06 December 2007

Guarda su!

“Look up!”

This is the best piece of advice I could possibly give any visitor to Venice. Indeed, I have done so a hundred times or more.

In New York, tourists look up so steadily that they are almost killed by taxis, or by the overwrought, irritated natives sharing the sidewalk. But here, baffled by the winding streets and unexpected culs-de-sac, most people furrow their brows and stick their noses into their maps. They never even see the city they are so doggedly navigating.

A terrible mistake! Looking up, one sees some amazing things – gargoyles, intricate windows, gilded ceilings, ancient signage, well-tended or sadly-neglected shrines, architectural curiosities, shocking contemporary art, savage or tender graffiti, secret gardens, wandering cats, caged birds, the occasional lizard, laundry lines and other evidence of Venice's often-forgotten human inhabitants, and maybe even a few interesting human inhabitants! (I myself recently had a sweet exchange with a lovely old woman and her beautiful, curly-haired grandson: she taught him to blow a kiss to me. When he succeeded, all of us applauded, including the onlookers in the campo.)

It matters little if one gets lost in Venice. In fact, it is the best way to see the city. All roads lead to San Marco or Rialto anyway, sometimes in both directions. So stash the map. Do as I say AND as I do! Guarda su!