In 1984 my daughter S graduated from high school at the age of 17, so the summer before she started university we took her to Italy. My son, G, was working as a summer student in the Physics Department so did not come with us.
We flew into Venice and, having picked up a rental car, stayed this time in Mestre, the nearest town to Venice, nearby on the mainland. Each day we travelled by bus into Venice and found this extremely convenient on the whole.
For the next few days we hit the high spots of Venice, walking everywhere in the auto less city or travelling by the vaporetto or water bus. We even took a tragetto (lit. crossing) ride across the Grand Canal. Because there are so few bridges, at certain places a gondala will ferry you across the canal for a small fee. I finally got to see inside the Basilica di San Marco, which is built on the plan of a Greek Cross and so richly decorated inside and out with precious marble, bronze statuary, and fabulous mosaics that it carries the name of chiesa d'oro or church of gold. Its most precious treasure is a golden altarpiece, the Pala d'Oro, richly studded with thousands of precious stones.
We explored Piazza San Marco, the only large square in Venice, home to thousands of pigeons, and situated directly in front of the Basilica. Its interesting buildings with their elegant arcades include a 15th century clock tower and incredibly expensive outdoor cafes and stores. Everywhere you see the winged Lion of St Mark, which is the signature of Venice and seen above is the one on the clock tower. Nearby, the beloved Campanile or bell tower, which collapsed in 1902, after 1000 years, was lovingly reconstructed as it was previously. We toured the nearby Palazzo Ducale, the Doges' Palace, the seat of power for centuries, and an incredibly beautiful building, filled with a wealth of art work and statuary.
However, I think for the three of us, a major highlight of our Venetian trip was a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art, situated on the Grand Canal. Peggy, a collector of contemporary art , bought the house, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, in 1949 and lived there with her dogs, until her death in 1979. She and her dogs are buried in the garden at the rear of the palazzo. The interesting thing about this museum is the 18th century building, unfinished, with only one storey, and a wonderful terrace which faces the Grand Canal and is decorated with sculptures. The rear garden also has works of Henry Moore and Max Ernst who was her husband and others sculptors. The collection of art itself is priceless, including works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, and a whole room of Jackson Pollock. Above, you see S with her father, enjoying the terrace on the Grand Canal.
My daughter was fascinated by the Venetian masks made famous by Carnivale. There were mask shops everywhere in Venice but they were very expensive. She bought a blue and white ceramic face, not really a mask one could wear, and a golden paper maché one, unfortunately not traditional, but charming none the less, which you can see here.
Before we leave Venice I want to say a few words about its desperate situation. The population is decreasing, with tourism the only industry. The city is sinking dramatically, with flooding occurring more and more. In 1900 the city flooded 10 ten times a year. Acqua alta, high water or high tides, they call it. But now there are about 40 to 60 floods per year. At an expected cost of 4.3 billion euros, mobile barriers are to be built at the openings between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, which may or may not work and for how long, no one knows. The buildings are decaying and often the canals stink. But still the tourists come, not only for the uniqueness of this Italian jewel of the Adriatic, but for the monuments of an era of prosperity unlike any other in Italy. They also come to see the art works of the great Venetian painters like Tintoretto, Titian, the various members of the Bellini family, Veneziano, Canaletto. An international movement is trying desperately to save Venice. Who knows if they will succeed? But we will all lose something precious if they do not.
Five times in all I have visited Venice, twice with groups led by a young Venetian woman, born and brought up there, but now departed, as have her parents. La Serenissima, the most serene, as it is known, is a city like no other. Visit while you still can, it's worth it.
The graduation gift story will continue.