BRITISH INTELLIGENCE ABROAD
LETTERS FROM VENICE (8)
1st December, 2020
In the afternoon I decide to reconnoitre the Railway Station as I want to make some visits to a few of the mainland towns near Venice. I head for the church of San Stae first which I had visited a few days ago but been unable to enter as it is only open in the afternoons. This time it is locked because it is closed on Mondays. I step back to the edge of the Grand Canal to view the massy, Palladian style façade. Huge statues give the appearance of busily and vertiginously struggling to escape. There is a boat station in front of the church so I hop on the number 1 and hop off two steps later at Ferrovia on the other side of the Canal.
I pause for a moment to take in the low flat building and the steps in front of it. The letters FS are set in a flying modernist logo on the frontage above the entrance hall. I mount the steps and penetrate the station. Passing through one row of boutiques I immediately emerge at the buffers where I am confronted by the wedged leading edges of four Frecciarossa high speed trains. The romance of travel suggests itself to me amongst the hubbub and bustle of this famous station. I look up the times for regional trains to Vicenza and Treviso and head for the Biglietteria to find out about prices. After a while in a ticketed queuing system I speak to a female Trenitalia employee who tells me I can do the 45 minute round trip to Treviso for a mere 6 Euros 70. For the trip to Vicenza it’s only 12 Euros. I am delighted and begin to plan a lot of other trips.
I emerge from the station and descend the steps to the 5.2 boat station. It is 20 minutes till the next boat so I sit on the station steps with many others, light a cigar and watch the porters, pedestrians and boats crossing and re-crossing in front of me. Behind me I hear the tanoy chatter the names – ‘Modena, Bologna, Bassano, Trieste, Vicenza, Treviso, Milano, Verona.’ In a pleasing nicotine haze I board the 5.2 and sit in the front cabin. Occupying the two forward lateral seats are a youngish couple. Unshaven, in his red leather jacket and baggy jeans the diminutive man, his sunglasses on his head, looks like a minor criminal. His girlfriend, in a buttoned up coat, sits upright with her hands on his knees as he peers into his phone. On the way home the couple stare into each other’s eyes and pass each other grapes. The woman toys with a garish, bronze-coloured handbag.
The Scuola San Rocco has to be seen to be believed. Two floors of massive rooms the size of concert halls covered in carved and gilded wood on the walls and the ceilings with gleaming carved grotesques on choir stalls all down the walls. Amidst this, in three rooms, is a perfect record of the development of Jacopo Tintoretto, one of the six Venetian greats. You start with a whole room given to his sensational ‘Crucifixion’, a painting ‘beyond all analysis and above all praise,’ according to John Ruskin. My guidebook tells me there is so much going on it is like a novel rather than short story. From here to the other two grand rooms, decorated on walls and ceiling with around forty of his works. On entering downstairs, I know I will be carrying a heavy mirror with me to see the ceiling paintings and so ask if I can deposit my slightly heavy shoulder bag. The answer is no, so I am not surprised, in the upper room, when one of the custodians approaches me and tells me off angrily because the bag I put down could be a bomb for all he knows. Strangely, an Italian woman appears from nowhere and starts to defend me. I tell the fellow that I asked downstairs and that, in a building this size they should have a depository (gardaroba) for bags. He misunderstands and thinks I’m talking about the contents of my bag and, then, the penny drops and he becomes, in an instant, utterly apologetic. It’s all rather baffling. I carry on viewing while he goes off hunting backpacks and returning them to others.
I visit the tiny Greek Cross shaped church of San Giacomo di Rialto which was founded in 421 on the same day as the official birth of Venice itself. Later in the afternoon I cross the Rialto Bridge and stand on the southern side, the only part not bristling with scaffolding and swathed in white plastic sheeting for ‘restauro’. On the Riva del Vin to my right there is a sign saying – “No Mafia, Venezia è sacra.” The sun is directly in the south and lays a dazzling and flickering carpet of gold on the water in my direction. Gondole, motoscafi and vaporetti, ply their trade, the latter, from above, especially the large number 1 and 2, under their flat metal canopies, looking like moving boat station shelters that have come adrift or, perhaps, as if they are roofed with the flat sponge fingers used in British trifles. I head down from the bridge to the nearby Goldoni Theatre to check if it is going to be alright to show my ticket here on Thursday on a device as opposed to having to print it.