Mr Tabubil and I have just returned from three weeks holiday – a week in Holland, so that I might see a bit of his country and meet his family, and two weeks together after that in Italy. Right now, we're in Venice.
We took a noon train from Florence to Venice (260km, 2.5 hours) and then the Venice Vaporetto from the Stazione Santa Lucia to our vaporetto stop (3km, 1 hour). Transport efficiency might vary between the ancient and the modern, but the slow Venice barge certainly has the best views; we hung over the side rail and gawped at the sun glittering off the boats and white bridges, and at the palazzos sliding sideways into the icy blue water.
We had a room in a charming little residence on the edge of the Campo San Maurizio, tucked into the side of a narrow lane across a little white marble bridge, with a gondola moored to a lacquered post underneath - very Cole Porter. Our room was small and low-ceilinged, filled with a dim-underwater light, and stuffed to the gills with faux-antique wooden furniture, every piece carved and painted and brocaded and gilded until the surfaces were panting for relief. Even the walls of our little room were padded, and covered floor to ceiling in a green and gold polyester brocade. In the event of fire, we were instructed to tie the gold brocade bedcover into a rope and slither around the charming wrought iron screen that kept us from falling past the silver brocade curtains and out of our charming little picture window into a window box filled with perfectly charming geraniums.
We napped, briefly, in our little room on the golden bed, then we went walking and found all of the ways the local streets dead end into the water. It took some time to outpace the tourist hordes and art-glass shops, but by sunset we were in a narrow maze of stone paved alleys that opened into small Piazzas or dead-ended into blue canals, with washing lines strung across the water.
There is a quality of light here – it glitters over the canals and crooked streets, settling like a luminous, electric blanket over the white marble spans and the waterways. The city has the soft, limpid quality of a fever, with heady currents and electric heat just under the surface. Earth and water exist here in an impossible balance; the natural division between the two elements has broken down, become imperceptible. Natural laws simply fail to operate - or be remembered - or have never existed to BE remembered. Tall stone palazzos are built on top of the water, with the sea lapping halfway up the doorpost. Stone pillars and stone archways lean crazily inward on each other; walls have an open relationship with the vertical - when I think about it, it is perfectly sensible; the foundations have no foundation; instead they rise and fall with the waxing and waning of the moon.
We walked down narrow ways into the Piazza San Marco, where four separate chamber orchestras were playing in four separate corners. We sat on a stone bench by the water and looked out at the night, and felt immeasurably pleased with ourselves.