Friday, October 19, 2012

Mini Venices

Yesterday was the first dull, grey, rainy, chilly and humid day since I arrived to Padova more than one month ago. I spent it entirely at home. I was afraid that the mild and luminous great time I've had so far was over and that the Po Valley fall would have taken me as far as the Marco Polo airport, where I'll board my flight back to the tropics in three days.
I was wrong. Today is a sunny day, the sky is clear, I can finally put into effect that plan that I thought I had to postpone until next year. 
I get off the coach in Chioggia and I take a walk downtown while I wait for the vaporetto to leave. Chioggia is very nice, with its calles, canals, Istrian stone bridges, red houses with white decorations. It looks like a little Venice, only with cars. I didn't see many tourists, other than two North Europeans drinking a spritz. I sit in the stern, out of the cabin, and I watch the rotten wood of the briccolas, the slightly rippled surface of the lagoon and the rugged islets, covered with a bristly greenish beard, while I let the breeze massage my face. At Pellestrina everybody gets on the bus bound to Lido, using their combo boat-and-bus tickets. I spent a few more cents and bought two separate journeys: that allows me to take the bus where and when I want. I could have rented a bicycle; I know, it's faster and the route along the murazzi - between the sea and the lagoon - is a charming one, the fact is that today I don't feel like that sort of visitor, I don't wanna speed through the little towns, I have to penetrate into the calles, stop at a corner, watch the people and the houses, smell the intermingling perfumes coming from the water and kitchens: my means of transport, cheap and flexible, is once again a pair of rubber shoes.
I walk for about three kilometers in the quarters of Pellestrina, in the south of the island with the same name, a long and narrow strip that protects the lagoon from the salt and the waves of the sea. It resembles a sestiere of the city of the doges, whose bell towers can be seen a few hundred meters away, those same calles, campos, fondamentas with their stone edges that end in the water (∗). The atmosphere is even more charming than the one I had hoped to find, fearing that I would have probably been disappointed. I walk between the facing rows of colored facades, I let the sotoportegos suck me in and then spit me out, I end up in a campo, I move three steps towards its center, I get lost in that composition of colored polygons and once I get out of that state of trance I slowly walk back. 
At Pellestrina, on this working day, at about lunch time, there are no tourists around. Actually there isn't anybody at all, not a single shop is open. I'm hungry, I look for a bacaro to eat a snack and drink an ombra but I can't find any. In an open space with a view on the lagoon a drunk guy approaches me. His clothes are crumpled, his feet, bare and red, almost webbed, are duck-moving on the cold stone, there is a glass in his hand and on a nearby windowsill a two-liter flask of red wine, half full (or empty, or, even better, emptied). "Do you know what the problem is?" I watch him and I try to fix that bizarre image in my mind, a curiosity that he automatically links with the question he's just asked me. "That there is no more Christian love!" he explains in Venetian dialect. When you hear them speak, you would think that Venetians are always drunk, then you find out that oftentimes they actually are drunk and you wonder whether, besides the one that you have always listened to, there is also a sober version of the Venetian intonation. While I'm walking away I hear him repeating that admonishment of his, that kind of Bacchic-Savonarola-like judgement. When he finally stops I turn around and he's still looking at me; as soon as he can see my face he starts to yell again. He really seems to be possessed by the spirit of the Florentine preacher, I hope they don't send him to the stake just to cook a brasato al merlot
A little further away a few fishermen are talking and fiddling with a net, while an old man sitting on the dodger is singing a song. Every now and then he sucks his pipe, as if he was a nineteen century whaler officer. He's looking at me, I lift a hand to greet him, he replies by waving his pipe in the air without interrupting his song, like a fake American-movie-gondolier.
The town ends at the De Poli shipyard where, under some huge, red overhead cranes some Actv vaporettos are being serviced. I'm heading back to the murazzi when the bus speeds right in front of me. I'll have to wait half an hour for the next one. I take a Yehoshua's novel out of my bag, I turn to face the Adriatic and start to read. Time can only go fast when one does like this. 
At the northern tip of Pellestrina the bus hops on a ferry and a few minutes later we're landing on the Lido island, also a long and narrow one, separating the lagoon from the sea. Malamocco is marked as a tourist attraction on the map of the island. As the ticket is valid for seventy-five minutes I decide to stop for a visit. I am welcomed by yet another miniature-Venice where I cannot spot a single tourist: I stroll alone among the usual red houses, the waterways and a campo with an old church. This time I manage to find a bacaro where I eat a mozzarella in carrozza and drink a glass of red wine before I hop on the next bus. 
Once I reach the last stop I decide to leave the town, its casino and Palazzo del Cinema for my next visit and I board a vaporetto bound for the train station. The railway tracks will close this slightly unusual itinerary by wedging themselves in the maze of Mestre's modern condominiums and Marghera's factories. It's a sort of sinister charm, a vaguely postmodern form of romanticism. The sight wraps your heart in tinfoil, some might even say that it's a disgusting one. And they are probably right. Don't forget that this was a journey along the outer layer of Venice though, a gnat's walk on the city's skin. It could only finish like this.

(∗) If you want to know more about Venice toponymy you can read this page

No comments: