Sunday, 16 October 2016

Letter from Venice (14) 16-10-16

I stumble to the boat station two minutes late to catch the 4.2 which would have taken me clockwise round the city to Sant'Elena where I could have changed for San Marco on the number 1. I decide to get the soon arriving 5.1 heading anti-clockwise to Riva di Biasio where I can, similarly pick up a number one, this time heading down the Grand Canal to San Marco. It doesn't make much difference which way round one circles the city. The boatman mutters something about San Alvise as I get on which I choose to ignore. A few stops later at, surprise, surprise, San Alvise, the boat terminates and the boatman explains that it can't do its normal trick of cutting inwards into the city here through the beautiful Cannaregio Canal because, this Sunday morning, it is closed for a Regatta. I cut through on foot from the northern edge to the Cannaregio Canal and emerge opposite a small crowd on the far bank. A broad man with a white moustache and turned up trousers holds a microphone into which he chatters relentlessly, reading out the names of every member of each crew as it passes. Spectators stand on the Vaporetto landing stages, redundant from their usual use. Every two minutes or so a wide wooden boat with a rower standing on the raised stern, with five other standing rowers in front of him punting for all they are worth, heaves into view and passes us to cheers and the encouragement of 'Bravi ragazzi!' and 'Forza ragazzi! from the man with the mike. The normal tourist stream descending from the Railway Station stops to watch from the Ponte Guglie as the rowers pass underneath.

I cut through to San Marcuola and take a number 2, managing to get a seat in the prow for the main stretch down the Grand Canal. Alighting at San Marco I head for the Museo Correr hardly entering the main square and climb four massive flights of marble stairs to see the Ippolito Caffi exhibition.

In the afternoon I head out to the Lido in search of Art Nouveau buildings amongst other things. While I wait, reading inside the boat station, whenever I look up I'm looking into the empty space of a small square section of the ingress from the sea. Suddenly this is filled, just as the carriage of an old-fashioned slide projector might bring a slide into place before the lamp, with the side of a vaporetto, one which I don't wish to catch. The square frame is perfectly filled with the open section of the boat in which stands a beautiful young boatwoman with long, full-bodied raven hair and sunglasses. She cannot but be aware that she is on view and she shakes her mane of hair. She slams open the barrier to let passengers on and off and, then, with disinvoltura, shouts something to someone further up the landing stage before unhitching the rocking boat. Immediately the slide is withdrawn in the opposite direction, and the boat disappears. She is there for a noisy, striking moment and then gone. I carry on reading.

As soon as I disembark on the Lido I am back in a normal Italian city. There are cars, road markings, roundabouts and buses and, at first, not a canal in sight. I head down the Gran Viale which brings me to the other side of this long island which acts as an enclosure of the Laguna and, therefore, as a protection for Venice. On the way down the Gran Viale I take in the Hotel Ausonia e Ungaria which is a tiled Art Nouveau masterpiece with sexy Aubrey Beardsley nymphs on the facade. Although I am now on the far side I cannot see the sea. Over my shoulder I am aware of the Hôtel des Bains which has a 500 yard frontage and seven storeys. It is, however, boarded up on the ground floor. Before me is a painted concrete construction which I negotiate by passing under it and through a short corridor. I emerge, amidst some bar frontages, onto the sand. I pass through a gap in a four foot high wall of sand banked up deliberately by mechanical diggers, and then am on a flat wet beach which disappears in both directions as far as the eye can see. I walk down to the water's edge to watch the Adriatic roll gently in. There has been mist since this morning so, a kilometre or so off the beach, small ships and dredgers appear and disappear from time to time. There isn't a breath of wind.

I want to walk down to the Hotel Excelsior, another architectural extravaganza according to my guidebook, but am in two minds as to whether I should do it along the beach or down the Lungomare Marconi. This is because the space between the two is filled as follows: firstly there is a fence succeeded by three or four rows of beach huts belonging to one of the many hotels. This is followed by another fence and then by the sand wall which I guess to have been recently raised to protect the huts from winter storms. If I walk down the beach I am not sure I will be able to get off it back to the street as most of the beach here is allocated to private hotels. This is the seaside experience on an industrial scale. I take a risk and find that some beach gates are left open. The Excelsior is massive and has minarets and domes but does not seem that impressive. I turn back towards the Gran Viale along the Lungomare ducking into the Via Lepanto which is recommended for its villas. On the way I pass delegates from the National Urology Conference taking place in the Palazzo del Cinema which hosts a Film Festival every September. Many of them chat and smoke on a large balustrade. The Via Lepanto yields up some intriguing Art Nouveau villas with matching railings, tiles and patterning and brings me almost back to the boat station. This is the one whose barrier machines refused me entry a couple of days ago and which does the same today. I duck under the barrier in full view of the boatman on the 5.1 and explain to him what has happened. The boat sets off for Venice and, using a mobile phone-like device, he verifies that my Venezia Unica card is fully paid up.

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