I sit at a sidewalk cafe table directly across from the aged iron and wood doorway that has led to my hostel home for the last three nights. The gentle murmur of conversation surrounds me, echoing off of the stone corridor that is the street.
Venice. A city that breathes in romance and exhales intimacy. Unlike any other I have ever experienced. A place that is not only saturated in history but rather is history itself. Every building, every window and door whispering ancient tales of centuries gone away. The stone and the wood and metal outlasting the prestigious hands that bore it. Unchanged over centuries. Seductive like a dark and mysterious woman.
You wander the short streets and narrow alleyways making turn after turn in a haze of wonderment. Barely wide enough to fit two people standing next to one another, a city free of autos. Each calle (street) brings new treasures as you peer into windows displaying handy work in forms of metal, cloth, glass, and cuisine. Turn a corner and you may find an open square of restaurants, towers, or elaborately adorned churches of old. Small arched bridges breach the gaps over narrow rivers that curl and envelope the city; becoming one with water and stone.
Your steps are suddenly rewarded as you turn the corner to San Marco square and the river that kisses it. Royalty in the shape of architecture. Golden ceilings displaying portraits of times we only dream of. A musician plays his accordion softly as you walk along the canal at dusk. The city caresses you gently in the form of music, warm air, and the lights of stately palaces dancing over dark water.
In the night the city is ghostly, abandoned except for the occasional lovers drifting arm in arm. All is quiet until you round a bend and come upon a pocket of laughter that leaks into the alley from a warmly lit pub. A mournful bell tower chimes twelve ancient tolls of lament; remembrance of a time past, never to return. I look up to the gap between building and sky to see darkness speckled with stars.
It is dark and foreboding; seductive. Your heart is slowly permeated with the mist of history that satiates the air.
“It was at Venice, beneath the covered archway there called the Ponte di Sospiri, that I met for the third or fourth time the person of whom I speak…Yet I remember- ah! how should I forget?- the deep midnight, the Bridge of Sighs, the beauty of woman, and the Genius of Romance that stalked up and down the narrow canal.”
~ William Goldman, The Silent Gondoliers