Mind The Gap

Day 2. 22 July 2004

Thursday. I wake to the sounds of delivery boats on a nearby canal. After a slight mixup over breakfast with my milk requirements – warm milk doesn’t go best with cornflakes – I am setting out for the ‘straight’ road to the Rialto. Along the way I discover a bookshop selling maps and a helpful member of staff. Although as it turns out the one map that they do have shoes Chies d’Alpago literally right on the right-hand edge of the map. Isn’t it always the same? And as for map #012? The only one that they don’t have.

All the stalls across and beyond the Rialto are teeming with people, and the fish and vegetable market the same; a place of colour, of life, of sights and smells. In faultering Italian I ask for half a kilo of cherries and depart to seek a route across town to catch the vaporetta to Murano.

Standing up on deck but beneath the canopy in order to get the best of the sea breeze I am struck by how even more appropriate the London underground instruction is to this form of transport. At each stop we are pulled in the landing stage by ropes and gates opened. Whilst on the move we stand holding the edge of the roof just like when on the tube.

From the very moment of arriving on Murano – the island of glass – there is a man shouting out directions to one of the glass furnaces. I follow; round to the left and over the bridge. It’s fascinating, mesmerising; if intensely hot, work. Skilled too; in five minutes watching one man turn a ball of molten glass into a horse reering up on it’s hind legs. Another man fashions a large multi-coloured bowl in almost the same time, adding pleating with several, carefully timed flicks of the wrist.

Exploring the rest of the island I find it noticeably smaller, slower in pace and more relaxed – more residential – than central Venice. I take refreshment from a bubbling water fountain and take lunch in a square by the canal; seafoood spagetti followed by local calamari washed down with a quatro litre of white wine at the Trattoria ‘Busa Alla Torre’. As I eat, a guitarist comes and sings a medley of tunes including John Lennon’s Imagine in a curious mixture of English and Italian.

Wandering back along the second ‘street’ of Murano I find the corret bus stop for the #41 route and take the fast boat to the station. From there I take the #1 boat down the Grand Canal, breaking my journey hither and thither to lose myself in the labyrinthine Venice streets. At Ponte Dell’Accademia I leave the boat and walk the Right Bank down to the domed, white limestone church of Santa Maria della Salute. Slipping my sandals from my feet, I feel the cold of the limestone floor within; the cool interior refreshes me, and the atmosphere inspires me.

I board the #1 waterbus again and cross the Grand Canal (after what I can only assume to be the Venetian equivalent of a traffic jam has two waterbus fight for use of the bus stop). When I disembark from the waterbus it is to be greeted by a welcoming committee of onlookers. Upon turning a corner I see what has taken their eye. Behind me, out a cross the water, a huge cruise liner has entered the lagoon. Down the Canale della Gindecca it looms over the towers of San Marco and San Giorgio Maggiare – polished white lines of steel and glass.

Stopping to buy a couple of pictures from an artist on the waterfront I walk on and see the famous Bridge of Sighs. Then circumnavigating San Marco’s Basilica to get another view (improved to the lack of scaffolding) I continue on down twisting, turning streets in the general direction of my hotel; miss a turning and get lost properly for my first time in this city. Not that I mind all that much to begin with. I find an attractive street, down which to meander, that ends in a wooden platform out over a narrow canal and many gondolas. I sit, dangle my feet in the cool, refreshing water and listen to the accordion players and the Italian singers and watch the gondoliers navigate the water.

After eventually, and with some help, finding my hotel again, I set out again back to St Mark’s Square, and a slice of pizza on some steps. As the band strike up once more at the café’s around the square, and the light fades into the golden glow of sunset, I am witness into a flypast of a couple of helicopters low over the buildings trailing an Italian tricolour of red, white, and green smoke.

After a brief return to the waterfront to watch the last of the sunset over the lagoon and the gondolas bobbing on the swell, I prepare for a second mortgage and retire for the evening to the historic Caffé Florian. The meeting place for over three centuries to artists, writers and politicians it is reassuringly expensive.

Caffé Florian

Ciocclata con panna €9,80

Supplemento orchestra sulla prima consumazione consumazione per person €5,50

With your first drink music cover per persona of €5,50

When I take my seat the waiter, all dressed in white dinner jackets with gold braiding on the lapels – I am presented with a menu and drawn attention to the clause at the foot of page one (a contents page). I knew already that my Cioccolata con panna was going to cost €9,80 (about six quid). What I din’t know was that: “supplemento orchestra sulla prima consumazione per person €5,50”.

Still it’s only going to be the once, so I order, sit back and enjoy the music; a sextet of two violins, clarinet, double bass, piano and accordion. My hot chocoloate arrives, carried aloft and served on a silver tray; it comes with complementary water and a leaflet detailing the history of Café Florian.

At €15,30 I intend to make my single hot chocolate last for as long as possible, enjoying at least three sets of light classic music.

Day Three: A Venetian panorama, Shylock’s home, and the meaning of the ghetto…