Quiet, loud, quiet. Venice is a landscape of shifting personalities. Venice is schizophrenic. Venice is desire lines. At once teeming with hoards of people (gaudy clothes, crowding into small spaces, cameras pointed into every orifice) and stunningly desolate (dark, stinking, frightening, lonely), Venice does not know what it wants to be. As I get to know Venice, I am less sure of its existence. Is this place some sort of dream? A Disneyfied theme park or the most authentic and individualized place in the entire world?
I am astounded at the dualities of Venice. In an instant I can transfer from a claustrophobic space—my body crammed against all the other bodies—to the longest, narrowest, most abandoned alleyway leading into some beautiful unknown. Often, these spaces are one and the same changing as crowds ebb and flow. From the dry expanse of chiseled stone to an aqueous path running cleanly through the entire place. Venice provides space for everything you could ever want.
Water is the lifeblood of Venice. Water is Venice. Reflecting the light of the world, this place has attracted artists through the ages who wish to touch the bristles of a brush to the subtle reflections of life. Light bounces off the surface of the canals and the lagoon and leaves magical traces in your eyes, on your flesh. Light and water are the same here, indivisible. I don’t care to know where one stops and the other begins. My surroundings are mirrored in eternal reflections. The sky is below me, tall buildings spread out on flat planes, clouds and stars drift past in the wake of a gondola as it whispers through the arterials of Venice. Never harsh, the light here calms the soul of even the weariest traveler. I seek it out and try to escape it and I fall in love with it when it disappears. It comes back to me and kisses me with a warm embrace. Walking through the city (I don’t feel right calling Venice a city), my eyes try to keep pace with the flickering light. The steep buildings canted over the canals as the land subsides into the muck, interupting the sky at unnatural, unnerving angles. Fractals of sunlight on the surface of the water remind you that the heavens are still somewhere above, somewhere beyond these material constructions.
Green. Venice has so little space given to vegetation. A potted rosemary plant high on a windowsill stories above me. The purple and white spring flowers and the fresh buds emerging today where yesterday they were not. Finding few public green spaces, I see houseplants overgrowing someone’s balcony, Mediterranean leaves peeking out of some walled courtyard, or feral ecologies of sea lichens adhered to the facades of ancient buildings. Grey concrete painted orange, yellow, and pink to warm the Venetians as the cool blue-green lagoon splashes at the shore. Green is all around.
The canals of Venice are an indescribable green. Sometimes there is more blue in that green than yellow. Sometimes it is emerald. Sometimes jade. Sometimes turquoise. Sometimes chartreuse touched with olive and embellished with mint. Phthalocyanine green, rifle green, teal, harlequin, mantis, and midnight green. There is little need for trees or grass or flowers because these drifting canals are so alive. The water flows like a leaf fluttering in the wind and it moistens the eye abraded by the harsh sharpness of architecture. The green is consistent wherever one goes in Venice but its nature shifts with each passing moment as the light plays itself out all around.
Sensuality. Venice leaves a taste in your mouth that is not always delightful. Smells drift from restaurants and mingle with those from the canal. Sounds echo off the quiet. A shout in a campo bounces through the labyrinth of calli. Voices are melodies, footfalls are rhythms; breezes through the spaces between places are the whitenoise hiss between songs. A glass bottle shatters at two in the morning on the Rialto Bridge and the sound reverberates forever.