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Sweet Misery for an Artist in Venice | Definitive Cities

A water-bus ride from the airport initiates the adventure in this romantic and historic intersection of Roman, Byzantine, and Moorish cultures. Take a water taxi directly to your lodgings if possible. For one thing, an excursion on this beautiful mahogany watercraft is as spectacular, if not as intimate, as the fabled gondola rides (which remind me of a theme park ride where you are on display for the throngs that line the sidewalks along the canals). Besides, the cobblestone streets and constant bridge crossings are not conducive to dragging baggage even if you’ve got little wheels on them. I don’t know much Italian, but by the time my wife and I found our hotel, I overheard a woman-who saw me drenched in sweat-say, “Che dolore!” What a pain is right, signora. But a sweet misery indeed: we were in Venice!

We stayed in a bed and breakfast that served as the Russian embassy a hundred years or so ago. Of course, there is much marble everywhere and dcor as lavish as the scenery. But an unexpected highlight-and that is my favorite kind-was the coffee in the morning. So that’s how it’s supposed to taste. Meravigliosa!

The sun lends a unique and splendid color to the architecture and geography of this floating city. It was particularly hot during out visit last summer, but a forgiving breeze off of the Adriatic seems ever-present to caress your face no matter which corner you turn as you walk (eat, shop, explore) along the canals.

Art and fashion abound in this expensive town, but the panhandlers and vendors are as assertive as any I’ve encountered-annoying, yet never a problem. The merchants are friendly in the shops and venues. Most speak enough English (and, unlike the French, they don’t demand that you speak their native tongue) to make any transaction. I enjoyed just buying a pair of socks. The neighborhood grocery store may prove a bit less cordial, as you practice your Italian, to tourists who wander away from the crowds. But then again, I recommend doing just that. I suspect that snippy young cashier at the drogheria was just having an off day.

A great pleasure for me, as an artist, was taking my sketchpad to a picturesque spot, which means anywhere you look, and drawing with my box of watercolor pencils (also a Q-tip and a bottle of water). I stood on the Ponte dell’Accademia and rendered the scene looking over the Grande Canal towards the Basilica di Santa Maria. I’m happy with the way that picture turned out, but as gratifying was the process itself. Over the course of an hour or so, my eyes necessarily absorbed the details that the casual observer glosses over; the flags, flower boxes, verandas and architectural adornments that can otherwise go unnoticed. I also drew the attention of curious passer-bys, not to mention the other itinerant artists who seemed well aware of the new kid in town. These sketches from our vacation in Italy are my most prized souvenirs. But just the inspirations, the memories and indelible images in my mind’s eye are treasured.

I must mention the pigeons, the piazzas, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (if you could only visit one church) and Doges Palace & Bridge of Sighs (the penthouse of all medieval political prisons). These, and all of the other “must see” landmarks that you will read about elsewhere really are as fantastic as everyone says. In my humble travels, Venice is as memorable as any destination I’ve been fortunate enough to visit.

By Gary Peterson.

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