As the global news machine lurches from crisis to crisis I thought I’d share a few thoughts from Venice on this bonus day of 29th February, 2020. That’s 29-02-2020 for those of you that prefer a digital version of the calendar.
My day started with a walk on the beach, here on Lido di Venezia. Lido is a sandy island, long and thin that separates the lagoon of Venice from the Adriatic Sea. Sasha the dog was trotting along patiently at my side. Whilst the looming mass of the Excelsior Hotel rose majestically from the beach, like a 1930s ocean-liner marooned in a sea of sand and early morning sun.
In the distance a figure gradually came into view, that will be my marathon running daughter Lucy, I thought to myself. Indeed it was – I jogged towards her in a show of camaraderie. Sasha gazed absent-mindedly out to sea. All three of us progressed along the beach in companionable silence. Lucy decided she needed to run further and off she went, beach, breakwater, beach, breakwater as far as the eye could see….
There’s something very special about beaches, they represent a transition between land and sea, a liminal space, where terra firma ends and aquatic life begins. The horizon just a dusty smudge in the distance – about five miles away for me at sea level. When I’m on the beach I always think about horizons and perspectives, concepts that are deeply out of fashion in our current world.
Fifteen thousand years ago the last ice age gradually came to an end, temperatures increased and glaciers began to melt. The water released from these frozen, snow-covered mountains poured in huge rivers down to the sea. As these torrents arrived at the coast they started dumping sediment where I’m standing now, creating the mud banks, sandy spits and islands that became the foundations for Venice. That’s a very long time ago and it helps me to become aware of geological time scales. Vast periods of time known as epochs, starting long, long before numerous humans inhabited the Earth. The average human life is a mere blip, a tiny cough or hiccup in the rhythm of terrestrial life on our planet. It’s worth remembering that. It’s worth having a little humility and respect for our awe-inspiring natural environment.
Later in the day on a boat travelling from Lido di Venezia to the island of Burano, the noisy diesel-engined vaporetto lurched across the lagoon towards the MOSE (Venice’s corruption-ridden, nearly finished, flood defence). It’ll be amazing when it’s finished. It will protect Venice from high water and flooding, so they say. It’s been under construction for more than ten years and the amount of money that has disappeared is a national scandal. But wait that’s last year’s scandal. There’s another one now, something to do with bats and China and a new kind of flu. Let’s all panic say the journalists. Yes let’s panic responds the general public willingly.
Hemingway loved the lagoon of Venice, it’s tranquility, the duck population, which he liked to shoot, the bars and locandas that dotted its shores. They still do actually – ducks, bars, locandas, no great change there. In those days people travelled for a reason, to fight in a war, represent their country overseas in some nefarious sense or worse still, given current sensibilities, act as a missionary or teacher in a do-gooder sense. That slightly quaint colonialism has now been replaced by gratuitous and numerous trips around the world for fun, pleasure, sight-seeing. No good reason you could argue apart from personal gratification. Perhaps now is the time to stop assuming that we have an automatic right to travel anywhere we want whenever we want to.
On the Venetian Lagoon island of Burano there’s a family-run restaurant that’s been there for decades. It’s called Da Romano, they specialise in the freshest of fish and the most delicious home-cooked risotto. The newest waiter to join the team arrived in about 1988, he’s still baby-faced. He’s the new boy on the block. The indomitable chef in the kitchen is, let’s say, a mature lady, who knows her way around a skillet. She’s been serving delicious dishes to numerous Venetians, visiting tourists and a healthy smattering of celebrities like Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone and others, for years. For the ‘Da Romano’ family the restaurant is a way of life, it’s a life time obligation, there’s no time limit, the perspective is open-ended, as long as it lasts. Most people think it will last indefinitely, a generation to generation thing. The horizon is comfortably in the distance.
The islands of the Venetian Lagoon represent a microcosm of today’s environment. There are predictable, safe, dry places and risky, damp, flood-prone corners. There’s open water, which can get rough very quickly if the wind picks up. Then there’s the peaceful beach where gentle shallow waves lap over golden sands. Safe, comforting and above all reassuring. Then, perhaps even more impressive there are the places that have been occupied for thousands of years, certainly at least the last few millenia, if not more. Where people have come and gone, populations have grown and populations have fallen. And yet there’s still an intrinsic presence there. I’m thinking about Torcello, where a vast cathedral and spectacular golden mosaics remind us, dramatically and spectacularly that in the past there was a hub of civilisation in this back-water of the lagoon.
It seems to me that perspective is everything. We owe it to ourselves to take a measured and sensible approach to the information that we see and hear. It’s important to consider and think about the articles we read. If they are poorly written and seem improbable – then don’t read them. Don’t waste your time. Exercise restraint and always remember you can take a walk; on the beach, up a hill, through a forest or woodland, anywhere that you can glimpse the horizon. Focus and remember you don’t have to believe everything that you read. Sometimes your own thoughts are far more valid than anything that you might glimpse in a newspaper. Be in awe of our natural world, respect it, appreciate it. That natural world has far more to convey to us than the average television programme.
Our articles that you might enjoy:
Venice and the Lagoon: https://educated-traveller.com/2019/09/27/venice-and-the-lagoon-a-vast-natural-harbour/
Torcello – Island of Legends: https://educated-traveller.com/2018/06/08/torcello-island-of-legends-locanda-cipriani-hemingway-and-venice/
High water in Venice: https://educated-traveller.com/2019/11/13/acqua-alta-venice-november-2019/
Happy Reading and thinking. Don’t let the media manipulate your thoughts.