It was as if I had wandered onto a life-sized page from a Richard Scarry children’s book. You know, the ones that have eighty million different things going on at once. When I walked out of the Venice train station and faced the Grand Canal, fifty different shaped boats, including gondolas with stripe-shirted gondoliers jockeying for position, thousands of people stuffed into bars and cafes, souvenir vendors, people awaiting transport, scratching their heads in wonderment, hanging off the Rialto bridge, poking their heads out of the windows of decaying but magnificent buildings, police directing traffic, answering questions, tourists taking photographs, chattering on their iPhones, locals nonchalantly reading on sunny steps.
Meanwhile the sky had turned sapphire after rain dogged my train all the way from Florence, the boat traffic churned up the Grand Canal water and the sun’s rays turned wavelets into instant prisms, flags and banners of every Venetian society, past and present, flapped in the gentle breeze, an Airbus A330 soared overhead departing from Marco Polo airport, a score of churches up and down the canal chimed at four o’clock, a police boat blared a shrill horn at a maverick vaporetto (water taxi), tall poles embedded in the muck beneath the Canal were decorated in stripes of red or blue or green which signified something to the throng of boatmen.
The sensory overload caused me to gasp. I didn’t know how to get to my hotel, a vaporetto was suggested by the hotelier unless I didn’t mind pulling my luggage over a half dozen foot bridges. I did. But, where were the vaporetti? I learned long ago, if in doubt, cue up in any line and start asking those around me. I was directed to a vaporetto stand twenty yards up the Canal. The ten minute ride through ever narrower canals cost me a hundred dollars. By the next day, I had learned how to use the public vaporetto, or water busses, for transport.
Nonetheless, that short ride on the taxi exposed me to the wonders of Venice: the magnificent colors – aquamarine, brick red, cerulean, mulberry, ocher, steel blue; the magnificently decaying architecture; the tangle of gondoliers in tight-fitting canals who yelled “oy” to announce they were coming round a blind corner; splendid old doors with beveled glass; miniscule alleyways that I didn’t want to attempt passage on a foggy night; chic shops with expensive ingredients; strolling musicians; gaggles of Russian, Indian and Japanese tour groups, massive churches with either huge domed roofs or spires that extended halfway to heaven.
Arriving at my hotel, the taxi driver heaved my bags into the lobby, fleeced me of my euros, bid me arrivederci, gunned his engines so he couldn’t hear my song of protest, and floated into the infinite labyrinth of canals.
“Benvenuti a Venezia,” I heard behind me from an instantly materializing bellman. “You will fall in love with Venice,” he continued in English. I did.