When I was 21, my wonderful grandparents took me to Venice. It was one of the best holidays that I have ever been on, and I think of it every day. This little piece was written in February 2017.
You could fill the shelves of my local city library with all the books that have ever been written about Venice. It is a place that has inspired visitors for centuries – what could I possibly add to the tomes of work by the good and the great?
Yesterday I was at a National Trust property with my husband. A painting in the style of the unrivalled Canaletto landscapes of Venice hung on the wall. I called my husband over,
“Darling! Look! It’s Venice! That’s where I was with Granny and Grandpa – it’s the church of St. Mary!”
My ever-patient husband replied, “Yes – you said exactly the same thing that last time we were here…and the time before.”
Venice has changed so little over the centuries that when I see a painting of a place I visited, I can place myself in the frame. With the scene I saw yesterday, my memory and imagination populated the steps of the church with the throng of peaceful protesters bearing Venetian flags and calling for independence for Venice. Then I can see myself in the frame, being photographed on the steps of the church by my Grandfather and wandering down the water’s edge – just aimlessly exploring whilst we waited for the church to re-open. We saw a knackered gondola that was moored on a little jetty. Grandpa suggested that it would make a good photograph if I crawled to the prow of the boat and sat with my back to the water; it would give a perfect backdrop of the Doge’s Palace and San Marco. Granny was appalled at this idea and strode away, determined that nobody should be able to link her to the two delinquents trespassing on someone’s boat. I stepped down to the jetty and carefully climbed onto the gondola. It could have been moored there for years; the paint was peeling and I was very conscious that, at any moment, my foot could plunge through the rotten deck and I’d be in the water. I sat for my photograph and Grandpa and I were still laughing as we caught up with Granny.
What followed was one of the happiest memories of my life. We were at the end of a little spit of land, looking towards to the island of San Georgio, with Venice on our left. In the shadow of a vast, pillared building, a trio of musicians – violin, viola and cello – were playing Gabriel’s Oboe. Granny was sitting on the ground and leaning against a pillar; Grandpa sat down beside her and I sat a little way off, my legs dangling down towards the water.
We lost all track of time. The musicians were wonderful and, particularly with them dressed smartly in black, it felt like an exclusive and impromptu concert. All around us tourists were taking a moment, like us, to stop and soak up the surroundings. My grandparents, who have been married for almost 60 years, just looked so happy in each other’s company as they basked in the music. I watched them, the sun on my face and the water lapping gently at the wall by my feet, and I knew that I was in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime experience – impossible to replicate but frequently to be revisited in the imagination, particularly when aided by the abundant paintings of that glorious place.
It always feels a little cold when I come back to the present and discover myself in an art gallery or at a National Trust property or at my desk after a little mental journey to Venice; but I return with feeling of tranquillity, peace, happiness and love. No other city has such a hold on me.