I rise early again, eager to see the sunrise over the Piazza San Marco. Venturing out into the hallway, I can’t find the light, so I resourcefully use my iPhone as a flashlight. Unfortunately, this idea is better in theory than in practice, because it’s still mostly pitch dark.
And that… is how I end up not seeing where the stairwell begins, and how I end up losing my footing and tumbling my way down an entire flight of stairs. How do you say “ow” in Italian?
Fortunately, nothing seems to be permanently damaged, including my legs and my pride, all of which are a bit bruised, but I pick myself up and make my way, only limping slightly, toward the Piazza.
I’m the first one there when I arrive, but slowly, several other similarly minded souls trickle in, moving across the square and toward the canal.
I read all about how sunrise in San Marco is like glittering points of gold, but a thick fog is preventing all of the light from shining through. Also, it’s quite early. There’s a blue-gray-white mist over the water, those moments before the sun breaks over the horizon. The glass in the street lamps is dark pink, and the lighter it gets outside, the less saturated the color of the glass becomes. There’s a man sweeping the ground with one of those brooms made from long, thin twigs that are used here.
As it rises, it becomes more orange in color, brighter, contrasting the coolness of the sky. At one point it is nearly white, reminiscent of the moon, and then more yellow, the light diffused by a wispy veil of clouds
More people are coming along. Two men load piles of sheets in a boat, laundry to be returned to Italian housewives, perhaps. A row of gondolas, covered in blue tarps, lay in wait for the young gondoliers, dressed in striped shirts, to row across the Grand Canal.
A middle-aged couple stops to ask me if I know where they can get coffee and I point them to a place I’d passed minutes earlier.
“Your English is excellent,” the woman compliments me.
“Thank you,” I reply. “I’m American.”
Her husband asks me another question and then she queries: “Where in Ireland are you from?”
When I tell her again, “no, I’m from the States,” she looks surprised.
“With those eyes and that accent?” She asks. “Unbelievable.”
Mind you, this is far from the first time someone has mistaken me for being something other than American. I’ve gotten a lot of Welsh, Irish and Canadian. Several people have guessed something Eastern European (I got Slovakian once), and I’ve had one or two ask if I were Israeli. Yes, I have a somewhat strange voice. And the fact that my speech has been very limited here, my use of English even more so, I imagine it probably sounds even more unusual now.
Fortunately, being alone in a foreign country means I’m not required to do much conversing. And being alone in a foreign country also means no one will judge me for eating gelato at 7 in the morning, which I think sounds like a splendid idea. Unfortunately, the one open gelateria I’m finding, well, I’m just not thrilled with the look of it. So I head back to the hotel for breakfast.
My leg is bothering me from my fall and the kind proprietress notices me favoring it a bit. I recount the story and she promises to leave a topical cream to heal bruising in my room. This is something I really like about staying in small, privately owned inns. You get the privacy of a hotel, but the welcoming of staying in someone’s home, just without the obligation to hear about someone’s mother’s gout, or to look at photo after photo of their baby.
After breakfast, I venture out toward the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, where my mother has highly recommended I go.
Visually, I tend to prefer more Impressionistic works, but the exhibit featuring Vorticism, an early 20th century modernist movement born in London and lead, in part, by poet Ezra Pound, is different and interesting to view. The works have sharp lines, bold colors, very angular. I wonder whether Vorticism gave rise to Cubism. As it turns out, it’s often considered the British version thereof, and is thought to have essentially paled by comparison.
The permanent collection features Picasso, Kandinsky, Dali and Magritte. A group of students gathers in front of Gino Severini’s “Ballerina Blu,” most of them looking bored.
One room is dedicated to the work of Pegeen Vail, Peggy Guggenheim’s daughter, who was fraught with depression and died from an overdose. The drawings are childlike, amateurish, and somewhat whimsical.
Outside, a white marble plaque reads: “Here Lie My Beloved Babies,” and lists the names, birth and death dates of 14 cats. There is a wish tree, a gift to Guggenheim from Yoko Ono, the branches upon which visitors have hung wishes written on small scraps of white paper.
“To fall in love,” reads one.
“To travel the world,” is written on another.
I write my wish, hang it and walk along. In Venice, one crosses bridges instead of streets. American humorist Robert Benchley, upon arrival in Venice, sent a telegram to his editor: “Streets full of water, please advise.”
I anticipate one of the questions I will receive upon return home will be “did you ride in a gondola,” and the answer will be “no, no I did not.” Forgive me, but the notion of a gondola ride alone is slightly more appealing than the notion of a carriage ride alone only because it doesn’t involve a horse’s rear.
At the Basilica de la Salute, the floors are beautiful, intricately tiled. It’s too crowded. I prefer the empty churches, more hushed. A woman stands by the door, asking for alms in the name of Santa Maria. She remains in the shadows, her face nearly hidden.