Saturday, March 11, 2006

Venice Part Two

What a day of excitement and activity, and we're only halfway through! Due to my fondness and attachment to bed and sleeping in as long as I possibly can, I missed the first sightseeing - a 7am jaunt to St Mark's Square. Seemingly it is fantastic - I haven't encountered it yet.

So at 0815 we assembled in the front hall and set off for breakfast, almost beside where we dined for dinner last night. My non-coffee and rarely tea-drinking is making it interesting, as coffee is the staple diet of Venice, so this morning with my croissant I had a glass of warm, frothy milk. Then it was back to meet our first resident guide.

Lady Frances Clark is the widow of a former British ambassadior to Italy, but for the past 37 years has lived in Venice, helping the 'Venice in Peril' fund. Her tour was entitled 'My Dursoduro'. Perhaps this is the appropriate moment for some background.

The city of Venice is built on a series of inter-connected islands. Some are built on reclaimed land, which needs constant supervision and restoration, and some are on proper rock. Dursoduro, meaning hard back is safe enough, being on rock (so where we're staying won't be sinking!) Lady Clark lives on this part, and took us on a tour of this section of the city, mostly of churches in the area. Firstly, the Carmini, with its huge altars and statues and paintings (including one painting of cluds and angels on the ceiling, with a hole in the middle with more painted above on the next roof, giving the impression of inifinity and space). Another feature of this church was what looked like parking meters - insert your 50 cent coin, and the lights over one of the paintings would come on.

From there, we went to the church of the Angel Raphael, with more statues etc, and a back baptistry where some old lace robes and copes were on display. Then on to St Nicolas' which seemed to be older. Venice in Peril was marked with a plaque to celebrate their restoration work in the 1970s. This was needed because the church is surrounded by water on three sides. Here we had another special treat thanks to the Lady Clark connections - we were taken into a kitchen above and behind the sanctuary, where an ancient pectoral cross had been put on display for us. We were then taken up a few more steps to the original church/meeting room? where an old painting of the crucifixion had been partly restored on the wall.

We then headed back, calling in to St Sebastian's where Lady Clark got us in for free, by telling them we were clergy and seminarians. Here there were private side chapels up both sides as well as the main altar at the front. A new feature here was the organ doors which were t oclose over the pipes, but when open (as yesterday), revealed paintings on the 'inside'. The sacristy was covered, both walls and ceilings, with paintings of scenes and stories, for example, Jacob's dream, the baptism of Jesus and the crucifixion.

After a bit of a walk, we arrived at San Trovaso church, where a funeral was just drawing to a close. The man had been a champion rower in his time, and appropriately enough, with the service over, the coffin was brought out and put on the hearse - a motor boat with room for carrying the chief mourners. Two rowing teams on gondolas provided an escort for the hearse as it went off down the river to the Grand Canal and on towards the cemetery island. And in a continental expression of mourning and respect rarely seen in the UK (except, for example, the funerals of Princess Diana and George Best), the mourners applauded the coffin as it passed.

We stopped for a quick drink on the sunlit bridge beside the church before saying farewell to Lady Clark. With half an hour before lunch, we went on a bit of a walking tour of the eastern bit of Dursoduro, past the English Church (that is, the Anglican Church), and the Guggenheim modern art museum, to the church which dominates the southern skyline - Santa Maria della Salute. We didn't go in, not having much time, but lo and behold, I noticed a girl from Dromore going in, and thus it was proved that you can go nowhere without seeing someone you know!

We then came past the Galleria and into a cafe for lunch - vegetable soup and then pasta with bacon, onion and tomato sauce. It was all very good, but made me feel very full again... a constant feeling in Venice, it seems!

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