Thursday, May 25, 2017

Some Reflections on Venetian Reflections

A rare unruffled view of one of the city's famous sites, the church of I Frari

Still waters almost never run deep in Venice. This is not intended as a metaphor about its residents but as a simple, literal statement about its canals.

The canals that are deep here, such the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, are never still; and those side canals (or rii, actually) that are sometimes still, are never deep. But what strikes me lately is how rarely even those side canals are actually still. They're almost always rippled at least a bit by the tide coming in or going out, by a breeze, by a gondola or small motor boat, or battered (along with the ancient foundations of canal-side buildings) by a mototopo (work boat) or water taxi.

On the very rare occasions when the water really is still you get a view of the city that differs as greatly from the ordinary as the city in daylight differs from your perception of it at night, or in winter from summer. On any given day, in any season, you can take up your favorite position in the city and watch your view change with the changing light. This transformation, effected only by light, is one of the most celebrated in the vast literature of Venice.

But, as far as I know, there's no telling when you'll happen upon the perfectly still water in the side canals in which the city is almost perfectly mirrored, with just the slightest changes in detail and color that make the image all the more picturesque, like an old photographic plate. If it's possible to predict such still water by reference to tidal forecasts I'm not aware of how.

And I suppose it's this unpredictability that makes the experience so striking, even when--or especially when--you live here full time. You turn a corner along your usual route and you see something completely different, without even quite knowing what's changed at first. Struck by it, you hope to encounter the same view the next day, and the next, and the next, but the water on those days is rippled, the images wavering or multi-faceted almost beyond recognition--which is nice in itself, but not what you were hoping to find. After a certain point you give up on ever seeing the water just as it was that one time. And perhaps you never do. But in an entirely different part of town, where and when you don't expect it, you happen upon such still water again, and the experience is just a surprising and striking as it was the other time or times. Maybe more so, if you'd given up hope in the mean time.

This, too, is not intended as metaphorical, but feel free to read it however you like.