Thirty-one years, all of which in possess of a passport marked “Repubblica Italiana”, and I had never been to Venezia. I visited Hanoi, Dušanbe and Charlotte, North Carolina, but never made it to the city at the end of the Veneto lagoon. That had to change somehow.

Venezia brought memories of Istanbul by the bucketful. Not just because of the spontaneity of waterborne commuting, or because of obvious historic ties, but for me it was because of something else. Much like many of Istanbul’s neighbourhoods – Fener, Balat, Galata, Kuzguncuk – Venezia’s sestieri seemed designed to get lost into, and we very much obliged.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
Roads made of smooth stone slabs, bridges of bricks and granite. Green water, mould-patched walls from which windows of all shapes and sizes opened. Spun roundels, semi-circular, lancet or ogee: all sort of arcs were present in Venezia, often in the same building. This architectural mixing, intertwining and crossbreeding was a fitting similitude for what happened here on many fronts. Placed as it was at the busiest crossroads of the world, Venezia made the world theirs.
Rarely crossing paths with other tourists – or any other pedestrian, for that matter – we began noticing details. Everything, not just commuting, happened on water. Supermarket deliveries, taxi services, rubbish collection – with recycling ferociously adhered to – and all those wheelings and dealings that, anywhere else, would be accomplished by marauding white vans happened, in Venezia, by boat.

Because, after all, Venezia was a real city. Or, as the green banner say, una vera città.

Walking around Dorsoduro, Sant’Elena or even Rialto, it was hard to think Venezia could ever be submerged by tourists, but one needn’t scouting too hard to find apt clues of their passage. In Italy the No-Tutto “no to everything” season hadn’t gone away yet, but for once the No Grandi Navi was a campaign I could subscribe to, especially after seeing mammoth cruise ships trundle along the Giudecca canal.

Details continued to bounce to our eyes. Slowly, Venezia reveals another side of her – because, like Istanbul, Venezia is a she, a great dame – character. A quirky note, made of street art: irreverent and subtly critical art, taking as many forms as one could wish or imagine, and then some more. For instance, it could be a jest aimed at the American presence in Vicenza and Aviano, Saluti da Vicenza, “Greetings from Vicenza” says the bombing airplane.

Or it could be a caricature of those tourists who clog only selected piazze and calli.
Modern economy didn’t escape the hand of the unnamed artist. The euro has now replaced Mark the Evangelist’s Gospel, and the lion sported a sinister, reptile, grin. Euro tuum vitae meae.

It wasn’t a recent phenomenon either. Past and present of street art intermingled, and nowhere this was more visible than in a piazza where an indie drawing had been sticked above a faded hammer and sickle, all within spitting distance from a church parvise. It didn’t get any more Italian than that.

Sometimes it was art for the sake of art, perhaps with a nod to the city’s past, such as the pigeon wearing the Plague Doctor’s mask. And why not? It didn’t necessarily have to be political, or denouncing this or that. I found myself liking these little chef d’oeuvres intensely, for they added a subdued, unobtrusive touch of beauty to hidden corners of a city that had plenty of the good stuff.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
Walking the Ghetto Nuovo, a mere teenager at 501 years of age, we wondered whether street art didn’t date any older than the last decade, whether today’s stickers, drawings and photos were indeed a baton passed from previous centuries, a tradition spanning ages, cultures and religions.
Whatever the answer, street art seemed positively alive and kicking in Venezia. And when streets ended and canals began, it did what everyone else in town did: it, too, took to the water.


27 thoughts on “Delirious Venezia.

  1. Wow, this is a side of Venezia I never imagined. I went almost thirty years ago in March. There was a low season back then. Now all I hear about is how overrun with tourists it is. So good to see that, like Prague, you can escape into deserted back streets where the real city reveals herself through symbols. That is probably the most tasteful collection of street art I’ve ever seen. Thanks for the wander!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome Julie! Frankly, I thought it’d be tourism central as well, but with the exception of a few streets (and of Murano and Burano) it wasn’t the case at all. Perhaps it’s different at carnival or in August, but in early September it was absolutely bearable.


  2. Good to know there really is a downtime in Venice. The street art reminds me a bit of the small stickers and more assuming art in Bogota, but I can’t imagine (mostly because I’ve never been there) a city essentially built on water. I agree with Rich that your post is a different kind of glance at the city – one that tempts me a bit more than the usual photo fare of gelato, gondolas, and many, many people!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve left Venezia being a massive fan of the place, and of the people. Speaking Italian definitely helped (as well as understanding a bit of the dialect and finding the funny side in the incredibly profligate parlance) in going beyond the ice creams and gondolas which were almost inevitably clogged with Asians Whatsapping their life away, so much so that even the gondolieri took photo of them!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Those pieces of art on the quiet corners of Venice are a nice and refreshing touch to the otherwise very touristy city. I was planning to go to Venice sometime next year, but had to cancel it as I realized I would need more time to explore it beyond the usual tourist trails. Your comparison of Venice to Istanbul convinced me to dedicate a trip exclusively to the Italian city one day. I spent a week in Istanbul and really fell in love with her, so I should expect to fall in love with Venice as well. And as wise people say, love takes time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t say whether I’d spend one whole week in Venezia, Bama… Frankly the place is as big as Galata, without having to be uphill, so even if you paced yourself you’ll walk the town in a couple of days, and another 2 days would suffice to see the other, main, islands. But there are bucketloads of places around Venezia to see, even as daytrips. Bologna is a mere couple of hours away by train, for instance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hahha! The only Venezia post I’ve ever loved. So much food for quirky mind. This last one is just priceless. How much people living there must suffer their lack of streets, seeing that they are still Italians and automobilism in the national sport! I’m glad you made it there and saw the old girl with fresh eyes. I was there twice, just for a couple of hours both times. It felt like being picked up as that orange guy in Google Maps, dropped on a film set where a major fairy-tale was being filmed or in a dream, and then mercilessly thrown out thirsty and hungry because every bar and restaurant looked like a trap. Only to discover that the parking house only charged for the whole day. 25 eur, please. Still worth it though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch, 25 euro!? That’s steep. We did find places – bacari or cicchetterie, mostly – where a glass of spritz was a couple of euros and food was cheap, but yes, downtown everything looks like a trap.
      Funnily enough, boats are the cars there! We’ve even seen the local chavs, with louder engines, neon lights, techno music and all the rest of it… So it is Italy after all, just… wet. Love your image of the orange Google Maps guy, wish I had it!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.