Venice, Italy – It is imperative for visitors to Venice to be prepared for the unexpected. That is the essence of what makes this city so exciting to explore. Opportunities for new discoveries exist at every twisted turn and dead-end throughout the city. Our plan for the day Friday was to visit with Mr. Piccoli of the Venice Rotary Club to receive Venice Club flags for the Lexington Park Rotary Club. Then we would stop for a light lunch, and later meet with our friends Leo and his father Michele in Campo San Stefano. We would return to Venice for dinner in the evening with friends at the Pizzeria Ristorante Passatore. Most of the above plan is exactly what happened but there were many intriguing twists and turns during the day.
We took the vaporetto from Lido to the second San Marco stop in Venice. After a very short walk we arrived at Campo San Luca. I called Mr. Piccoli on my cell and he said that he could see us from his Rotary office window. He came downstairs to greet us and then walked us back up to his second-floor office (un-air-conditioned) and presented the flags of the Venice Rotary Club to Jim. Another friend of Lamberto Piccoli joined us and his name was Giacomo! So we had another photo-op with the Venice Rotary Club’s Giacomo and the USA Giacomo Davis! We left the Rotary office after a few more moments of conversation, and then our adventure for the day began.
We found ourselves right at the Rialto Bridge just as a gondolier passed underneath the bridge upon which we stood from a smaller canal on his way into the Grand Canal with a tenor singer on board. We admired his rendition of “Santa Lucia” and then walked across the Rialto Bridge through the mercatino (market) stalls and entered the square with the San Giacomo Chiesa (church). This was another opportunity for a photo- op with Giacomo Davis at San Giacomo (Giametto) Church! Keeping my fingers crossed that I would find the correct calle (alley-like tiny street), I began searching for the two-euro per person gondola that would take us across the Grand Canal (not up or down the canal, just straight across).
And as luck would have it, I chose the correct alleyway on my very first attempt and there it was: the S. Sofia traghetto stop – the oldest such crossing in Venice which pre-dates the building of any bridges across the Grand Canal. There were originally four such traghetto stops before the three bridges were built that now cross the Grand Canal. I was able to spot the ancient lantern marking the crossing before we boarded. I asked the gondolier where the Madonna was at this stop and he did not know (I’d read about it in a tour book before we’d arrived.) As soon as we disembarked on the opposite side of the canal, guess what was there on the wall? It was a shrine to the Madonna. I should have gone back to tell the gondolier.
We were a little hot and tired out from our walk by this time, so we stopped at the very first cafe we passed and ordered a Neapolitan Pizza and Cokes. This seemingly simple lunch break illustrates several serious tourist mistakes which we will be sure not to repeat as our visit in Venice continues. We chose this spot because it was the first little cafe we encountered upon leaving the gondola (a Rick Steve’s no-no; never stop at the first cafe). We ordered Cokes. I ordered a Neapolitan Pizza without being aware of the Italian word for anchovies – which neither of us ever eat (but I have to admit that they added a definite and not unpleasant “zing” to the pizza!). The pizza cost only 9 euros, which was very reasonable, but the crust was very thin and this pizza was very small, not at all like the Margarita Pizza at Paradise Beach I’d had just a few days previous to this lunch which I believe was priced at only about 8 euros.So our final bill came to 30 euros and 17 euros of that was Cokes. We will not repeat this mistake. But we were lucky enough to have found ourselves on the Strada Nova – a lovely, busy, touristy street with many shops and cafes – including the McDonald’s where I had stopped in for lunch 2 years ago after a visit to the C’a D’oro Palace Museum – along with churches, palaces and several other historic buildings.
Now when we disembarked from the S. Sofia gondola, we found ourselves right next to Lorenzo Quinn’s monumental Biennale sculpture titled “Support” – two huge white hands, modelled on his own 11-year-old son’s hands – that appear to be holding up the C’a Sagredo Hotel. I knew I would be attending a small reception later in the day to meet the artist so I was excited to be seeing the hands up close previous to that event.
After lunch, Jim said that he was not feeling well and he decided to return – on his own – via vaporetto to Lido while I continued on for the day to meet Michele and Leo. So we parted at the C’a D’oro vaporetto stop just on the other side of the “Support” exhibit.
