using a timer it works a bit better.

Ceiling by Piazzeta

The other is the wonderful marble floor which, as you’d expect, is everywhere.

A section of the marble floor

We spent a lovely time wandering around this magnificent church in a solitude guaranteed by the fact that the hordes of tourists where pushing and shoving each other over at St Mark’s Square. Funnily enough, as we approached the exit, a big crowd of tourists were stood behind the rope (you have to pay a measly €2.50 to visit) trying to peer in without having to pay. I’m not sure of the point of this as they wouldn’t have been able to see very much (it is a vast space and all the monuments are around the walls) but then again, I was quite happy for them to stay away and leave us to it.

Back outside we wandered down to the water to check out the vaparetto stop, deciding that tomorrow would be our water day, before wandering back into the alleys in search of a nice non-tourist restaurant. We found a lovely place called La Colonna in the Campiello del Pestrin, where we had pasta in amongst the cooling shade of vines. As we sat, we counted the number of non-tourists walking by – we were in a small square. Suffice to say, we didn’t see many tourists though I did spot a guy (surely English) wearing Capri pants, sandals and socks. Made me shudder.

After a delicious lunch (highly recommended if you’re in Venice looking for lunch) we set off again, just wandering, and found a lovely little chapel full of gorgeous carvings and a painted ceiling. It also housed an American couple who, it would appear, have no idea how to behave in church. To begin with, he was sitting in the front pew reading aloud from the laminated sheet given to him by the guy at the entrance while she was up the stairs, too far away to hear him. I figured he wasn’t able to read in his head because unless she had the hearing of Spiderman, the recitation surely wasn’t for her.

While the reading out loud was odd, it wasn’t as peculiar as their sudden love-fest. There were a fair few people in the church doing what most people do in these places, but that did not concern these two. Like a couple of school kids (they were a good deal closer to retirement than school) they fell into a clinch and started on a prelude to what I can assume would end up in a bed somewhere, hopefully not in the chapel. It was very odd and quite disconcerting. I’m not in the least bit religious but I do think I know a bit about the etiquette of these things. Having a big, middle-aged pash before the high altar in a chapel, surrounded by lots of other tourists can’t be right. Or, maybe I’m being a bit stodgy. Though, to be fair, Kate and Wills didn’t.

Shocked to the core, we left the little chapel though not before snapping a lovely little carving of Adam and Eve set at the base of one of the pillars holding the place up. Sadly I didn’t get a photo of the Americans when I so wish I had.

Adam and Eve in the Mary of the Miracle chapel

This was all too much for us so we headed back to the flat for our afternoon rest (we are getting so Italian) before heading out again, this time towards the area around the station. We didn’t have the map but we just followed the day-trippers and they led us straight to it.

We finally bought a 24 hour vaporetto pass each and took a long journey to St Mark’s Square via the less than romantic docks, and the lovely length of Giudecca.

Venice looks lovely from the water. As you watch it move by, you realise how it was designed to be seen like this. While it looks beautiful, the buildings seem to be leaning, giving evidence that Venice will eventually return to the Adriatic.

We eventually left the boat (with many others) and headed towards the now less but still essentially crowded St Mark’s Square. Bits of it are beautiful but so much is covered by hoardings (including both sides of the Bridge of Sighs which featured the odd vision of tourists snapping away at the big advertising boards and the tiny bit of bridge in between; hardly the romantic vision they were hoping for) that it detracts a lot from it. A lot of the Venice we have seen is not under construction and has been a lot more beautiful for it.

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