From My European Journal: Italy
Driving over the Belt to JFK, we enter Queens and pass a sign on the highway — “Leaving Brooklyn. Fuhgetaboutit!” Which is just cute or silly until I think a moment. Is it saying — when you leave, there’s nowhere better to go, so don’t even think there could be? Or is it serving as an advisory as to how one should regard it as one departs? Right now, we’re saying bye-bye!
Venice long ago established itself through the genius of constructing buildings on top of marshland, and then harvesting the salt there that was in such demand everywhere in the known world. It became the dominant center of power in Europe for some 400 years
The first day we get lost as the day wanes, all jet lagged, and roam the streets that seemed like endless malls full of mask stores and the like.
But today we go to San Marco, the heart of Venice.
Here, in St. Mark’s Church, I am moved by this intersection of art, power and religion.
Shelley weeps at it all – what all these artists poured their incredible talents into so many centuries ago, and that we can still marvel at. Perhaps she, like Paul Simon, sees angels in the architecture. All the history, all the meaning chiseled into this church! I view it (and there are so many ways to look at it) as one immense immortality project. Merchant after ruler after priest coordinated the builders, architects, and artists who over literally dozens of generations inscribed into these stones and domes the stories not only of Jesus and his disciples, but of the cycle of the seasons and of life itself.
Extraordinary, ornate pieces of art here were made of silver, gold, onyx, rubies, or sapphires, or all of these at once, depicting religious scenes or honoring the life or death of an important person.
And all of these creations seem to be saying:
I was here!
Speaking of who is here, the whole point for Venice was that two Venetians actually stole St. Mark’s body over 1,000 years ago and brought it here, thereby establishing him as the protector and patron saint of Venice, and bringing Venice prestige in the process.
These days, there are endless rivers of observers converging onto this square from everywhere on earth to pay homage to the art and the effort, and to say, We were there.
Off of Venice are the isles of Murano, famous for glass blowing but also beautiful in and of themselves here in late October. The narrow streets here, as wide as apartment hallways, pull my imagination down the stone paths: Who lives here, and what are their lives like?
We eat a lovely meal at a Trip-Advisor-advised restaurant on the water…
…and I finish the meal with an espresso – my first in Italy (and in years). This arrives in a tiny cup that is only half-way filled; it must have been all of two ounces of pitch black and bitter liquid. But I find it hard to finish, my heart is racing so hard by the last drop! The wallop it packs infuses what is to come.
Back To Venice:
Later that day, we catch the (very efficient) water “bus” back to San Marco in Venice.
We quickly cop tickets for the Doge’s Palace.
Once there, we each became quickly subsumed into what must be one of the most remarkable buildings I have ever been in.
This structure documents like no other Venice celebrating itself.
This one huge and imposing edifice expresses, exudes and exhibits the intersection of religion, finance, justice, humanism, science, and even astrology and mythology, not to mention raw power, as it attempts to portray a transcendent vision of order and civilization. As an attempt, or pretension, of serving the higher good, all the art and architecture seem to declare, We know how to rule!
The Senate hall itself is a veritable vortex of power.
As a man I resonated in awe at the still-evident spirit of deep masculine energy that must have flowed from these masters of finance, justice and politics
The art here is difficult to describe (the staff’s only function throughout the entire palace was to intone the mantra NO PHOTOS! to anyone who looked like they were even thinking about aiming their phone). I find myself hindered here in any attempt to do this place justice by my vast ignorance of art and the Renaissance. But the impact it had on me is almost overwhelming. And any visitor back at that time, including or especially a foreign emissary sent to conduct business of a mercantile or political nature, must have been impressed to the point of intimidation before they even met their Venetian counterpart.
Then, suddenly, the path through the palace leads across the “Bridge of Sighs” to the prison, which is connected to the palace, which also served as a hall of justice. Exiting the almost transcendent power and glory of the palace to the dingy cold dungeons, I soon had the urge to escape, as if I could myself get trapped here.
I find the Italians in Venice and Murano beautiful, handsome, confident, and sometimes brusk. Had we more time, I’d want to wander further into their language, streets, lives.
But then, there was Florence.
To Be Continued…