These are a half dozen of my favourite doors from 2020, the year of Covid: Zambia to Norfolk to Venice.
People “go to Venice to expire”. Especially famous people. Wagner died in a building which is now the casino. Diaghilev, Ezra Pound, Albinoni, Titian and Dante all died in Venice.
It is also a wonderful location for films. Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, Casanova, Casino Royale, The Tourist, and many others.
Luchino Visconte’s film Death in Venice (1971) opens with a long shot of a ferryboat steaming across the lagoon, accompanied the sad adagietto from Mahler’s 5th symphony. Aschenbach (played by Dirk Bogarde) dies from cholera, seated in a deckchair on the lido in the final scene.
I kept an eye out for a small child wearing a blood-red raincoat, scurrying across a bridge, but I didn’t even see a funeral barge on the Grand Canal unlike Donald Sutherland in Nicolas Roeg’s film, “Don’t Look Now“.
There are ten churches facing the Grand Canal. Here are a few:
Not everyone is as fond of Venetian churches as I am. The Victorian art critic, Ruskin, described one famous church, San Giorgio Maggiore, thus: “it was impossible to conceive a design more gross, more barbarous, more childish in conception, more servile in plagiarism, more inspid in result, more contemptible under every point of rational regard”. He didn’t like it much, did he?
Some of the churches were open, but none that I entered permitted photography. I would have liked to photograph the message in one church which said that the celebration of mass could be joined online, for a contribution of 1.50 Euros. I wonder how many people would log on, and drop off during the sermon?
I think that churches in Italy will open this weekend, subject to social distancing measures.
The streets close to the Piazza San Marco are cluttered with designer shops, high fashion and even higher prices. But their doors are boring. So I wandered, happily getting lost down alleyways, in pursuit of the perfect portal.
Hotel doors can be interesting, too. Here is a hotel with its own canal and a German hotel shining and glistering in the weak spring sunshine.
Ambling down the side streets, stopping to photograph doors, suddenly you come across a massive church which seems to have been levered into position, dominating a small square.
Or a famous building, such as the Fenice, the Venice Theatre.
But how about some really fancy doors?
And what about the bell pushes?
To get around in Venice, you need to know a bit of Italian to interpret the map. But it is complicated. For example, a piazza is a large, central open square, but the Piazzale Roma is a bus terminus. And there are two piazettas, either side of the Basilica San Marco. However, districts have squares, called a campo, which are urban and not close to canals. Not to be confused with a campiello and a campazzo. I thought I was walking to a swimming pool when I saw the sign “Piscina“, but it is actually a pond which has been filled in to make solid ground.
The Piazza San Marco is the heart of the city. The Doge’s palace, the Basilica San Marco, the campanile (bell tower), the national library and the Correr Museum form the boundaries of the piazza.
Around the Piazza there are some fancy restaurants, with chairs splayed out into the square, but there were very few patrons. Not surprised, the cost of a coffee approaches $20 (strings attached – pardon the pun) when the orchestra plays for you.
Around the corner, there is a shop/museum showing the office machines made by Olivetti. The Museo Correr used to be the offices of Napoleon, who took over the city state at the end of the 18th Century.
You can now take a virtual tour around the museums of Venice free of charge.
“Other cities have admirers; Venice alone has lovers.”
There are 46 side canals joining the Grand Canal. Centuries ago, these side canals were rivulets between the mudbanks on which the city was built.
More Grand Canal door photographs. I didn’t have a telephoto lens, so you can enjoy the facade of the buildings as well as the doors.
We rode a virtually empty vaporetto water bus down the Grand Canal to St Mark’s Square. Vaporetti were driven by steam engines, now replaced by diesels, but the name stuck. Before vaporetti, people moved around the city in gondolas. In modern times, tourists enjoy the expensive charms of the gondoliers, but you can get a traghetto (ferry) in a gondola across the Grand Canal at seven locations for two euros.
Not all the buildings are beautiful. Some are elegantly sliding into decay. Others are being renovated, under cover – sometimes this is an image of the facade, a trompe l’oeil.
More Grand Canal-side doors:
I took more than 200 photographs of Venetian doors, so I need to pack as many as I can into each post or you will be viewing Venice for the next three months!
We had planned this trip for months; what better birthday present than a trip to Venice for someone who had never seen her delights? La Serenissima. La Dominante. The Queen of the Adriatic. City of Water, Canals, Bridges, Masks. A beautiful historic city, marred only by the crowds of tourists, disembarking from mega cruise ships.
We didn’t bank on the overcrowding problem being solved by the arrival of a single-stranded RNA virus called “novel coronavirus 2019”. It is related to the common cold. But when this virus mutated from an animal reservoir in Wuhan, crossing over to humans and attacking lungs, it gained a new name, “severe acute respiratory syndrome corona virus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2 for short). The resulting disease was named Covid-19 because the WHO were notified on 31st December 2019.
The disease hit Italy when two Chinese tourists were hospitalised in Rome on 31st January, but the stronzo didn’t make contact with the airconditioning until February 18th when a man developed Covid-19 in Codogno, Lombardy. He had had no apparent links with China. The doctors didn’t test him for 36 hours, by which time he had infected several others. Patient One.
I checked the Foreign Office website for information, which didn’t advise cancelling the trip. The airline was still flying. So we went to Venice. We took the bus from the airport to the Piazzale Roma. From there it was a short walk to Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal.
Simon, the hotel concierge, checked us in and said, “I must tell you that you might have to leave tomorrow. The Government has issued a decree locking down areas of northern Italy, and this includes Venezia. But it hasn’t been signed yet. Perhaps in half an hour I will know more, maybe tomorrow morning. Have a good night.” Ah well, que sera, sera, as Doris Day sang, but in Spanish, not Italian.
The next morning after breakfast, we talked to Simon again. “Venice is in lockdown according to the Government. But the local governor of Veneto disagrees with this. So we don’t know whether the decree will be enforced or not. My advice is to enjoy the empty streets and canals of this beautiful city until a decision is made. There’s nothing else to be done.” So we did.
The Grand Canal winds through the city like a serpent. It is the aorta, the main artery of Venice, its lifeblood. There are no wheels here, apart from children’s bicycles and roller skates, so the Grand Canal serves as a motorway for all kinds of traffic. Each of the two hundred or so palazzos on the canal has a door at water level. This is the portal for the delivery of mail, food supplies and other items are delivered, with laundry and rubbish being taken away.
More water doors: