by Nomad Nan (Nancy Van Veen)
Watching recent news footage of soggy Venetians and intrepid tourists wading gingerly through the flooded streets of Venice swept me back to one of my most dreamy trippy tales. It was spring of 2014 and St. Mark’s Square was flooded then as well. I recall navigating across the makeshift, elevated walkways in the square like a tipsy pirate. However, this recent tidal event was considerably worse. With fierce winds driving the high tide to an alarming 156 centimetres above sea level, flooding shops and eateries, it’s an ominously salty taste of what’s in store with climate change,
I cherish my memories of Venice, which began with exploring Piazzo San Marco, surrounded by towering St. Mark’s Basilica, Campanile Bell Tower and the Gothic Palace. The area is stunning, but even in low season it’s insanely crowded. So it was ideal to follow that overwhelming introduction with a gentle glide through the canals. I boarded our fanciful gondola with my companion Maria and an American tourist named Brad. We had the good fortune to be accompanied by an accomplished Italian singer and his handsome accordion player. We lounged lavishly in the crushed velvet seats, grinning euphorically whilst being serenaded by ‘O Sol Mia.’ Naturally, I was compelled to videotape the charming sequence. I panned my camera from the scenic canals, to the performers, to our jaunty gondolier, to a blissful Maria, but when I turned to Brad my jaw dropped — he was chalky-white, panic-stricken and had a death grip on the side of our boat! Sympathetic as we were, we decided he wouldn’t tarnish our magical experience. We still giggle about the poor fellow, who claimed he was unaware of his phobia and frantically chain-smoked cigarettes after managing to disembark.
Fortunately I’m not aqua-phobic, for during our next adventure, cruising the Grand Canal, the speedboat driver offered me the wheel! I was thrilled to steer us through the famous waterway. But when the water traffic became hectic my bravado faltered and I passed the wheel back to more experienced hands.
It is said that ‘when in Venice, one must get lost’ — that’s good advice and easy to do! The city of water is a complex maze of narrow alleys, beautiful bridges (including the iconic Bridge of Sighs) and secluded squares. All along are endless shops peddling ornate Venetian masks, fine Italian leathers and souvenirs. And the cuisine is divine — from gelato to pastries to pastas! I chose a historic hot jazz cafe in a quiet lane (where prices are affordable) and revelled in a simple spaghetti bolognese and glass of Pino Grigio. To my delight, Django Reinhardt’s ‘Minor Swing’ played on.
Aside from its famous glass blowing, Venice is home to dozens of amazing attractions, but some can be tricky to locate. One must navigate the city by winding through lanes and over bridges, whilst watching for elusive signage. I guarantee you will get lost, but don’t fret, eventually you’ll get where you’re going, which in my case was the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. There, I was rewarded with mind-blowing works of art from Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, Ernst, Pollock and Duchamp.
I am ever driven to explore places on our planet before they disappear (or sink)! Savouring the decadent flavours of Venice when I did, truly makes me feel blessed. Capote was right — Venice is a rich and intoxicating experience!
Whether your travels take you around the block or across the globe, always pack a warm heart and an open mind. Happy New Year!