If you missed Part 1 of Venice, you can catch yourself up HERE.
Now I had arrived in the area of San Marco / San Polo. This area of Venice is perpetually awash with tourists. People from all over the world had traveled thousands of miles to gawk at this very place, and I was among them. Delving deeper into the alleyways and canals of Venice, my strategy was simple. I tried to go where the people were not.
I was surprised to find that it didn't take much effort to escape the crowds of travelers. I dove down the first alley I came to and immediately found myself completely alone. Hidden around a corner from the hustle and bustle of the main squares, it was almost completely silent as I quietly ventured forward.
Above me there was laundry hanging out to dry: evidence that Venice is, indeed, inhabited. These inhabitants were nowhere to be seen however. Every once in a while I would catch a glimpse of somebody through a window that had been left open, but most windows remained firmly shut at all times. Looking up at one point I saw a pair of wrinkled hands clipping a piece of clothing onto a line. Beyond this, there wasn't much evidence of Venetian life. The Venetian locals seemed to be in perpetual game of 'hide and seek' with the hoards of foreigners that flowed by the entrances to their alley ways. None of these foreigners (aside from me) ever seemed to enter these alleyways though. Didn't anybody else want to explore?? Apparently not.
Walking through San Marco and San Polo, I took hundreds of pictures. I couldn't get enough! Here's a generous dose of Venice for you (NOTE: I'd recommend that you click and go through all of them manually)
Seemingly everywhere I looked, there was a grandiose, historic church. I went into many of them, but the sheer volume of churches was absolutely staggering. After the fact, I tried to nail down which churches I had seen and which I had not, but I gave up. I didn't care. Churches in Venice aren't very special. Don't get me wrong though: you'd be lucky to come across something so picturesque in the United States. ALL of these churches are indisputably spectacular, but therein lies the problem. If all of them are spectacular, are any of them really?
Regardless, I had a good time taking pictures of their distinctive steeples cast against the cloudy Venetian sky. Inside I took pictures of the candle displays that had been so delicately arranged. I like those shots the best.
Proud To Be An American
I continued onward in the San Marco / San Polo area. In these neighborhoods, between my walks down the deserted alleyways and stops in historic churches, I had to fight my way through crowds in the main square. I did my best to expedite my journeys through these crowded areas, ducking and weaving through the masses, but it was slow going, and my eyes wandered. At one point, a sign in a restaurant window caught my eye.
"Dude, come on," I grumbled.
I have to share it. My fellow Americans, this "Pizza Americana" is what the rest of the world thinks of us. Pretty grim, right?
Real Venetian Life
From there I began to venture into an area called Desoduro. Here the flow of tourists all but vanished and I began to see Venetian people out and about once again. Getting a glimpse into the everyday routines of these people was surreal.
How can this be their home? It's not fair!
Walking through, my favorite photos I took were of 2 young kids playing basketball on a little court tucked away in the a small park. Here's some real life for you...
DUSK On The Canals
As I continued to walk, the sun began to set and the light began to change in the canals of Venice. It was a truly iconic setting. As the the grey Venetian sky went from light to dark, it turned a shade of deep blue. The water beneath it followed suit. The bright reflections from the lights around the city danced on the water as boats floated through. As the sky went from deep blue to black, I walked through the markets watching the city begin to light up around me.
By this point I had walked through Castello, San Marco, San Polo, Desoduro, and was entering the Santa Croce / Cannaregio area. The following are some of my favorite photos from Venice. They were taken during the city's twilight transition and the early hours after dusk.
I walked around for a long time that night. The alleys of Venice took on a creepy alter ego in the dark of the night. For me they did at least, and I know why: The Plague Doctor.
My Oldest Nightmare
The Plague Doctor a.k.a Medico Della Peste
Sidebar: One Halloween when I was a young child back in Ohio, I was walking down the street, when I saw something profoundly creepy out of the corner of my eye. I stared as a cloaked figure with a long, white beak made its way across a lawn and disappeared into the blackness of the night. Logically, it was probably just somebody in an elaborate costume, except that it didn't seem to be moving like any human. This shadowy figure floated across the grass as if it was a ghost. The memory of that scene is imprinted on my brain, and replays like a GIF. I walked a ways, processing what I had just seen, and then stopped. What had I just seen? I turned around and rushed back to get another look, but no matter where I searched, I couldn't find it (whatever it was). It seemed that it had simply vanished into the night. Behind my own latex mask, my gears were turning. Uneasy, gripping my bag of candy tightly in my hand, I turned and ran back to catch up with my fellow trick-or-treat-ers.
The next day in school, I sat at my desk doodling little sketches of what I had seen the night before. I never bothered talking about it to anybody because, well, I couldn't quite put my finger on what had happened. It was probably nothing, just my head playing tricks on me. Through the years, the memory of that night faded into a deep, dark corner of my subconscious, only reappearing in my nightmares. As I grew older, the nipping doubts about what I saw that night gradually faded away. Still though, something about it just felt deeply off to me.
Moving forward, it seemed that I only had 1 option: accept the ambiguity of my fading memory and keep on hustlin'. Nowadays I don't think about it but once in a blue moon. I was a kid. Who knows what I saw.
What did I see exactly? Something like this:
Walking through the darkened streets of Venice, I began seeing that same mask here and there. It was usually mixed into an array of other, also very creepy masks. I peered through the windows of Venetian store fronts thinking to myself "WTF? It's real?"
It was, indeed, real. It turns out that what I saw that night was the Venetian Plague Doctor (or, more probably, somebody dressed up as that). The Plague Doctor is an iconic figure from Venice's legendary 'Carnival,' which happens at the end of Lent.
The Carnival of Venice is thought to have begun in 1162 as a celebration of the Kingdom of Venice's military victory over the Northern Italian kingdom of Aquileia. The tradition grew and evolved through the years, and was made official during the Renaissance. In fact, the Carnival of Venice still continues to this day! 40 days before Easter every year for Lent, the city is crowded with men and women of all ages, all wearing elaborate disguises. Among their ranks are quite a few different plague doctors. Here are some pictures of the event that I didn't take:
The Plague Doctor, or in Italian, Medico della Peste, actually is what doctors used to wear when they were treating the plague, black cloak and all. It was originally worn by Dr. Charles de Lorme in hopes that this mask would prevent him from catching the disease himself. Other doctors were quick to adopt de Lorme's design, and it wasn't long before the distinctive masks made there way into Venice's Carnival festivities. The purpose of the long beak was to carry sweet smelling flowers whose odors would (hopefully) over power the foul smells of death and disease.
So that's interesting.
Leaving By Boat & Train
The next day I snuck onto the ferry to be a stowaway for a final time, and headed to the train station. Before I got to the train station though, I took one last picture that I loved. Here you can see the sunlight hitting the water underneath a bridge. Through the lens of the water, the rays of light illuminate the darkened alley.
After that I got onto the train for a final time. At long last, I was going home. I had a flight out of Milan, and then it was back to Boston, the place where all this started from. It had been almost a year and a half, which was far and away the longest I had ever managed to stay away from home, but now it was time.