10 January 2008
Yes, now I remember January in Venice…
I have been here only once during this grey, bone-chilling month. It was a brief vacation, which I later described as “a six-day lashing followed by a bucket of cold seawater.” A hotel, very snooty but without a drop of hot water, and a brutal episode of food poisoning were just two of the highlights I recall. I also remember the bitter weather, the wind full of ice needles along the Zattere. I remember how cold and distant the Venetian people seemed – that is, those who were stuck here in town instead of enjoying a mid-winter holiday elsewhere. So different than when I had visited the previous September. I remember missing Venice’s many wandering cats; I remember silently complaining about the construction rubble heaps in the streets, and the small piles of filth left by the dogs that seemed to be running everywhere. But mostly I remember Chiuso – “Closed.”
Chiuso. When I’m in Venice, there's a small ache attached to this word.
January, being the slowest month in the tourist trade, is when Venetian shopkeepers and restaurateurs shut their doors and tend to the repair and maintenance of their properties and businesses, in anticipation of the prosperous days of Carnevale ahead. So the acquisition of some basic item one needs or the expectation of a good meal in a cozy, familiar spot is often thwarted by a scribbled scrap of paper taped to a locked door: Chiuso... Perhaps the dates of the closure are posted too, sometimes with an explanation or even an apology for it. Nevertheless, one must make other plans, or simply go home, empty-handed or with a growling stomach. Mi dispiace, Signora… Chiuso.
La Serenissima, even with her arms ever open to the paying tourist, still has her old reputation of being closed to outsiders. It is never more true than in January.