Voyage a Cythere

picture gallery

Jan awakened Thursday morning around 8, just as I finished writing, and we packed our suitcases, paid the bill and shmoozed with Sandro, who it turns out is not the concierge but since last week the new owner of the Fiorentino. Looking like a sad, ethereal and beautiful figure in a Botticelli painting, he told us he’d been an accountant in Venice, but during a two-week vacation had discovered that his life was boring and decided to buy this hotel from the former fisherman and his family who had owned it. Nevertheless he was lonely, he said, and he was looking for someone to share his life.

In a light intermittent rain we found our way back to Villa Antenori, an unusually fine looking example of an urban palazzo we’d passed several times in our wanderings. I wanted to see what they looked like inside, behind their forbidding facades. It seemed to be open to the public and housed a wine merchant of the family that built it in the fifteenth century. I found its interior more harmonious than any I had seen, including the Michaelangelo tomb, especially in its combination of traditional furnishings and modern amenities. We roamed in the courtyard, sneaked upstairs to the first floor and higher to see what a top floor loggia was, and walked away with some wine brochures.

After another trip to the central market for groceries to eat on the train, we hauled our bags to the station to catch the 1:30 to Venice. We both got upset upon discovering that Jan had read the tickets wrong and our train had just left, but it turned out another one left 40 minutes later.

The approach to Venice is a fantasy voyage. The train traverses a long causeway in the Adriatic before reaching terminus at the island commonwealth. Exiting the station you face the Grand Canal lined by oriental filigree and heavy baroque palaces and are engulfed by a furious hubbub of tourists. At a row of ticket windows you buy three day passes for the Vaporetti, the boats providing public transportation, and as you advance to the dock it feels like entering Disneyland. Only this Disneyland is mildewed and rotting and covered with advertising banners and graffiti, and its air is thick with humidity, pollution and sewage.

Debarking from the Vaporetto at Rialto bridge, the sense of crowding, commercialism and delapidation intensified, We bought gelati to fortify us in climbing the steps and penetrating the crowds with our awkward baggage, and followed the smell of the fishmarket to guide us to our hotel. We found the discreet bronze sign of Al Mercanti on a quiet and uncommercial alley. The inside of the building reminded me of Villa Antenori–ancient ceiling beams, brick walls and stone stairs integrated with new plaster, and rich carpets, fabrics, furniture and fixtures. Our first floor room up four flights of stairs was designed by a professional decorator with a large budget. Marble floors, silk brocade pillows, curtains and spreads and collector prints on the walls. Jan led me to the balcony in the vestibule from which one could look down the alley and see a marble statue of a naked pagan god standing in a lit alcove of a wall, its broken white reflection shimmering in the black water of the Grand Canal.

I was again feeling shaky at this late dinner hour, so we found a quiet restaurant around the corner -Antica Trattoria ai Tosi–and were fortified by a fine modest dinner of spaghetti, lasagna and salad.

Friday 5 AM

Yet another night without sleep. I spent it working on this journal or sitting in the steam bath I made of our bathroom to loosen the thickening mucous in my lungs. How can body and mind can take all this punishment and keep coming back for more? Good news: the laxative I bought yesterday worked and the exercises from chiropracter and physical therapist have just about eliminated back pain.

Leave a Reply