Good morning, Venice:

This was the day of departure. Check-out at 11. I had tickets to take the waterbus to the cruise terminal; it left at 11:07, and 11:37. I made it clear we would be on the 11:07, knowing we would be on the 11:37. If I’d pushed for the 11:37 we would have made the 12:07. And so on. My wife would have wanted to take the one that had us running from the waterbus to the cruise dock and scrambling aboard the ship by grabbing the lines and pulling ourselves up six decks.

I know these things and lie, er, plan accordingly.

But! Time for the Doge’s Palace. The line to San Marco’s stretched for a mile; you could breeze right into the Doge House. Ought to be the other way around, really. It starts out in an impressive courtyard, a space whose large size indicated the status of its inhabitant, although it also served a government function. Various eras competed for your eye, with the frozen spume of the Renaissance making its case as the most ostentatious display around. Of course.

Okay, we're all very impressed. But did they spend all the money on the marble siding? No:

And then it was one spectacular room after the other, until you were overwhelmed with the Glory and Power and Wealth of Venice With Whom You Should Not Mess. The rooms designed for public functions surely got the point across: these dudes are loaded. One room was decorated with enormous detailed maps, which impressed Daughter - they knew so much back then. Money and power were at stake, I explained; that leads people to want to know where things are. Partners, foes, the quickest way to either.

There are busts of stern men long gone, but frozen forever in contempt:

The expression of someone who is just so damned bored with these men who bang their foreheads on the marble floor weeping and asking for mercy.

We came to a sign that said the Ponte dei Sospiri, and I got a dank chill. The Bridge of Sighs. A term I first heard long ago as a Robin Trower album, and later came to know as the passageway between the Doge Palace, where men were sentenced, and the jails from which there would be no release. Sighs seemed the least of the utterances the bridge produced, but “The Bridge of Anguished Screams of the Utterly Forsaken” doesn’t have the same poetic ring. Ah, Venice, with its famous Skyway of Incoherent Wails of Futile Protest!

From the outside, photographed by everyone who comes here:

You gotta get a shot of the Bridge of Sighs! Did you see the Bridge of Sighs? It's beautiful. It makes you exhale gently with the romance of Venice! My girlfriend and me had someone take a picture of us in front of it. Totally Venice.


Stepped through the door. The passageway was narrow and low, as if you were being trained to stoop in surrender the moment you began your sentence. The outside world could be glimpsed through the stones, and you had to look - this was the last thing men saw. A sliver of light and water - then the hand in the back shoving you into the stone keep.

I walked on past the holding cells, trying to ignore the inane conversation of the group ahead (these cells bigger than what they got now) and tamping down the old friend Claustrophobia. Heck, has to ben exit somewhere, right? I mean, what kind of jail - oh. The place just pressed on me, and when I turned a corner and saw everything slant away into narrower halls with lower ceilings I had the revulsion you have in a dream when you come to an impossibly small spot from which you cannot back out, and the place just flooded me with dread.

“Nope,” I said to Daughter, and turned around. But it was the most wretched place I’d ever been in, and it felt saturated with misery and despair. I’ve never been anywhere that felt haunted. The Bridge is haunted.

Outside. Breathe fresh air. Freedom. Time to check out and haul our bags down to the dock. Bounced across the water to the terminal, where there was a big sign: "Venice WELCOMES Cruises", it said, as if reacting to someone’s assertion that they didn’t. (A tour guide noted that there had been pressure to reduce or eliminate cruises, because the ships stressed the city, and I asked if they would be banning them. She shrugged and said there was talk of it, but “it is Italy.” That fatalistic acceptance of endless talk and little action.)

After the usual cattle-herd experience at the cruise ship check-in line, something they never seem able to streamline into a coherent process, we boarded and explored - but more on the ship in a bit. I was getting a piece of pork from the bbq buffet line when I noticed the ship was moving, and that meant I had to find a place to see the city slide away.

All I had was my iPhone, and this is that. (It's silent; got dinged for the music bed.)

Leaving Venice from James Lileks on Vimeo.

Fired some shots with the phone that I turned into something else later that day. This may be my favorite:

Goodbye Venice.

Now off we go. First impression: hey, great, a Hawaiian theme for our Greek trip. Makes sense. Second: holy cow, this is a . . . bright vessel. From the Doge Palace, to this:


But as the day went on I noted what I liked: much livelier than the Holland America ships. A step between the party-barges and the upper-level liners with an older clientele that walks around disapproving of everything.

Staff had the hand-sanitizer jugs out, and said “washee-washee, smiley-smiley, happy-happy” when you came up, and after six times I was tempted to add “punchee-punchee” as well. Room: much more sedate than the public spaces, great bathrooms, nice warm wood. It’ll do just fine. Our steward is a fellow named Clive, who doesn’t care much one way or the other. I prefer that to obsequiousness.


About that picture above: it would come to haunt me.

Never mind the peculiar shape of the limbs or the torso, which answers the question “did top-quality illustrators sign on for Polynesian sea voyages in the 19th century?” It’s the expression. The more I looked at it - and this fellow greeted us every time we left the room to head up to the CONSUMPTION / SUNSHINE level, or down to the levels where they had the interesting restaurants and niche bars and useless shopping areas - the more I became convinced that his expression said “My chief says we are to accept you into our midst and treat you with hospitality, so that you may not suspect how we regard you as demons to be cast out. As I dance I study you for signs of great power, because the night will come when we slip into your huts and slit your throats. But for now, we dance.”

After a family meal in the "Specialty" restaurant devoted to Italian food that was incrementally better than the buffet pasta, we watched the world pull away, and prepared for the next leg of the trip.


And by "prepared" I mean I went to the bar and started writing.

Tomorrow: the next destination. Where will it be? Albania? Eastern Italy? Some Greek Island? Stay tuned! To learn it's some Greek Island!




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