See the unseen in Venice, walk into a painter’s canvas
Believe it or not, the watery world of Venice is just like the Old Quarter of Shahjahanabad. If the Italian city is filled with churches, its counterpart in Delhi is crammed with temples and mosques. Both places are rich in pigeons. And Venice has the same sort of narrow self-contained streets that you find in Old Delhi.
There’s one crucial difference, though. While Old Delhi boasts of no hoity-toity art scene, Venice gave the world its first biennale — just as it also gave the world its first ghetto.
The 58th edition, appropriately titled ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’, opened in May, is on till November 24, and makes for a good reason to fly into the Marco Polo airport.
But be warned. It’s not only the native Venetians who are tired of us tourists; other tourists too tend to get fed up with fellow tourists. The town is so filled with foreigners that you hardly get a flavour of the unseen Venice.
But that hyperlocal Venezia exists. Here are three unexplored places you ought to visit in that great city.
AS THE SUN GOES DOWN
It’s magical to watch the evening gradually settle on the beach in Lido, a narrow island in Venice that was the setting of Thomas Mann’s melancholic novel, Death in Venice. A slim long swath of land, Lido gets touristy only while hosting the annual Venice Film Festival in September. Otherwise it’s steeped in soothing tranquillity. The island lies across the lagoon from the iconic Piazza San Marco. At twilight, the cold waters of the Adriatic shimmer in translucent shades of pink and blue, while the nearby Hotel Excelsior, a fairytale palace of dome and minarets, starts to look like its own shadow.
Ambling along the gravelly coastline, you feel like you’re in an Impressionist painter’s canvas. Quickly walk to Lido’s western side to see the see the sun setting behind the ancient towers of Venice. The city looks most dream-like from this vantage point.
BEST LOCAL BOOKSHOP
Venice’s famous Libreria Acqua Alta is stocked with secondhand books. It even has a gondola inside. But it’s filled only with foreigners. No self-respecting Venetian would be seen here. Instead, head to the beautiful Libreria Toletta near the Accademia Bridge. Founded in 1933, the city’s oldest surviving bookstore is always teeming with bookish Venetians. Rubbing shoulders with resident writers and university professors gives the traveller a most intimate glimpse of the city’s intellectual life. A gelato parlour just outside doubles the happiness.
The Al-Faro restaurant-pizzeria is enormously popular, though this isn’t the place to get the town’s best pizzas (for that, go to Jazz 900 near the Rialto). And yet, you must dine here. It gives you a sense of the new cosmopolitan Venice. Situated in the heart of the ancient Jewish ghetto — hardly a ghetto today — it is owned by a charming Egyptian named Youssef Safwat.
The pizzeria’s cooks and waiters include Muslim Bangladeshis and Christian Moldovians. Safwat himself is polite and welcoming, and so full of gentle humour that Venetians probably patronise the place more for his sake than for his pizzas. One afternoon he was seen chatting at the counter with an elderly Italian woman. At one point they both laughed and Safwat affectionately touched the woman’s cheek with his hand. At that moment these two people from different ethnicities quietly dismantled the idea of the ghetto.