Venice always seems to be the setting for tragic love stories. From Shakespeare’s Othello to Thomas Mann’s Aschenbach, characters find themselves in the throes of disastrous passion in this seductive Italian city. I think it is the decayed historicity of the water-logged destination that makes it so attractive to calamitous dramas. Many people are turned off by the moldy buildings, the dank water slowly creeping in everywhere, and the city’s eeriness even on the brightest of days. I relish my memories of Venice for I, too, have a secret tale of unrequited love in this mysterious port. Venice ensnared me into its provocative clutches and has never let go her hold.
Spell of Night
The fault, I admit, is entirely my own. After all, I entered the city for the first time in the dusky twilight hours, when Venezia had robed herself in shades of indigo. The stone paved streets had a faint wet sheen upon them that romantically reflected the twinkling of home lights and shaded street lamps so that I thought I had entered a story land. The next morning did nothing to dispel the enchantment. Watery roadways and baffling bridges beckoned me at every corner as I wandered through the town. Dark canals followed me around like a stalking lover as I walked the cobbled streets. It seemed that the steadily rising Adriatic Sea was ready to overtake the ancient houses one by one. Time had not only forgotten about this crumbling città, it had packed its bags and left.
A Secret Love
As I examined the subdued architecture and curved facades looming over the cramped waterways, I felt unaccountably drawn to the deteriorating landscape. Venice may be slowly falling apart but it does so proudly, creating a shroud of secrecy about its past. Very few intruders into the city discover Venice’s allure unless they spend time in its shadows, contemplating alone. This burgh is not for lovers or socialites, it is for recluses, spies, and those who live in the abstruse. Venice is for thrillers, for the clandestine, and the night. Which is why I thought the best way to become intimate with the area was to explore it after sunset in the broody confines of a gondola.
Gliding in a Gondola
As the waning light cast its reds and golds upon the rippling canal’s surface, my gondolier silently oared his way towards the deep interiors. Amid the still gloom, I heard the faint clink of fork and spoon upon plate and serving platter as families inside the moss-covered stone edifices sat down to their evening meal. In the shadowy passageway, the muffled scrape of the oar against the stone lined canal kept time with sounds of conversation and peals of laughter wafting through the chinks of rotting wooden shutters. A companion gondola, barely visible glided past me, and I heard the swishing whispers of its hidden occupants. Every noise reverberated uncannily inside the tunnel of tall palazzos. Then, silence again enfolded the watery road like a furtive cloak.
In the Dark
Venice is indeed a city of secrets. In the fourteenth century, Venetians became terrified of any single person acquiring sole power over the city. To prevent such a catastrophe, they formed a secret coterie of elected magistrates to run the government called the Council of Ten. For three hundred years, the council maintained the balance of power through a network of spies and clandestine meetings, protecting Venice from outside influence and internal power struggles. Their legacy still haunts the mysterious capital of Venezia.
For more on Venice and its love affair with water, delve into our Journal Issue: Into the Blue.