Thursday, 2 October 2008

That Sinking Feeling

If I'm honest, I expected to be severely disappointed by Venice. I suspected it would be an overpriced, overcrowded tourist trap, existing only to feed the curiosity of its millions of visitors. In some respects, that is a reasonable summary. But it doesn't do Venice - the true city of Venice - justice. What surprised me most wasn't how touristy Venice is, but how touristy it isn't.

Oh yes, if you confine your wanderings to the area around Piazza San Marco, Ponte Rialto and all the other sights, you will be continually reminded of the main source of Venice's income. But Theo and I found ourselves quite quickly away from The Grand Canal and inside an area where ordinary corner shops sell ordinary groceries, where a group of children were playing football on a sports court and the people sitting drinking spritzis outside the slightly scruffy cafes were locals enjoying a gentle sundowner after work.

But no matter how ordinary are the everyday lives of its citizens, Venice is still, inescapably, like a film-set. The place where we chose to drink limonata and caffee macchiato may have looked at first glance like many a high street in many a European city, but the fact that it began, ended and was bounded by canals immediately set it apart. Venice is exotic and ridiculously picturesque, even in the districts where graffiti, dog-walkers and fast-food are more commonly found than churches in the High Renaissance style.

The whole city has a feeing of elegant decay as centuries-old buildings lean towards the sea, which is always, always ready to receive them once their resistance to nature has crumbled away. And one day, the sea will have its way again. We watched epic earthworks taking shape around the lagoon as man tries to outwit the rising water with multi-million pound feats of engineering. But one day the islands of Venice will surely be overwhelmed as climate change takes its toll. I just hope it isn't in my lifetime.

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