Yesterday I was in Venice. From the moment my feet touched the paving stones the city became me; the heady mix of culture and tourism embellishing each breath I take. At the height of summer this temperature is overwhelming and the heat clings to my body in a thick mist of sweat. Sea wind slows to a lazy pace over the lagoon, picking up a select cocktail of scents before it reaches me. Fishing boats on the water, sea-fare ready for the plate. Incense and candle wax waft through each petite corner of religion. The stench of a side alley, aroma of a cafe; all coffee and delicate Venetian tapas. Chocolate, perfume and canal water and salt. All these things assault the air.
Buonjiorno and friendly neighbours over the cafe counter debating the course of the day slowly meld into an array of languages and decibels the closer to san Marco I get. A handbag for sale, pocket money toys and counterfeit purses. The hawkers shout, ‘Look here! Look here!’
Tour groups in a hum of their native language cluster before the Bridge of Sighs and the Ducal palace, worshiping the knowledge of their tour guide who holds her totem, a gaudy umbrella, aloft to separate her from the masses.
But every now and then, a quieter moment, a little alley, and the sounds of carefully arranged music seep out a church door or the back of a grand palazzo. These quieter nooks where the loudest sound is the gondoliers shout of ‘Ho!’ as he turns a corner so not to knock into his fellow. The whisper of the tourists as the long boat rounds the corner to behold a new sight, secret only to them, and the swish-click of the camera shutters which follow, immortalising the moment in time.
But oh! The tastes are here to be had too, and for no small price. Change and notes tinkle and rustle over counters in exchange for culinary morsels and trashy tourist tidbits. Dark chocolate sorbet, espresso the Rome way with one sugar for me! And the seafood, it is like no other. Shellfish, fresh today from the markets beside the Rialto, served in al dente spaghetti. Squid ink and pasta, goth soul-food that will stain your tongue black. Chocolates of all flavours and delicate sweets crafted to perfection. Fruit juice freshly squeezed and a cool moment with my feet in the water on the edge of the canal.
My fingers run along the crumbling plaster walls, all flakes of colours bright and brown, flowers in a tomb, silk and soft, glass beads in colourful bundles, I run my fingers through them as I make my selection, cool and smooth.
Dogs are everywhere, some waiting for a friendly pat, others yapping frantically as they are hauled away; the Venetian pet of choice is definitely a pup, though on Burano amidst colourful well kept houses and curtains billowing lace and needle work, there is a lonely cat on the window sill, ears waiting to be scratched.
And the things to be seen, oh what wonders they! A gondola ride at midnight, cloaked figures in darkness share a moment atop a lamp lit bridge. The boat slips by and the couple, disturbed, melt in to the thick darkness.
Fireworks over the lagoon, our eyes sparkling with the reflections in wonder. The celebration, the revelry, the whirl of people and bang of gunpowder rainbows.
Then quieter moments, sombre scenes. A funeral barge arriving, casket laden with flowers at Isola di san Michelle. Silent faces, carved in stone in grand memory of the angelic, the saintly, or simply the dead. Avenues of stone and memorial, these holy places and tombs piled so many stories high. No room for the dead.
And there it is in a nut shell, Venice, in all her beauty and colourful array, a city truly of darkness and daylight, of romance and tragedy. Of stolen moments hidden from the world and over publicised touristic monuments, but when all is said and done, still this; one of my favourite cities of all.
Afterword: Hi! Time to write has been so fleeting lately, as all my spare moments are dedicated to editing my novel and pushing forward with the publishing dream / goal in mind. These thoughts of Venice will have to suffice instead for the time being! These were written last time I was there, in 2014 for the Redentore Festival, and they tell the story behind my photographs below. I hope you enjoy it! With love and darkness, J R Manawa x
The hollow stare of a shop full of masks after dark.
Graffiti in the back alleys
Libreria Acqua Alta, perhaps one of the world’s most unique and rambling second-hand bookshops, hidden in the quieter nooks of Venice
Basilica di Santa Maria across the Grand Canal. Cue gondolier. Perfect shot.
Marionettes for sale in one of the many crowded mask shops hiding in the back alleys
Fireworks over the lagoon at the Redentore Fesitval in July