By Susan J Kingman
…An elegant woman draped in silk steps delicately off the gondola, her gilded mask shimmering in the moonlight. Sweet violin music and laughter mingle in the air of the Piazza San Marco. Costumed guests parade in a dizzying blur of feathers, jewels, and lavish masks fit for an emperor. The wine is poured, the dancing begins, and the festivities of Carnival are underway…
This is Venice, the unique gem of Italy rising from its own shimmering reflections. Once the ‘playground of Europe’ for wealthy patricians, Venice now exists as a living testament to the sweetness of la dolce vita, the good life.
The elusive charm is due to a simple fact: Venice moves a passo d’uomo, at a human pace. Wandering is the preferred method of transportation in the city, which often more closely resembles the set of a whimsical play than a thousand-year-old republic. Each twist and turn tempts with the suggestion of a secret. Go ahead, get lost. Follow a winding path to a crooked stone wall, climbing with ivy. Cross a miniature bridge to a quaint bakery abloom with hyacinth. The intimacy is startling.
Slicing through the canal in a glossy black gondola, the absence of noise is breathtaking, save for the chirping birds and gentle lapping of the gondolier’s oar. No motor oil here, just the mossy aroma of the lagoon and perfume of fresh flowers. Upon the hush, details spring vividly to life… A housecat on a wrought-iron windowsill, napping in the warm sun…the humming of a woman hanging linens out to dry… the haunting beauty of a building’s delicate façade worn slowly away by centuries of drifting water…
Everything here is more relaxed, even the soft Venetian dialect.
Venice so perfectly combines the simple, slow life with a passion for extravagance, at times it seems to be the living fantasy of a mischievous dreamer.
Ready for a feast of the senses? The shops of the Mercerie and the Rialto reveal why Venice reigns as the world’s fine art capital, fiercely proud of its masterpieces. Hand-sewn lace as delicate as gossamer drapes elegantly in shop windows, and pieces of world famous Venetian glass glow like precious jewels. Prices may be fit for a king, but simply browsing can make anyone feel like Renaissance royalty.
Carnival, the extravagant pre-Lenten festival, may come but once a year, but the spirit of revelry remains year-round in the markets. Jeweled harlequin masks, yards of richly colored fabrics, and wooden dolls overflow from artisans’ carts. The treasures of the bustling marketplace are endless.
Venice’s amoré for life’s little pleasures is infectious. Even the most hurried visitors may find themselves dipping their toes in the sparkling lagoon, or lingering in the shade sipping a Bellini- a succulent cocktail of peach juice and Prosecco, the sparkling white wine of the Veneto.
By the time the sun sets over the Grand Canal, “La serenissima republica di Venizia”, The Most Serene Republic of Venice, has cast its spell.