As I have seen it in two days of inexhaustible beauty, with visits to San Marco, the Cathedral, and Ca ‘Pesaro, Hockney portraits exhibition and museum repertoire of modern art, finally Tintoretto and Tiziano and Bellini and Palma Il Vecchio and “La tempesta” of Giorgione and the Triptych of Bosch at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, for how I wandered with the local boats (vaporetti), walked, stuck in the coffee bars or at Harry’s Bar, long way from Lido and return (and it was during the last days of August!) Venice is a normal city and normally frequented by tourists “touch and go”, obsessed by some trolley of surplus at peak hours but nothing else, and enjoyable three or four times more than the loved but congested Florence, with the line to the Uffizi Museum, and the small historic centre choked by the travellers and besieged by road traffic, and, in a sense, more than the vast and mobile city of Paris.
Yet Venice is considered, not only by the dandy who have been around for fifty years, and in this case one can understand the snob’s loss of not having it all by itself, but also by the great international press, by the constant talk, the committees for the closed number, taxes and other prohibitions a monstrous phenomenon of crowding without any measure. Of course, in the places of mass tourism, like Saint Mark, you can have huge crowds, I have to believe what I read and what is said and devalue what I see, and badly swallowed meals sitting on the churchyards, and some excess in clothing and in the behaviour, I have to believe in the contemporary legend of Venice sinking under the bountiful donkey of many millions of attracted visitors. But I did not see it, and it was August, and it was just yesterday. I have seen a fairly well-organized tourist flow, a stream and not a hell of a trap.
To begin with, you have to choose the right hours. At eight and a half in the morning I was at Florian Caffè in St. Mark’s Square, still closed, and until nine o’clock the square was deserted and the incongruous horses and columns and the Byzantine façade of the church and the griffins that grab Alessandro Magno, whose remains maybe rest in the Cathedral in the place of the relics of the saint as told me Francesco Cataluccio who was accompanying to me, waved in the light of the lagoon with an effect of everything in place and all at my complete disposal. At nine o’clock, before the opening of the tourists, there was the Mass and, observing the duty to at least partially attend the liturgical ceremony, it was possible to look at practically solitary mosaics and Christ pantocrator, iconostasis and secular stacks of various works seized from Venetian merchants to the bazaar of the beauties of Constantinople, a peek at the Zen Chapel and back to the square, while a crowd for the ordered and not so many truths of visitors to nine and forty began to infiltrate with the nostrils attracted by gold and the shimmering of the vaults in the Greek cross-structure. I had Saint Mark and her porphyry and its stars and her lion all for me, and that’s a fact. Being at 9 o’clock was not all that effort, even a suggestion contained in the guides. The half-hour of coffee finally opened in the square, with Chinese couples celebrating photographing “Venice wedding”, which replaced mannian death, and will not be a tragedy, it was half an hour of delicate new lights between old and new Procuratie, and there were few people, let’s just say.
Same experience at Ca ‘Pesaro: Hockney’s ironic portraits and pop slides all for me and for a few others, such as the Carraro collection and Zecchin glasses or Carlo Scarpa or the statues of Rodin and Arturo Martini and Medardo Rosso. In Paris there is always a crowd, in Florence you are always in a row, while in Venice Dorsoduro – nolite me tangere and believe me on the word – there were very few people. Public boats yarn wonderly, they run every twelve minutes, and are not so crowded with tourists as they say.
The next day at the Accademia, the same experience. The bar in the place had, at ten o’clock in the morning, three or four tables available in the shade, at the entrance to the Galleries there was no line, the public within scarce or just normal for a place so appealing to eyes interested in paintings, from Carpaccio to Tiepolo, hung between ceilings and marvellous screaming floors. And then, oooohhh, “La Tempesta” of Giorgione, as always a mysterious and seductive masterpiece as a few, we looked at it for a long time in four, then in three, then alone. Alone in front of “La Gioconda” or the Meninas I never found in my life.
You can visit Venice without the crowd.
Miracles of Venice.