...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Rainy Day City #12 and #35

(Note: I will never be able to write a blow-by-blow account of Sarah's and my trip to Europe. There's just too much to tell, and if I try to tell it all, then I'll never get anything up here. So, I decided instead that I'm just going to tell some anecdotes from the various places we went, along accompanying pictures. I hope you enjoy!)

Sarah and I couldn't believe it, but it ended up raining in every city we went to. It wasn't usually much, just a day or so, but on the other hand, it also wasn't like Oregon's constant gray drizzle, the kind of rain where you don't so much see or hear it raining as you feel it in the constant clamminess and dampness of your hair. No, when it rained in Europe, it rained: pounding on the tin roof of the roadside restaurant our bus had stopped at on the way from Igoumenitsa to Athens, sending tourists and locals alike scurring into cafés or huddling into Parisian metro stations, bringing out the gypsies selling cheap umbrellas. It was the kind of rain that, although it was a bummer, was a gorgeous bummer, bouncing off the pavement; the kind of rain that you can sit and enjoy watching, and feel as though just watching the rain has been a cultural experience.

We weren't prepared for it in Venice, however. Venice was, after Genoa, the first city we went to, and we were so taken with it that we immediately decided to stay an extra day. It wasn't a museum kind of city, the way Paris was, or a place with a lot of ruins like Rome or Athens, or with a lot of great art like Florence; rather, we spent our days in Venice just wandering the streets, going into churches, enjoying long lunches at courtyard trattorias and lingering over cappuccinos in this cafe a few blocks from the Piazza San Marco that we adopted as our own. Although the area around the Grand Canal and the Piazza San Marco were always crammed with tourists, Venice was a maze of little side streets and scenic corners, old buildings crumbling into the green canals, and I think that was our favorite thing about Venice: within five minutes of walking, you could always, always, get away from the tourists and be by yourself. One afternoon--I think it was our second-to-last evening--we wandered a few blocks from San Marco's and found ourselves alone, contemplating a little arm of the canal with a perfect, small bridge. We stood there, in silence, watching the water ripple and the buildings' reflections in the canal grow longer and longer. After half an hour we left, neither of us saying a word. It was a perfect moment.

The third day was the day of the rainstorm. We had been to several churches in the morning and afternoon and were tired of walking. We went back to our café for a pick-me-up and rested awhile. Sarah said she was all museum'd out, but I was going to try to squeeze in a visit to the Palazzo Ducale, the royal palace/museum off the side of the Piazza, so we made plans to meet in a couple hours at a restaurant her parents had recommended. As I left, I could feel it mist slightly; the air was damp but not cold. It started sprinkling as I walked to the vaporetto stop. (Vaporettos are water buses. There are no cars on the island of Venice, nor on any of the little surrounding islands, so to get places you either walk or take the water bus. There are dozens of lines, just like city bus lines, going to any destination around Venice or along the Grand Canal. Really, pretty much anywhere on the island is within forty-five minute's walk, but the vaporettos were pretty cool, so we took them a lot. Plus, our feet hurt.) I got on the vaporetto heading to the Piazza San Marco, where the Palazzo was. As the water bus slowly criss-crossed the Canal, though, it started to rain harder and harder. The waves grew choppier and choppier and the vaporetto started bucking up and down, so much so that the dock workers had to struggle to rope it to the dock to allow more passengers on. Halfway to the Piazza, BOOM! the sky started to thunder and lightning. There was almost no space in between the bolts of lightning--which weren't the kind that light up the whole sky, but rather the jagged bolts, like weapons thrown down by the gods to smite heathens, which I find a lot scarier--and the cracks of thunder. I was legitimately scared: what's the one place you're not supposed to be during a lightning storm? On the water, right? And here I was on the vaporetto--I might as well have just tossed a toaster into a bathtub.

By the time I got off the vaporetto, the rain was coming down in sheets and the streets leading to the Piazza were deserted. Within twenty seconds of getting off the vaporetto, I was soaked as though I had just showered in my clothes. The Palazzo Ducale was a couple blocks away, and as I ran through the flooded avenue, the church tower started striking the hour. I couldn't help but think how picturesque it all was: running through the pouring rain in Venice as the church bell tolled. That thought kept me from getting angry about the situation: "This could be a scene in a movie!" I thought to myself as I ran.

Unfortunately, the Palazzo Ducale was closed by the time I got there. (Apparently they stop admitting people about an hour before the official closing time.) I was a little disappointed, but pleased that I had had a little adventure getting there. The Piazza San Marco, which was normally crowded with tourists, vendors, and thousands and thousands of pigeons, was empty. I don't know where the pigeons went, but the tourists had all crowded under the overhanging facade of the Palazzo Ducale, and as I hung out there, drying off, I marvelled at the kind of cameraderie among all of us who were taking refuge there. Getting stuck in a rainstorm in Venice wasn't in anyone's plans, but everyone seemed to have a great sense of humor about it, laughing and swapping stories as they watched the rain pound down and flood the Piazza even further. There seemed to be people of every nationality, a lot of Americans but also Asian tourists shivering in shorts and T-shirts, Indian women in long, beautiful saris, some Spanish speakers. I wondered what everyone's story was. I wondered what everyone was planning on doing that afternoon, before the thunder and lightning changed their plans.

After awhile, of course, it stopped raining, and the sun came out. The sky was a gorgeous, dark slate blue, and the late afternoon light reflected off of the water in the flooded Piazza in such a peculiar way that pretty soon everyone was venturing out from under our shared covering, pulling out their cameras, splashing through puddles, taking pictures of the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale as the emerging light cut across them. "This light is gorgeous!" an American woman yelled at me as she ran past with her camera. And it was. Following, my pictures of the Piazza San Marco, taken that afternoon after the rain storm.

(Not captured in the pictures: As I was taking pictures, the pigeons came back out of hiding, and they were feisty. Not one, but TWO of them came out of nowhere and landed on my back, big heavy things beating their wings right by my ears like they were going to carry me off. I screamed...pretty loudly, then got embarrased, looked to see if everyone was staring at me--they were--and beat a hasty retreat. Tippy Hedron, I feel your pain.)

(Okay, screw it. They've been loading for forever and my brother needs the computer--I'll get the pictures up tomorrow or the day after.)