Tuesday 26 June 2012

By the Grand Canal

Re-reading recently William Riviere's By the Grand Canal has reinforced the strong desire I had in Venice to have been able to see this city in the days before mass tourist travel.
(minus the crane and motor-boats - on the Ponte dell'Accademia, straddling the Grand Canal - would this view have looked much different?)
Set in 1918, a British diplomat involved in negotiating the peace after World War I decamps to Venice to stay in a crumbling palazzo on the Grand Canal where he succumbs to intrigues involving old patrician families and mysterious opera singers.

Riviere's Venice is all oil lamps, brackish air, women in silks of Tiepolo's blues and yellows, walled gardens, labyrinthine canals and gloomy churches ...

Finding glimpses of daily life for locals intrigued me (see Venice's vanishing population) ... in backstreets and squares

and behind shuttered houses
amongst the proud history (the winged lion of San Marco in Venice's flag, below, with six tails - one for each sestier of the city)

Passing by a second-hand book shop one day, I noticed this tabby cat on a trestle table covered with old prints and books, determinedly batting its paw under a box of prints (searching for a mouse, I thought?). It was the title of the book next to it  that caught my eye - Non Toccare il Gatto (don't touch the cat) ... I had to take a picture. 
Later I found two photos on Flickr (taken by different people at different times) of what seems to be the same cat on the same table with the same book - clearly fixtures and a good ploy for luring customers. I also discovered that the book is a translation of English writer Mary Stewart's (1976) mystery novel Touch Not the Cat.

Our last evening in Venice fulfilled the purpose of the trip: a birthday celebration! Walking through Piazza San Marco on the way to dinner, the square was glowing in golden light ... 

Dressed to party, my girls paused for a photo under the flags ...

Turning left along the Grand Canal, I snapped these gondoliers putting their boats to bed ...

only realising much later that it was the exact spot where the cover picture on my copy of Riviere's book was taken!
Passing the Bridge of Sighs lit up by the sinking sun ...

we were headed for a wonderful treat - the rooftop terrace of the Danieli ...

where children and adults gathered at a long table on the edge of the terrace with spectacular views of the city and lagoon
The Danieli is built around the Dandolo Palace and a long time ago gave a perfect vantage point for Venice's powerful merchants to watch boats returning from the East with their bounty.

while the sun set around us 

and the moon rose

Much later, walking back through Piazza San Marco, we found it flooded by the high tide (acqua alta) seeping up through the stones ...

Time to whip off the party shoes and prepare to do some serious wading ...

 ... to the accompaniment of musicians who played on regardless through rising waters! Il Titanic?

By early the next morning the square was dried out and quiet. There was just time to find a café open for coffee ...
with a view to the pigeons and early risers on the Piazza, before heading for the waterway and home ...

Arrivederci Venezia!


  1. Karen, let me first tell you how richly beautiful are the colors in all of your Venetian photos. My memories of my only visit to this city, in early spring, are filled with much more subdued, though also beautiful, colors.

    What a splendid place to have a long-tabled celebration. And what a surprise to find the high water on your walk afterwards. Somehow, I'd thought that this mostly occurred at a differing time of the year. Maybe that was in years past?

    I will have a search at my library to see if I might find the book you mention.

    As always, many thanks for letting me see what I would not otherwise see.


    1. The high water was a surprise for me too, as I hadn't experienced it on previous trips to Venice. We had it two nights in a row! Apparently it's nothing to do with the supposed sinking of the city, but simply high tides combined with other weather conditions, and it is quite common. Rising sea levels due to global warming might make it a more frequent event in future, though.
      The water bubbles up through drains in the square, which is why I wasn't too keen to wade through barefoot myself. One night my daughter nobly piggy-backed me through the ankle-deep water, and the other I took a long walk around the square!

  2. What a memorable trip and a fantastic record of it!

    1. Thanks, BB. It really is a unique and memorable city.

    2. I love your comment to Frances about your daughter piggy-backing you through the water Karen - now that's one photograph I would like to have seen!!

  3. Gorgeous images and record of how you see it- as always takes me away to far away places. The high water on the square is amazing and very interesting, that is quite a memory. Your daughters are beautiful and I can just imagine what a lovely time was had at the long table on water's edge...love to you from Loire region.... Sourcing vieux French linen xxxColette

  4. Fabulous photos of summertime Venice, or so I think of it with these vivid colors, especially the reds and oranges and golds. In my mind's eye Venice is usually autumn or misty winter --- so this is a treat with a difference.
    The aqua alta is a little surprising in summer, certainly its more frequent at other seasons. But I'm sure you're right, it's more "normal" than scare headlines would have it. A wonderful venue for a birthday party. Or for anything!


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