Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Venetian Wonder

A friend recently said to me, "you either love or hate Venice, there's no in between". He predicted that I would fall into the love category. How right you were Dirk!

We left Istanbul with its 13 million people (and seemingly all trying to be in the same spot at the same time) and flew into Venice yesterday afternoon. We've traded in calls to prayer for the peeling of church bells.

After our flight, we took a bus then the Vaporo (water bus) to the northwest corner of the city where we are renting an apartment for the next 3 nights.
What a great apartment! Two bedrooms, living room and kitchen and a huge bathroom. And all located in a residential, non-touristy area.

The apartment has canal front on one side, and on the other is a shared courtyard/garden. We have been laughingly calling this place the honeymoon we should have had 28 years ago. But better late than never!

I think it would be fair to say we walked most of the city today. We visited several beautiful churches, including the Basilica de San Marco and the previous cathedral of Venice, San Pietro - built in the the 900's. I have to say I actually preferred the older cathedral. San Marco is sooo way over the top. Beautiful but in an almost (dare I say it?) vulgar demonstration of wealth and opulence. On the other hand, the older San Pietro is majestic and unassuming, in a way. My better half became obsessed with the nearby bell tower which is scarily leaning to one side. He took numerous pictures and pondered endlessly on its architectural future. I say it'll eventually just tumble over.
My favorite church thus far has to be the Madonna dell'Orto (Madona of the Garden). Simple and lovely. And so appropriately, there was a sculpture of Madonna and child with a simple prayer for those who need to make big decisions. Guess who lit a candle there... ;)

Which brings me to the heartbreaking beauty of this place. Will my grandchildren be able to visit this city as adults? Will it still exist? Or like other ancient cities, be claimed by nature? Venetians don't like to talk about it. They've been here for eons and have survived all sorts of floods. But the city is sinking. No doubt about it. And yet, in this tragic circumstance - in its crumbling buildings and murky canals - there is such beauty, such joy. It's almost like Venetians live each day to the max because God only knows what tomorrow will bring.

We visited the Plaza di San Marco and braved the crowds. We walked along the chic streets lined with Dolce & Gabana, Mizzoni and Prada stores. Gabi - you would love this. Cutting edge fashion. Made me feel about 125 years old and frumpy beyond words. But good grief! This city is expensive! At a local grocery store, they were selling clear nail polish for 8 euros. That's like 11 bucks. I don't know how people do it here.

The churches have overwhelmed me in their beauty and artistry. I marvel at the exquisite paintings, sculptures and detailed tile mosaic work. And remember how our Protestant ancestors took it upon themselves to destroy so many of these architectural and artistic masterpieces for piety's sake. Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face. How can we reformed types reclaim some of this sacred art and beauty in our worship spaces once again without sacrificing our focus and priority on Word and Sacrament?

Tonight we dine in a little place near the apartment and tomorrow we tour further afield by the Vaporo (boatbus).
More to come....