One Evening In Venice
There is an air of fiction in the streets of Venice, another world where corroding buildings meet back alleys that come to an end at the banks of emerald canals. Where the masquerade masks that hang from the dark doors of the Mascherari – the Mask Makers – depicting Plague Doctors and other macabre characters blend seamlessly with the theme music of the Gondoliers as they make their way through the murky waters of the Grand Canal singing ‘O sole mio’.
Venice is always a pleasure to explore, but my favourite time is at night – late – when the last few straddlers are making their way to their hotels and homes over the cobbled pathways of Venice’s backstreets. Recently, shortly after a late dinner at A beccafico on Campo S. Stefano, we decided to take a detour from our usual walk. Instead we chose to make our way down dark alleys and along the banks of unknown canals to reach our destination.
We carefully navigated several bridges and passed frail doorways, hinged on centuries old brackets and chipped at the edges, scrambling out of the darkness several times to lonely dead-ends. We passed behind St. Marco’s about 15 minutes into our adventure and took a right turn down a tiny unlit alleyway whose end led only to a darkened canal where a lonely Gondolier pushed his tall oar through the water. We sat down and listened to the sounds of the gondola gently pushing its way along the canal. The walls all around us were broken and the moonlight cast a haze over the archetypal hues of emerlad green and blue that surrounded us. Eventually we carried on, past closed shops, restaurants and the imposing spiral staircase of the Scala Contarini del Bovolo which sat silently and gracefully peering upwards to the open skies.
We turned back and decided to head towards Rialto, but eventually found ourselves at yet another dead-end with a single door at the end. And it was then that I began to realise that here, and especially at night, every doorway is a work of art, every church is imposing and every corner has you stumble into yet another beautiful alley. Windows are adorned with flowers in full bloom and the crumbling decay of brick and mortar that Venice is so well known for is perhaps its greatest feature. And it is all so beautiful.
We eventually ended up by the Grand Canal – for in Venice all canals lead to the Grand, and just a couple of shadows now made their ways quietly through the night. We were offered at this point, a Gondola ride – but it’s midnight, I thought as we accepted.
A Nighttime Gondola Ride
The magic of a Gondola ride at night is something akin to the fiction that I mentioned earlier. It is slow and brooding, atmospheric and almost ghostly. Especially as the gondola passes dark and silent buildings under a shimmering blanket of stars and near empty streets. We float alongside the usual sites where the bridges are still slightly full, and had just a little banter from our more than accommodating Gondolier who agreed to steer us away from the usual places in search of some minor sights. And as the quiet began to increase, we passed under a small bridge, with just a stray couple looking on with a glimmer of enchantment in their eyes.
We felt somewhat alone, as though we’d passed into another era. To be honest, the buildings mostly blended into one another – red brick, blue brick, it didn’t matter. The ambience set our imaginations alight with thoughts of ghosts and the allure of antique love affairs. Of torn petticoats in foggy alleys. Drunk gondoliers and flirtatious courteseans. But it was over all too soon.
Later, we made our way through the streets once more and eventually found ourselves back in our room overlooking the silent Campo San Cassiano.