Venice

27 May 2017

I’m having some personal issues with my beard. First, I’ve had a terse email from George Clooney asking why I’m trying to impersonate him in Venice. I noticed in the royal wedding coverage that he had a beard development similar to my own, (maybe George has a tad more salt) in which case I was going to ask him how he dealt with the problem of hair ends pressing back into the face at about week two. Now I can’t ask him because he’s upset with me. When I go to bed, I feel as though my face is lying against a new doormat. I even dream about doormats instead of hotel toasters.

Enough of personal issues, because today we set out to take a tour of the famous 1792 Venice Opera House or Teatro L Fenice. It has been burned down and rebuilt many times, the latest reincarnation being in 2004 but, like my grandfather’s hammer that had three new heads and four new handles, it is original. We tried to get to the one hour tour for an affordable look when we found that well seated tickets to a performance started at about two hundred euros each.

The streets, alleyways and canals of Venice must have been designed by a maze builder with a grudge, because everybody gets lost all the time – even the locals. When we tried to find the opera house we went past the same shops three or four times, in spite of having a map. We even went to Google maps on our phone, where the stupid woman told us either we had arrived (which we hadn’t) or that every direction we took was moving away from the opera house. It was like black hole physics. When we came upon it by accident we’d been walking for hours and had missed the tour. Instead, people dressed up in their opera finery were filling in for an afternoon performance of La Traviata. We went to the box office and found that ‘last minute’ 200-euro tickets were now reduced to 50 euros. Nodding, I reached for my money, but then the dreadful discovery was made that I was wearing shorts – which would offend the sensibilities of rack-rate paying opera buffs in the stalls. The best Mrs Ticket could do was hide my knees away in a shared box on level two for only 20 euros each. Up we went, to be enclosed in a small, open-fronted stable with the two seats at the front occupied by full-paying horses, the two of us behind them on crane-your-neck high-chairs. But all that aside, we were in for a treat.

Inside, the opera house was jaw-dropping, with a massive stage, floor level stall seating, and then boxes rising four levels in a semi-circle of gilded reliefs – like La Scala and just as ornate, but smaller. From the first trembling strings of the familiar overture, I was spellbound. I remembered Antonio, our guide, telling us that only the best singers get a gig at Teatro L Fenice, which explained the extraordinary voices of the three leads, Francesca Sassu, Matteo Lippi and Julian Kim. They were supported by a superb orchestra, with no musicians stuffed beneath the stage as they are in many opera houses. I came out uplifted, almost enough to forget that in my bag I had a pair of YSL sunglasses I bought in a stupor during our lost period, that are as ridiculous in design as they were in price. I think Michelle has posted my folly on Face Book. But hey, I love them and I’m at the pointy end.

At people versus pigeons breakfast today I overheard an American lady say that her sister’s phone fell out of her back pocket into the toilet. “I hope the toilet still worked,” her husband commented between sniggers. And speaking of pee as you go, Venice offers a pre-paid, multiple pass-water pass for those who might not have cash on hand for a public one-off. I worked out that if we each peed nine times at the opera house it would pay for the ticket. We only got to three, but still, a saving is a saving.

Sunday 28 May 2018

We had planned to visit the Jewish museum and synagogues by placing our trust in
Google maps. It played up again – but we were not the only ones suffering. There were people everywhere, dizzily staring at their phones and cursing. It struck me that you could book into one of the hundreds of elegant, hole-in-the-wall Venice hotels, unpack, go out for a meal, but never find the hotel again. It took us twice the estimated distance to find the Jewish quarter, small as it is with only about 450 Jewish residents in Venice. The three synagogues we did visit were really ancient and little used.

Back into random directions again, we aimed at the opera house we’d visited yesterday hoping to see another opera at a last-minute price. The stars were aligned. We found the opera where Google maps said it wasn’t and then my trousers allowed prime seats for fifty euros each. We sat down to superb performance of Donetsetti’s The Elixir of Love. Again, these were top singers and an outstanding cast in a magical opera house.

For the record, there are about 65,000 permanent residents in Venice, but it takes in an average of 60,000 visitors every day. No wonder we sit at breakfast and watch a river of people streaming past on their way to St Marks’s Square looking, for all the world, like escaping refugees. They gather in the square like a pop concert crowd and create massive queues. I wanted to go up in the huge brick tower in the square. I has 1000 steps – which are not in use thank heaven – or a modest lift which does not relate to queue wanting to use it. I persevered, but the view from the top was restricted by the thickness of the walls which prevent you from seeing what the pigeons see. After waiting in another queue to descend, I did another St Marco must-see by sitting down and drinking a beer at one of the tables. There is no cover charge, but you pay 12 euros ‘music fee’ to listen to languidly played hits from last century and before. Those not in the party mood, but wanting just to sit down, lower themselves on to the rows of marble steps, little realising that by so doing they are in breach of the laws of Venice that say thou shalt not sit on a public step. The step cops spend their day shooing them away as they do the pigeons, and then, like the pigeons, the illegal sitters flutter around and resettle once the cops have moved on.

These people risk being jailed for illegally applying heir buttocks to public steps.