I am swaying back and forth. I still don’t have my sea legs. Or is it my land legs? The lagoon is rolling, green, turning over. I cross via vaporetto from my apartment in San Zaccharia to our studio in the Giudecca. A five minute boat ride and the robust block of the church at Redentore looms over me as the terra firma lifts and falls much like the water surrounding me.
I’ve been to Venezia before. Three years ago, after 27 months in West Africa, I landed in Italy with a woman I was in love with. Now I am here again, this time alone. Transitions. But isn’t this the city of love? I’m here as a scholar of placemaking, of the cultural landscape. If architecture is frozen music, Venice must be frozen love. Romantic, candle-lit tables tucked away into some sottoportego. Couples embracing on moonlit bridges locked forever in dreamy kisses. Velvet-padded gondolas, accordion solos, the echoes of some singing man off the canyon walls of a narrow canal.
Nobody seems sure: Either the water is rising or the ground is sinking. No matter what the reality, it elicits a sort of prolonged panic. Somehow, I need to understand this. As students of landscape architecture, we are encouraged to be ecologists, geometricians, geologists, and historians. The depth of our studies though pushes us as sculptors to a block of marble, as painters to a blank canvas, as poets to unrequited love.
Some of what I learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia inspired me to pursue my studies in landscape architecture. This has, somehow, brought me back here. The first part of this trip spent in Holland taught me about organized spatial design and wide-open spaces extending to some man-made horizon. If the Netherlands is a country created by obsessively pumping water out to the ocean, Venice is a city organically gathered around the idea of embracing the sea. I have to admit; I think I prefer the latter.
Beyond my studies of such communities of people learning to live in soggy places, the archaeologist in me is fascinated by such a place frozen in time. Because of its World Heritage status, I didn’t have to dig this city from the earth. Still, here it is exactly as it was. And me. Exactly as I was? Venice is not my home. Still, somehow I feel more at ease here than I have for quite some time. As Emerson once wrote, “Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of fact.”