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Monday, November 23, 2009

Venice Recomposed

"Don't go to Venice.  We know you, you'll hate it.  Too crowded, too touristy.  It's a theme park."

A Friday night in November and the wind off the Adriatic is brutal.  The rain pelts our backs as the water taxi driver takes our bags below.  We follow and as the door slides shut we are out of the wind.  The smell of varnish, leather, and a base note of the sea coddles us.  It is quiet save for the burbling of the motor.  The boat is pushed away and we are off.
 The rain spattered windows give glimpses of buildings rising through the darkness of the Grand Canal.  Twenty Minutes later we are moored next to The Bauer and we are quietly whisked to our room.

Coddled is a good word for Venice in November.  The rain empties the streets, the low sky brings the infamously narrow alleyways together at a tighter angle.  You walk a bit closer with the one you are with, lean in a touch more than usual to speak a thought.  The canals are there, the architecture is there but the slow burning thrill is in the walking.  A cup of coffee at a newsstand leads to a perambulation that lasts hours as you tuck yourself into your scarf and get lost,  amazed as one achingly beautiful square after another opens from the slanted streets.  In the afternoon you are hungry and if you are lucky you find yourself on Frezzeria and standing in front of Osteria Enoteca San Marco.  Get the cuttlefish- you won't be disappointed.

Harry's Bar is where the Americans go.  It's a rip off.  It's been franchised.  Probably true but when you open the door and squeeze into the small and crowded room there is indeed something different going on.  The opaque glass of the windows and the warm wood gives you another layer to put on- drawing you inward still more.  Everything seems to retreat and you sit.  Content to just sit and people watch and to sip your Bellini.  The Ciprianis may be currently on the lam but this seems to give Harry's even more of an outpost feel.

Before the hordes of tourists moved in to complain about the prices Harry's was and still is a nook of a hideaway with a grand expat pedigree.  Hemingway and Welles had it correct.  Sit against the wall, watch the people and see what happens.  A Bellini and a grilled cheese are the way to go here.


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