Most of you know at least a bit about Venice. You have seen the pictures, given some thought about living on canals and not streets, and perhaps have imagined what it must have been like when the ships of the last millennium were loaded with goods, and headed out for the cities along the Mediterranean Sea, India, and China. In addition, you have read about Marco Polo. His book. The Travels of Marco Polo, describes the wonders of Mongolia, Burma, Persia, China, Kublai Khan, the Silk Road, and other places and persons of the 14th century. Marco Polo’s birthplace and home was Venice.
Venice in the 21st century is still fascinating, but it is no longer the mercantile center it once was. It is now the City of Venice and the capital of the Veneto Region, not the independent Republic of Venice it was before it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866 and the Italian Republic in 1946. The city is also known by names that still fit. It is still the “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges” and the “City of Canals”, although I want to add one more, “City of Glass”.
The decline of Venice actually began centuries ago. You have probably already read about rising waters that threaten the city several times per year, and in the long term could lead to the abandonment of all structures when surging seas overcome coastal cities throughout the world. Perhaps you have heard/read the missives about how large cruise ships disgorge their many thousands of passengers each day, overwhelming the islands and its canals. However, long ago political turmoil and health apocalypses initiated the decline. The failure to hold Thessalonica against the Ottemans and the Fall of Constantinople, both in the 15th century, were significant in the downward path. The Black Plague was responsible for the 50,000 deaths between 1575 and 1578, and the Italian Plague killed one-third of Venice’s 150,00 people between 1629 and 1631. Keep in mind that today’s city population is just above 50,000, down from an estimated 200,000 early in the 14th century.
Arrival at Marco Polo Airport is a most interesting one, starting with the last few miles of aircraft decent when it’s possible to observe the canals and some of the 188 islands from the air. Normally, upon deplaning we find ourselves moving to a parking garage, to a shuttle that takes us to a rental car, to a cab stand, or to a curb side location to catch up with an Uber driver. At Marco Polo airport, you walk down a long corridor to a dock where you catch a boat ride either to another dock or directly to your hotel. The boats move fast in the more open water, but as the water craft get closer to city traffic, movement slows and a lot. Traffic jams ensue, with a combination of boats and gondolas jockeying for position. There are a few hand signals here and there, but for the most part tempers are under control. I saw few signs of road rage (canal rage), no fisticuffs, no one attacking a gondola with an oar or tire iron, and no one was shot, stabbed or maced. Below is a picture of the Hotel Bonvecchiati, the place where we stayed. Yes, our boat took us right up to the guest entry of the hotel.
You may be wondering, what does this fool mean by “Batman with no Pants?” Well, Venice is also known for its art, art museums and palaces where even more art, largely paintings and sculptures, are exhibited. Major works by Bellini, Carpaccio, Veronese, Giorgione, Titan, Tintoretto, and Botticelli tease our minds and bring us back to the question, “How did they do that?” A short time after entering the Piazza San Marco (and the basilica and museums), I fell in love with Venetian art, again. Now, for Batman. We all see something different when we look at paintings. We might be fascinated by the facial expressions of the subjects being painted, enthralled by the vividness of colors or uniqueness of brush strokes, and/or just focus on the historical significance of a work. For me, it’s all of the above, and more. But, every now and then I see something that for me is different. Also, I have a tendency to name things, even if to others I might seem silly. So, look at the picture below, and at the canvas in the center. It’s beautiful. The subjects jump off the canvas, in this case down at you (it’s on the ceiling). The colors and facial expressions are those we will carry with us for a long time. But look again. There’s a guy suspended, nearly naked, except for a black mask and a red cape. Thus, we have Batman with no pants, or in Italian, Batman niente pantaloni or Batman senza pantaloni.
Anyone who visits Venice will be advised by someone else who has been there before to stop at Murano and Burano. The advisors are correct, go to those places. Murano is known for glass sculptures and Burano is famous for brightly painted buildings. The glass work at Murano is amazing. Every kind of work from the most traditional to freaky contemporary can be found, and purchased (yes, I bought something and I’ll post a picture next month after it arrives). The artists are amazingly creative. I could have spent days there, looking at various pieces, talking to artists and thinking “How did they do that?”