Saturday, 8 October 2016

Letter from Venice (9) 8-10-16

I take a walk to San Lio and Santa Maria della Fava (Hannibal Lecter’s favourite bean) purely because Joseph Brodsky had mentioned that he lived in this vicinity on one of his many stays in the city. I determine to avoid the square I always collide with – Santa Maria Formosa – partly because its always seething with turisti (of course, I haughtily exclude myself from this group) and also because I find its layout, with the Greek Cross-shaped church plonked skew whiff near the middle and a scowling and belligerent vegetable stall holder unappealing (what I do like about it is that it can be entered from nine different side-streets, giving it a theatrical feel. Avoiding the Formosa takes some doing and my best map-reading skills. After skirting dangerously close to the thronged streets around San Marco I negotiate my way through winding back streets, emerging suddenly on a canal-side opposite a large, shabby square. The far end is entirely taken up by the façade of the church of San Lorenzo. The marble has been entirely stripped from it leaving it looking decrepit and featureless, just rows and rows of bricks with the protruding courses that used to hold the marble in place. It doesn’t even have a metal plaque boasting of the Tiepolos and Tintorettos inside. The square is filled with wheelchairs bearing the equally decrepit and featureless ancient Venetians from the Residenza San Lorenzo which makes up the left wing of the square. They wear enormous sunglasses and are in very advanced old age. Relatives sit on benches chatting to them in the sunlight.

The next day, on a cold grey morning, I don the heavy leather jacket which had seemed surplus a week ago and head for the islands in the lagoon on the number 12 which is a larger boat than the normal vaporetti and whose 100 seater cabin mercifully has heating. We stop at Murano and then on across the laguna to Mazorbo which is adjacent to the lace-making and fishing island of Burano and which is linked to it by a footbridge. I take the short walk and pass a very chic establishment called Venissa which has a starred Michelin restaurant and a lovely walled vineyard of vines producing grapes for a Prosecco style wine. There are also vegetable plots within the walls together with the obligatory, gratuitous and inexplicable modern art in the form of some squat bronze animals (including a rhinoceros) and fruit scattered around amongst the rows of vines. I cross the footbridge, glancing at some pleasing modern housing on the quayside facing Burano done in bright but pastel colours by an architect called Giancarlo de Carlo.

On Burano the houses are, uniquely to Venice and its islands, painted in very bright almost primary colours. I take a spin around the small island knowing that the boat back is in an hour. It’s all very pretty and I have time to see the main thoroughfares and to get change for the illumination box in the huge palladian-style church where there is an early Tiepolo. The main square by the church is attractive and I’m also able to get good distant views back to the skyline of Venice. I reach the boat station in time and am able to look across to the tower of the Basilica on the island of Torcello which is only five minutes away by boat. This is the most ancient church in the lagoon (dated 638 AD), including Venice itself because this is where Venice began. That will be for another day. I head back on the small ship-sized number 14 which stops at some of the bigger islands and returns me to San Zaccaria near San Marco after stopping at the Lido. It’s spitting with rain.

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