I’ve finally finished reading The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. The book is his reflection on Venice, and the character(s) of Venice set against the backdrop of the burning of the Fenice (famous opera house in Venice). Reading the book has inspired me to give my own reflection on Venezia:
For centuries, people have been fascinated by the mystique of Venice and enchanted by its beauty. This is evidenced by works of the great Giovanni Antonio Canal. His landscapes or vedute of Venice capture the beauty of The Grand Canal and the ornate design of the Doge’s Palace:
Venice is an island with a canal. The Grand Canal snakes through Venice, dividing it into halves. This divide gives Venice its dual personality. It’s a city of ying and yang, light and darkness. During the day, Venice is the jovial host, welcoming everyone to the Carnival. Thousands of tourists flock to the island to partake in the daily razzmatazz.
Venice had once been the world’s supreme maritime power. Its reach had extended from the Alps to Constantinople, and its wealth had been unrivaled. The architectural variety of its buildings – Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical – chronicled an evolving aesthetic shaped by a millennium of conquest and their accumulated spoils.
Everyday, mobs of tourists weave through the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of Venice trying to get to St Mark’s Square, or the Rialto Bridge. However, even with the best map in hand, you are likely to get lost. But getting lost is exactly Venice’s way of inviting you to see Venice. Sometimes, we just need to put down that map, and stop worrying about the next item on itinerary. Instead, just let yourself get lost in architectural masterpiece of this city. The feeling of standing in spot and just looking around at Venice is something that even Giovanni Antonio Canal can’t give you in his masterpiece.
Likewise, Venice’s beauty is not only reflected in the giant feats of cathedral and palaces. Instead, the ornate and intricate glass work of the Venetian craftsman is a microcosm of the character of Venice: beautiful, ornate, delicate, and intoxicating. You simply cannot look away:
However, night eventually falls upon the island, and the Carnival comes to end. The mobs of tourists return to the mainland, happy and exhausted from a day of frivolity. The churning of the engines from the water vaporettos come to a quiet. The waters from the canal calms down to a glassy stillness, reflecting the full moon that hang on the canvas of a starless night sky. This Venice invites you to another party: the masquerade ball. The city puts on a mask of darkness. Beams of moonlight cast a hazy glow upon the city. This Venice invites you to meet a mysterious and handsome stranger in the alleyway.
This dark side of Venice is the perfect setting for a mystery. Sinister moods could be easily conjured by shadowy back canals and hidden passageways. Reflections, mirrors, masks suggest that things are not what they seem. It is this Venice that has inspired some of the greatest works of literature. The Aspern Papers, a novella by Henry James, introduced the world to a nameless narrator, who goes to Venice to locate Juliana Bordereau. Juliana is an old lover of Jeffrey Aspern, a famous and now deceased American poet. The narrator presents himself to the old woman as a prospective lodger and is prepared to court her niece Miss Tita, a plain and somewhat naive spinster, in hopes of getting a look at some of Aspern’s letters and other papers kept by Juliana. While the central characters are all fully realized, James describes Venice so lovingly that the city almost becomes a character in its own right, a crumbling, beautiful, mysterious place where the incredible becomes real and the strange is almost commonplace.
Upon return from my Euro trip, people asked me if I bought any nice souvenirs from my travels. The one I treasure the most and wear everyday is a necklace from Venice. The pendant is a masquerade ball mask, but with two faces, just like Venice: