Sunday, September 20, 2020

There's Light That Never Goes Out

Post-sunset sky behind Murano lighthouse, last night

I was reminded last night, once again, that the spectacle of sunset in the lagoon is not over after you've watched the orange disk drop beneath the horizon as definitively--and almost audibly it can sometimes seem--as a coin into the slot of a vending machine. The above image was taken some time after that had happened, and it indicates the kind of "prize" all of us here receive after the sky's flaming coin has dropped out of sight. 

And this reminded me of when I first noticed this fact in the lagoon, about 6 years ago, in a different boat than the one we have now, in December. Rather than plagiarize myself, I'll just re-post the original post from December 20, 2014:
Sandro is disappointed when I don't pick him up from school in the boat, which, in truth, is most of the time, especially these days when the sun sets shortly after 4:30. As I use the boat to pick him up on one of his two long days of school each week, when he gets out at 3:45, this means it's typically pretty dark when we get home. And cold.

At this time of year the days disappear fast in the west, the light, color and special effects changing second-by-second as the sun slips downward like a rain drop on a car windshield. But hardly had the western horizon gone dark the other day and Sandro and I set off homeward in earnest from the detour we'd taken out behind the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, my camera safely stowed in its water-proof bag, than we noticed all at once behind us an encore, blooming in broad ragged folds of electric pink from the southern horizon beyond Isola Santo Spirito almost to the top of the sky's dome.

On many winter evenings, even at the close of days when the sun has seemed too weary and infirm to shuffle out from behind a thick gray velvet curtain of clouds, sunset still turns out to be a two-act performance, with more to come--and often the most drama of all--after you think the show's over. The sun has surely vanished below the horizon line, you think, and only then, after the big headlining star has left the building, so to speak, does some obscure chorus line of clouds in some forgotten quadrant of the sky--way off to the east over Lido, even--cast off their coverings and put on their own closing number, flushing all over with their effort.

It's almost hard to believe your eyes, which had just been adjusting to the featureless dark, yet the width of the lagoon before you mirrors the sky's flaming pageantry--as did, the night before last, Sandro's face.

Living here and seeing the sky every day and night you realize that the great architects of Venice did not, as is sometimes suggested, construct drama in a wide waste of water otherwise devoid of it, but in the face of the stiffest natural competition. The lagoon was not merely the flat, passive, perfect foil for architectural effort, but a potentially overwhelming stage whose own natural effects were likely to make any uninspired efforts of builders look very small indeed.

All of which are reasons for me to take the boat to pick up Sandro from school more often, even in the coldest weather, even in the supposed dead of winter. Or, if you're visiting the city, for you to seek out an unobscured vantage point at the end of each day from which to take in the sky's theater.  



  1. Great post, Steven!
    I agree with you, sunsets are always spectacular in Venice as a never-ending symphony, bright and loud or soft and quiet, depending on the day. Much more than sunrises - except when the light suddenly gets through the thick mist of a cold winter morning. You are quite right to spend time on your boat watching the sky, despite some chills - probably less unpleasant than mosquito armies.
    At sunrise, look at the city and follow the light on the buildings, the rooftop and canals. At sunset, look at the sky. It is probably a good way to do.
    The vaporettos can help tourists without a boat: a way back from Burano or San Lazzaro or the Lido. The circular line 4 is also a good option. Or walking on the fondamenda along the Giudecca or along the Giardini. But the sky's theatre, as you say, can be magnificent above a small campo too.
    Thank you again, Steven.

    1. Thank you, Auvraisien, and you're right,the vaporetto lines you mention offer very good chances to catch the sunsets, and your rule of thumb regarding what to look at during sunrises and sunsets seems valid to me.

      Of course it's also possible to have excellent vantage points even on foot: I used to watch from Sant' Elena and they were great. But, really, at almost any point along the fondamente running between Piazza San Marco to Sant'Elena you can find yourself in what seems like an ideal place for sunsets, which makes the time around sunset a good time to take a stroll along that route. The view on foot from the island of San Giorgio Maggiore can also be good, depending on the season.

      But we're just entering the best sunset season now, as the weather gets cooler, and on into winter. Though there's never really a bad season, I think.

      Sunrises are trickier, less easily caught on foot, but actually the Molo is a pretty reliable place from which to appreciate them. I think the Accademia Bridge might also be promising, and the fondamente in Dorsoduro along the Giudecca Canal.

  2. As most of our Venice time is Autumn through to Spring, especially in the depths of winter, we too have been fortunate to see some spectacular skies and some spectacular sky/lagoon double acts. How easily we can understand Sandro's wish to commute back from school via your boat. You make us feel that we are also tucked in there, sharing your quiet joy in that wonderful place. Thank you yet again for sharing it with us all.

    1. Contrary to what I'd have expected, Ella, sunsets during the colder months, the ones when you're usually here, are pretty consistently more dramatic than during the summer (and without the mosquitoes, as Auvraisien notes!). I'm always happy to hear that a post rekindles your own sense of connection to the city and lagoon, thank you.