I rendezvoused with Leo and his dad at the San Angelo vaporetto stop instead of continuing further down the Grand Canal to the stop nearest Campo San Stefano, about 5 stops down the Grand Canal from C’a D’oro (cell phones are a marvelous little tool, aren’t they?, allowing you to change plans in an instant). Leo had been our guest last summer in Medley’s Neck for two weeks. He is really all grown up now at 12 years of age. Michele had an appointment he could not break, and after settling Leo and me in with refreshing drinks and potato chips at a little cafe, he left, promising to meet us in one hour. I called Jim on my cell so that he could say hello to Leo and learned that he had gotten on the vaporetto heading up the Grand Canal in the wrong direction and had wound up at Ferrovia Station – the train station stop. Now, thankfully, we’d already been there 2 days previous when we had taken a little tour on the Grand Canal so he knew immediately where he was and what had happened. He said he asked at least 4 different people how to get back to Lido and all 4 gave him different directions but he finally found the correct vaporetto. This was a major accomplishment for Jim. A rite of passage for any visitor to Venice is getting lost and then finding your way again. So, bravo, Giacomo!
Leo and I chit-chatted and caught up on news of Venice and Breton Bay. I presented Leo with three books in English. Leo enjoyed the shark sticker book immensely and proceeded to place the stickers all over his face. His adorable gift to me was a “pop-up pet” – a cardboard Silver Tabby cat to punch out and assemble. We chatted for a while and then I just happened to mention that I’d hoped to be able to find the Scala Contarini del Bovolo during my trip this year – I’d taken a photo of this magnificent staircase from a guidebook before our trip and brought it up on my phone to show to him. He not only knew of it and where it was – it was practically right around the corner from where we were sitting. He asked me if I’d like to go right at that moment, and of course I said yes! So up we jumped form the table and took off on foot through the twisted little alleys. It was so close by I know we only walked for about 3 minutes – maybe even less. I don’t think I could ever have find the location on my own (it would have been even more difficult than trying to find the Trevi Fountain in Rome with all the twists and turns!). And then, there it was – the beautiful tower of steps at the home of the wealthy family which had built this staircase (“scala” is Italian for “ladder”). I presented my TheBayNet.com press pass at the ticket office, and while they did not offer a press discount, they did present me with a special art book (in Italian) as a gift. I remarked that this tower was almost like a piccolo (small) Tower of Pisa, and the staff agreed (I’m sure they hear that all the time). So up Leo and I went to enjoy the fantastic view from the top. And as we were enjoying the view, we looked down to ground level to see that Michele had returned and was snapping photos of us. (Michele had remained in contact with us on his cell phone during the hour that we’d been separated.) For more information on the staircase, you may contact wwwscalacontarinidelbovolo.com.
The three of us then continued on through the narrow streets of Venice back towards Rialto. Michele led us up the escalators inside the Tedeschi Building (a former post office which was used by the Germans as a warehouse in World War II) to enjoy a spectacular, breath-taking panoramic view of Venice. This building now boasts expensive, upscale shops and is free and open to anyone to enter and ascend to the terrace for the view.
We then returned back downstairs and continued our walk through Venice, all the way back to the C’a Sagredo Hotel which boasted the sculpture of the Support hands. I’d made a big circle around Venice, returning to the exact same spot where Jim and I had parted just a few hours earlier in the day. We met sculptor Lorenzo Quinn (Michele thinks he is related to actor Anthony Quinn and Lorenzo’s web site lists him as a former actor). The artist was so personable and gracious and friendly and took time to speak with us about his project while a line of adoring fans (mostly female and mostly quite young) waited to greet him.
These two white hands arising from the Grand Canal appear to lean against the C’a Sagredo Hotel but actually just barely touch the building were not intended as a political statement, according to Mr. Quinn, but as a visual reminder of rising sea levels caused by climate change. Constructed off-site, the sculpture was loaded onto a canal boat in pieces and installed at the Hotel. It will be on display as part of the 2017 Venice Biennale Art Exhibit until November 26. “Support” is the first-ever sculpture to be place in the Grand Canal. You may find more information on Mr. Quinn and “Support” at www.lorenzoquinn.com.
After a brief tour of additional art works by Mr. Quinn displayed inside the hotel, the three of us returned to the C’a D’oro vaporetto stop. Michele and Leo got off at San Angelo and I continued on to Lido after we’d exchanged arrivederci hugs and promises to meet again someday.