The breeze off the Grand Canal is slight, riding the vaporetto to the Gheto Vechio, the old Jewish section of Venice. It’s Friday night, and soon the Sabbath will begin.
I’m not entirely sure what I’m expecting to see — perhaps an area even more stopped in time than Venice as a whole already is. Will there be men with payot (the long curls Hassidic men wear on the sides of their faces), somberly dressed women and children…? Apparently, I have a pretty stereotypical view of what a Jewish section of a city would be, but in a place so steeped in history as this one is, I think I can be forgiven for expecting to see a very traditional picture.
Interestingly enough, however, the Gheto Vechio is distinguishable only from other sections of the city in that several of the pasticceria have signs indicting their goods are kosher, and some of the stores sell Venetian glass mezuzahs. There’s scarcely even a yarmulke in sight. The sun will be setting soon. Perhaps all the observant Jews are already in temple, welcoming the Sabbath.
Unfortunately, this means I will not have an opportunity to see the inside of any synogagues in Venice. There doesn’t seem to be much more to explore here, so I head back, this time on foot, following signs toward San Marco.
On the way, I cross Ponte Tetta — Tits Bridge — where prostitutes would advertise their services by baring their breasts to passersby. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on ones perspective and sense of adventure, such was an activity of yesteryear. The bridge is, at least in the moments I see it, occupied only by fully clothed individuals.
Campo San Marco is filled with people and pigeons. The birds will fly and rest on arms and shoulders if you just stand still and let them come to you. The chances of my doing this are slim to none. Fortunately, there are willing souls, as this is too good a photo opportunity to pass up. And unfortunately, only one of the pictures comes out even mildly decent.
Dusk is beginning to settle in. The piazza is teeming. I was here before dawn, when it was empty. Musicians play classical pieces I recognize but can’t place. Don’t tell my sources at the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera.
Strolling along the Grand Canal, the streetlights that were pink in the early morning light glow a bright, blinding yellow against the increasingly darkening sky.
Soon, I am crossing back through the piazza. This time, the music is more modern — that song I shamefully know only as the Western Union Song. People walk by — families, couples, friends. A teenage girl does cartwheels across the square.
The musicians begin a waltz and I think it would be wonderful to dance, here, under the clear, black sky, the lights all around. But before I can get too wistful, they break out into a lively version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and I can hear laughter from the passing crowd.
The church bells chime. Time for dinner.
At a little neighborhood taverna near my hotel, people speak Italian, English, French and Spanish. I settle into a tiny corner table with my book and wonder if I can end the meal with a limoncello to take away. Probably not.
I ask whether the zuppa verdure, vegetable soup, is made with solo verdure, only vegetables, and hope I haven’t just requested a singing telegram or Vegemite sandwich. The waiter, however, seems to understand and assures me, “Si, si, Signora, solo verdure.”
Subsequently, however, he smilingly serves me a plate of cooked vegetables, soupless. I don’t complain. They taste good and I’m tired.
Norah Jones is playing on the stereo, singing about a “little girl with nothing wrong.”
Eyes wide open
Always hoping for the sun
And she’ll sing her song to anyone
That comes along
– Norah Jones, “Seven Years”