Nearly a week ago, as those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter may know, we decamped to Venice. An extremely generous offer of an empty flat in the centre of town with super-duper state of the art WiFi, perfect for my new line in Zoom Rome chat, was too good an opportunity to pass up. My jam-packed June calendar of carefully arranged geo-specific tours was wiped out by the pandemic, travel within Italy is back on for now after our hardcore national lockdown, and fast WiFi is amazing: clouds, silver linings, and that sort of thing.
Venice is a glorious and baffling paean to human ingenuity. Quite the most barmy place to build a city. No matter how many times I’ve been it remains almost dizzyingly magical. I can’t stop taking photographs, it’s all too beautiful.
The city is quiet but not at all sad, there are occasional tourists – mostly Italian and German – taking advantage like us of this extraordinary moment. There is a village atmosphere, the people in the local coffee bar wave through the window as we walk past, children play on scooters and dogs are walked, elderly ladies chat at a distance on benches. If it weren’t for the ubiquitous masks (obligatory in all cafes and restaurants when not sitting at table; in all shops, churches and museums; and on public transport) things would seem very normal indeed. I’ve never seen Venice busy; I’ve always deliberately gone midweek in November, or in January after the holidays but even by those standards there are very few tourists indeed.
Like everything else in 2020, this year’s summer has so far been anomalous. Today moody skies lowered over the lagoon, and taking advantage of a vaporetto pass (they’re expensive for non-residents but so worth it, get one) we went for a walk in bucolic deserted bliss between Mazzorbo and Burano.
We saw no-one other than a chap jogging circuits of the island; by the third time I felt we should introduce ourselves. We visited Mazzorbo’s only surviving church, dedicated to St Catherine and dating to the eighth century which I had never been inside before.
We paused by an extremely beautiful blue house;
Admired the last of the season’s artichokes left to flower; giant thistles thriving in brackish soil.
On the way back domes recalled the plagues of 1575 (Il Redentore on the left), and 1630 (La Salute on the right). Two among many.
Despite it all, La Serenissima floats magically, and improbably, above that vast expanse of deceptively calm water.