Every time I visit Venice I try to go somewhere I have never been before. This time I visited Torcello, which is a forty-minute ferry ride north of the main island, far past Murano, just next to Burano. Torcello itself has nothing much worth seeing, but it's a vivid reminder that Venice was once a marsh. Without human intervention most of Venice would look like this:
The world would be less jolly without Venice. Every time I go there I walk until my feet hurt, but I don't mind. On my deathbed I will not remember the pain, I will remember Venice.
On my way I read this article in the Daily Telegraph by Annabel Freyberg, published in May 2013. It was written about her grandfather, an officer in the New Zealand Army during the Second World War. In April 1945 he commanded the forces that liberated Venice from the Italians - the bad Italians.
I imagine he walked tall. The fascists pass; Venice remains.
Burano is small enough that every house has been photographed several times. This one is particularly popular. What do the residents get out of it?
On the surface the article is just a puff-piece advertisement for a luxury hotel, but it's well-written and has some evocative photographs of real men in fatigues enjoying the sun in Venice. I learn that Venice was "the very first city on both the German and Allied lists of places that must not be harmed", which is understandable given that it has been hundreds of years since Venice harmed anyone else. On a military level Venice would probably be easy to defend, but it would also be easy to blockade and bypass, and what would be the point fighting over it?
The fascists were fond of commissioning monuments to themselves, which they hoped would last for hundreds of years intact and thousands more years as imposing ruins. In reality they left behind piles of rubble, or skulls, or in Mussolini's case Milan Central train station and some ugly buildings in Rome. The beautiful ruins of Venice mock them and will outlast them.
There's another thing about Freyberg's article that stands out. She was dying when she wrote it and she knew it. Her 8-year-old daughter had died of cancer a year before, after a lengthy struggle against the disease. In a terrible coincidence Freyberg herself was diagnosed with mesothelioma almost immediately afterwards. Her trip to Venice wasn't just a puff piece; it was a last look at Eden. She died a few months later.
But what about Burano? The Venetian Empire collapsed a long time ago but left behind a beautiful husk, and the same is true of Burano. It was once a thriving town; then it was famous for lacemaking; now it just is, and what's wrong with that?
Having said that, I've never really warmed to it. The buildings are pretty, but they're regularly repainted and so don't have the wrecked grandeur of Venice. I prefer Mazzorbo, which is just across a small bridge; there's nothing much to see but it feels like a real place rather than a three-dimensional postcard. The people who live there are very lucky. There is a school on Murano, and presumably the kids of the Venetian islands go to school every day by boat; they are lucky as well, or alternatively their parents were smart. Somewhere there is a Venetian-born millionaire with a healthy portfolio gliding back and forth between the islands on a small boat, not thinking of Slough.
You can't go back. Only forwards, even if you don't want to. We see it once and then never again.
All of the images in this post were shot with a Nikon F-301 film camera, using Fuji Superia print film, with the 28mm f/2.8 AI-S that appears in the previous post.
For comparison this was shot back in 2014 with a 1959 Olympus Pen using Fuji Velvia slide film, on a brighter day. That cat has a better life than you or I- like the dog in the windowsill in Bruges.