VENICE

Thursday 25 May 2018

The FAB glided up the Grand Canal and ejected us, with practised, theatrical regret, in glorious Venice. Our Hotel Savoia & Jolanda sent a man-in-Merc to meet us. He carefully placed our cases in the trunk, drove about twenty metres and got them all out again for a transfer to a water-taxi. We entered the scramble of rocking boats on the churning greenish canal and were deposited outside our hotel, which is right on the main drag just down from the unbelievably wonderful St Marco Square.

I’d forgotten about European hotels, but it all came back in the tiny lift in which a sign optimistically claimed that it could hold ‘four person.’ It should have gone on to elaborate: ‘four pygmy person with luggage, or three American person without luggage, or two Russian person without luggage, or four luggage with no person’.

Michelle had forewarned the management that we were ‘two big person’ which is why we needed a big room. But a big room in Venice means it has to be filled with big furniture so that it affords the occupants no more walking space than a small room. The furnishings of our room included two gigantic lounge chairs with gilded surrounds, a huge bed with a gilded bed-head, a glass topped coffee table that would seat eight around it, a very tall, very skinny desk with colossal gold cabriole legs plus a too-short gilded chair to go with it, and a giant ancient style couch in gold velvet that could sleep two person. The lighting comes from a multiple collection of glass wall chandeliers with a profundity of bare globes. With such finery, who needs drawers or wardrobes? Yes, there were a few after-thoughts, but meant for people who spent most of their time naked. The bathroom, newly renovated, placed the towels in a rack in direct firing line with the open-ended shower cubicle. But hey, we’re in Venice, where art and design take precedence over practicality, so stop grizzling, Fraser.

While Michelle went on a self-propelled retail discovery tour, I went to the Basilica Della Salute to hear a vespers organ recital. The Basilica is magnificent and so is the sound of the organ, but the priest had inserted a mass into the middle of the recital. He was done up in bright green and gold vestments which provided a fine counterweight to his solemn Latin. After it was over he popped out for a change into standard clerical black and quickly retrieved his religious equipment – indicating to me that they were in danger of being pinched. Then the organ concert resumed – on a wonderful instrument built in 1782 and still able to stir the soul. I left to catch my first vaporetto, a public water bus, but I didn’t have a ticket – which was only available across the Grand Canal. I needed a ticket to get the ticket I needed. The only solution was become a fare evader by pretending to be part of a squabbling family that seemed to have plenty of tickets. Luckily, I didn’t get caught.

Apart from tourism, best employment prospects in Venice appear to be in rising damp correction, marine engine repair, marine varnishing and waiting on tables with attitude. Gondolering is on a higher level, requiring a certificate in one oar steering and paddling, a horizontally striped shirt, a flat straw hat with rear tassel and a passable tenor voice.

And now for my Venice hotel toaster review:

The Grande Clampo di Venezia sitting in the gallery of famous Venetian toast captains.

Derek Breadchamber named the Grande Clampo di Venezia as the most advanced hotel toaster of its generation. It has no in and out via a belt. Instead, each slice of bread is placed in its own hand operated clamp which is inserted into the unique open-fronted infernotron. The time dial is activated, and toasting begins immediately. Unlimited inspections capability makes exact browning possible.

Friday 25 May 2018

We shared an alfresco breakfast with the aggressive pigeons of Venice. As soon as you stand up to get some food they hoe into what’s on your plate. The locals tolerate them far more than visitors like us who are not successful in shooing them away because the pigeons only understand Italian.

A following three-hour walking tour of Venice with Antonio was well worth the ninety Euros each, since it cobbled together a secession of must-sees – even if it did finish with a glass blowing demo followed by an upsell in a spectacular glassware showroom. I’m not about to launch into a brochure-like description, but a few stops were memorable. The Basilica St Marco ranks high among the world’s most awe-inspiring buildings. As well as being huge and dripplingly ornate, the mosaics that adorn its ceilings, walls and floor carry four tonnes of gold. The floor, like the rest of Venice (it was built on a swamp) is showing patches of subsidence and will sink unless future technology saves it. Another staggering building, also on the square, is the Doge’s Palace. It has the biggest hall, without supporting columns, in Europe and the biggest painting in the world in which thousands of figures all seem to be writhing in anguish – which goes for most of the religious paintings by the old masters. Our guide pointed out that the most acceptable female form of the 14thcentury was small-breasted but otherwise plump – just the opposite to today’s aspirational female body.

One building that especially appealed to me was a spiral tower, officially known as the Bolovo Staircase, hidden in a side alley near Campo Manin. It reminded me of an Escher drawing of something rational but impossible.

One of the drawbacks of sightseeing in Venice are the long queues (now with listless security screening added) to get into the interesting places. And this is far from peak season. However, because Antonio is a registered tour guide he gets ‘skip the line’ privileges. Trouble is, ‘skip the line’ can also be purchased by ordinary tourists for a premium so the ‘skip the line’ line will soon grow into a tiresome line of its own, prompting a next generation of impatience savers called ‘skip the skip the line line’.

A French bulldog ate my baby.