Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

The Watery Torture of Venice

Water makes me nervous. Yet, there I was riding a water taxi from the Venice Airport to our canal-side hotel. A day later, I’m undulating in a gondola.

grand_canal_in_venice_city-wideVenice is a romantic place. Apparently it can splash away your anxieties.

To come to Venice is to confront water. It is everywhere, especially at high tide. I considered therapy before agreeing to come there. I let the promise of romance overwhelm my aqua apprehensions.

My cathartic experience began soon after arriving at Venice Airport. A long walk to the vaporetto and I was bouncing onboard a water taxi that smacked its way to the Grand Canal and ultimately the calmer stretches leading to Hotel Moresco.

In most hotels, you step out of a car. At Hotel Moresco, you step over a canal.

After avoiding drowning, I thought I was home free. Then I remembered that I promised Carole a gondola ride. After all, if you come near halfway round the world to Venice, you should do the one thing that is unique to Venice.

Luckily I didn’t bone up on recent gondola incidents, such as the German guy who was crushed to death by a water bus that collided  with a gondola near the Rialto Bridge in the Grand Canal. The Mayor of Venice deplored the incident and said canal congestion must be addressed.

venice-gondola1Good sound bite. Based on our experience, the congestion in the canals is worse than before. Gondolas compete for space with water taxis, water buses and the rubbish boats. The gondolas have gondoliers, not Evinrude boat motors.

The gondoliers, it turns out, must be native-born Venetians, so they have a leg up in competition with bigger, jet-powered water craft. Gondolas, however, are smaller and roll in the wakes of all the other, bigger boats. I worried less about seasickness than sinking in the sands that allow Venice to keep wobbling through the centuries.

Luckily, Venice conveys the illusion of land as you wander aimlessly through open plazas and inch through narrow alleyways. A lot of the heft is fake. Venice is a place where you live light, even when you build a palazzo and don’t use marble.

Because you are literally meters away from inundation, people party on Venice. In ancient times, carnival days lasted six months. It’s unclear how much shorter the continuous celebration is in contemporary times. We saw many people in costume – and they weren’t all Kiss wannabes.

There are storefronts on every corner that hawk carnival masks of all shapes and sizes. Interestingly, there were no likenesses of Richard Nixon or Donald Trump.

The style of Italy is on display at the big-name stores such as Ferragamo, Gucci and Prada, but also in smaller shops, including one we found that specialized in handmade blouses, tunics and shirts. Carole tried on several and selected a red tunic-styled blouse that blended perfectly with her coloring.

Despite the distractions, Venice is really all about water. Even the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s palace, bears testament to the sea as many of its chambers were built by marine engineers to resemble boats.

Of course, no medieval castle would be complete without a dungeon. In Venice, there is no down there to build a dungeon, so Venetians did the next best thing and put the cells on the first floor where it periodically flooded. The small, sparse rooms would have been punishment enough, but during high tides and storms, the cells flooded, oozing in the city’s excrement and the town mascots, huge rats. A short-term sentence could be the equivalent of a death’s sentence.

Apparently the Venetians, who withstood occupations by the Turks and Napoleon before establishing their own republic, didn’t lurch to violence. Instead, they soothed themselves with bureaucracy. They addressed problems like any modern government, by creating more bureaucracy – and insisting on archiving their procrastination for all ages to revel in and emulate.

Carole and Gary at the Academia Bridge in VeniceIt was uplifting to hear of the evolving humanity of ancient Venice, as exemplified by its attitude toward torture. Prisoners were brought into a sparing room with a rope dangling from the ceiling. Their wrists were tied in a pain-inducing way, but always at a time of day when the sun shone through a window that blinded them. The pain was real, but the real terror was in the prospect of blinding. Historical records reveal most prisoners confessed to their crimes for fear of being blinded.

You have to give Venetians some credit. No one apparently thought of water boarding.

 

 

 

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