I’m both teary-eyed and giddy after returning from a trip to Venice last night. Those of you who have visited this timeless place know of its charms, but these feelings snuck up on me as I returned for the third time. Although I was truly enamored with the city the first two times (How can you not be?), there was a tension* and a pushy bustle then from throngs of tourists that kept me from wanting to linger and delve beneath the surface of the city.
*This tension from overtourism is truly a phenomena that has ruined a lot of magical places like Venice in the past, and I will address them in an upcoming post titled, “The Truth Behind Santorini and the Perfect Sunset Picture.”
But this time post Covid-19, everything was different. So quiet and calm. And shining.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the magic that Venice represents is its complex artistic flair. It’s an amalgamation of history, architecture, details, points, polish, curves, shine, glass, iron, new, old, gaudy and classic. It is the opulence of lacquered black gondolas sitting side by side with peeling paint and rusted iron. It is shadow and light that dances on the shimmering water.
Like the city, the region’s gold and maroon flag sports the winged Venetian lion and is regal but extravagant. It features six tails that fly off end of the flag, representing the six regions of Veneto. These extra artistic details are everywhere in Venice from its shiny black gondolas that sport golden embellishments to its windows and bridges, each with a different grate or handrail or color or shape.
There is magic everywhere. There are artistic embellishments ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼everywhere. Truly your eyes are spoiled after visiting Venice. Its colors, its opulence, its mosaic arches, its shimmering alleyways, its iron gates, its arched window peaks, its polished mahogany motor taxis, its aristocratic elegance amid the crumbling plaster that exposes bricks from centuries past.
Truly your eyes are spoiled after visiting Venice.
So what’s different now post Covid-19? This beauty has always been there and it’s what has drawn over 25 million people a year before the coronavirus happened.
The difference is calm. A peace and tranquility that hovers in the almost empty piazzas. A nonchalance and slow pace that means less hustle and bustle. Empty gondolas as the gondoliers stare at their iPhones or sit quietly daydreaming or asking almost too late for the passing tourist if they’d like a ride. The waiters dressed with masks are friendly and charming and remark how their empty restaurants would normally have a 30 minute wait and a line down the alleyway of people waiting to be seated. They seem to care that you are there. It makes you appreciate your front table view to the laughing children in the square and the passing locals on their way home.
Still there is a subtle tension. The anxious hotelier that lingers at the breakfast table talking about the city’s recent decision to allow cruise ships to return to the city in August. The selfie stick wielding day trippers don’t help the hotels and actually can detract from business for hotels. Even before Covid-19 some of the residents and business owners were fighting to keep the cruiseships away. The shopkeeper’s remarks that only 10 percent of the tourists have returned and they are missing the Americans, probably because they come and make larger purchases than the typical tourist. The smoldering anxiety that the ghostlike quality of San Marco’s square could cause permanent damage as restaurants and hotels are forced to shut indefinitely.
The majesty and stoic silence that I found so captivating on this trip will end in time as tourism ramps up and the crowds return. Still it is a special moment in the city’s history, although a unnerving one for those who make a living off of tourism there.
So for now, I choose to simply mediate on the beauty that is Venice. And be thankful that this pause allowed a glimpse of quieter days in such a majestic place.