Venice – July 2009
The first time I visited Venice was in the depths of winter 2000. We arrived late on a Friday night, arrived at our hotel and collapsed in bed. The next morning we awoke bright and early and set off on the 3-minute walk to the Piazza San Marco. We had gone only a block or two when our way was blocked by water lapping at our feet, seemingly appearing from nowhere. We thought there must be a broken water main somewhere and tried another street – same story. It was only when we got to the piazza (via the slightly higher-lying alleys!) that we realised we were witnessing acqua alta, the massive tide that occasionally submerges the streets around San Marco and the piazza itself.
The image I have of people walking in wellington boots along low trestle tables to the basilica, and gazing at the floor of the beautiful loggia through a foot of water, could not be more different from the view that greeted me when I visited the city last week at the height of summer. Opening the windows in the morning was like pushing through a warm, steamy soup (God bless air conditioning!); queues outside every gelateria; sunburnt tourists jostling for space to sit in every little patch of shade; sun twinkling off the carnival masks for sale; and gondoliers mopping their brows. And through it all, La Serenissima remains as implacable as ever – as if she has seen it all before, and she will see it all again.
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