Sunday, December 29, 2019

Reflections From Roma #20

Reflections From Roma #20
31 dicembre 2019

Photo Update Alert:

Hello there… Rodger French here.

Winter tourism in Italia is a tricky business. On the one hand, the ZOTA™ tapers off a bit, so there is less heinous crowding. The weather, however, can be cold, wet, and unpredictable. In any case, we decided to take a Christmas excursion by rail to two of the cities on our endless “must see” checklist: Verona and Venezia (Venice).

Verona- Verona is a picturesque city on the Adige River, with an ancient Roman arena, still used for opera productions, and a very cool and imposing medieval fortress called the Castelvecchio. And, naturally, there are the churches, several of which are both ancient and magnificent. Good sightseeing, even in the drizzle, although, alas, not a lot of photographic opportunities.

For what it’s worth, William Shakespeare, who apparently never visited the place, set not one, but two plays there (“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Romeo and Juliet”). There actually exists a “Juliet’s Balcony,” which is (a) a huge tourist attraction and (b) totally bogus.

In spite of the inclement weather, many people turned out for the Christmas markets and everyone seemed to have a fine time. Verona is a lovely place and we enjoyed it very much.

Venezia- One of the most famous, treasured, and endangered cities on the planet, Venezia has inspired artists and tourists for hundreds of years. The notion of a city with waterways instead of streets is impossibly romantic, but quotidian reality demands diligent tide monitoring. High tides may necessitate the wearing of very serious rubber footwear, which most visitors do not own, and during exceptional tide peaks known as “acqua alta,” tourism becomes a water sport.

Tourist numbers are off about 50% this winter due to the catastrophic flooding of last November. This is, of course, terrible for those who rely on the tourism industry for a living. The upside, if it may be called thus, is that on this Christmas week, Venezia was merely crowded, rather than inundated, with visitors.

Fortunately, Venetians have had over 1000 years to learn how to live with the Adriatic Sea. To accommodate tourists during the acqua alta, the city erects sturdy pedestrian walkways (about three feet high, three-to-five feet wide, with no handrails) across flooded areas. Traffic flows both ways, and caution is essential to insure that you don’t take a header onto an unforgiving surface covered in dirty water.

[Boardwalk Etiquette Sidebar- (1.) Stay to the right, except when - and only with utmost caution and courtesy - passing. (2.) If you’re wearing high-water boots, get your sorry ass off the walkways and into the water. That’s the point of the boots, fool. (3.) Keep moving. Unless there’s an emergency, which taking a stupid selfie is decidedly not. (Selfies are second only to cruise ships on the list of Satan’s contributions to global tourism.)]

But, aside from the inevitable ZOTA™ aggravations, Venezia is absolutely worth the time, effort, and expense (it is not cheap). Time and tide prevented us from seeing all we wanted, but I enthusiastically recommend visiting the Gallerie dell'Accademia and the Palazzo Ducale. And especially the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (named after San Roch, protector against the plague and patron saint of dogs), which is home to dozens of large and fabulous paintings by Tintoretto. 

I also commend to you the light. We sprang for a great hotel room with a spectacular view, and, at dawn and dusk in particular, the city looks like an enormous watercolour. Bellissima. Venezia is an exceptional place with a fascinating history and we’re very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend some time there.

And thus concludes our major travels in Italia/Europa. A.J. and I have a day trip to Firenze and a weekend in Verbania on our calendar, but that’s it. Which is somewhat stunning, but, as always, the tempus, it has fugited. I’ll be sending one more posting from Roma, just to wrap things up. But don’t imagine that’s the last of it. There’s still an evaluation of our State Department assignments in the works, so stay tuned.

Felice anno nuovo. Onward.