Venice – The Ghosts of New Atlantis
It’s a crisp morning near the Northern Italy coastline, and a chilly breeze smells like barnacles as we board the back of a water bus. An overworked motor begrudgingly pushes us off its dock in Lido, interrupting muffled conversations on an otherwise quiet pontoon. A stretch of open water gives me time to think.
Long ago, as the fall of Rome became inevitable, scared refugees fled undefended countryside into these flooded marshes. Not worth protecting, Huns on their heels, the end of their civilization in sight behind them – all of them no doubt wondering, what do we do now?
The water narrows into shallow lagoon straits. Every rolling wave framing astounding views of the city they built from the ruins of their previous lives – Venice.
More than 100 tiny islands connected by over 400 bridges, Venice is an algae-outlined maze. Some turns moat-like dead ends, others gateways to the Renaissance. The descendants of those founding evacuees played a vital role in pulling their world out of the Dark Ages.
You may not be able to step in the same river twice, but marble isn’t water. Casanova’s escapist exploits, Vivaldi’s music, Elena Piscopia’s intellect…soaked into stone like betrayal in the halls of Doge’s Palace.
You can somehow feel their caricatures like currents against decaying walls. Gucci, Prada, and street vendors are all just distractions.
But this deviation grabs our noses and leads us away from Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). This market is to seafood what Paris is to cheese. Scales, prawn, and protein rivaling pungent French charcuteries. We’ll leave its preparation to the experts at dinner tonight.
The sun begins to set as we cross the Rialto Bridge. Magicians and street performers pawn a little brilliance for pandering audiences of remaining tourists. Many of these people will likely make the common mistake of not staying the night in Venice – leaving the city at its most magical hours when the crowds diminish and the shops close. Wraithlike light reflects off the water, waves against the walls the only lingering noise on a midnight walk back to our returning dock.
The darkness separates and the motor silences the few passengers headed back to Lido’s sandbar. It gives me time to think. How the city started, now so beautiful. The water, which defines Venice more than anyone to ever set foot on its cobblestone and marble.
Venice faces dangerous threats from steadily rising water levels, unsustainably high numbers of tourists, and evicting cost of living for locals. The “Floating City” could precariously become a modern Atlantis – a possible reality for a city better than myth. The choice to preserve Venice or determine what we build next – and if it will be as beautiful.