As some of you know, I haven’t been too well this year so it was a great idea to spend two weeks in Venice this summer. I got back a couple of weeks ago and, even though I can’t report a miracle, I feel that I’ve been for a cure.
I was staying in a rented apartment on the Lido, the island that faces the Adriatic on one side and the Venetian lagoon on the other, ten minutes away from San Mark’s Square by the Vaparetto water bus. It was home from home and after two weeks I was beginning to feel that it actually was home.
It didn’t take long to get into a new routine and a new rhythm. It’s strange how quickly I can adapt to other people’s decor. Especially as there was a large wrap round balcony where life could carry on almost entirely alfresco.
Rest was the name of the game and I spent a fair amount of time reading while lapping up the Italian sun. Even though I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the World, there was something enjoyably decadent about spending time up here in my own private zone.
It was the perfect space for my morning kungfu practice which soon became a habit.
Chinese martial arts demand that you develop a sense of space and, quite quickly, it became my space.
Up there above the little town, life caried on beneath me and I wasn’t at all embarrassed being watched by the man installing the air-conditioning next door.
It was relaxing doing my exercises while the people of the Lido went about their morning routine.
Being high up but near to water felt very Zen and I’m convinced that this ritual built a connection between me and my surroundings.
As with all the other Venetian islands, everything has to get here by water and there was always something interesting to watch down there on the canal.
Where there’s water, there is always something to watch – the light itself is drama enough.
My view was still interesting at night with little boats about their business ferrying party-goers to and from the small outdoor bar across the road.
There was a bar next-door to my apartment too and it was one of life’s essentials to make it down there for coffee every morning. I particularly liked the fact that it was frequented by Lido residents and not just holiday visitors like myself.
The Lido is more “normal” than the rest of Venice. The houses are mostly late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century and even though motor vehicles have to be transported here by ferry, some people actually do drive cars or, more commonly, travel by bicycle. If I lived here permanently, I’m not sure that I would bother with a car. The Lido is still very tranquil and reminiscent of the days before motorcars changed the environment. For centuries this island has been where Venetians go when the city gets hot and humid.
The art nouveau style houses are wonderful – they lack that rotting-around-you look of Venice’s much older buildings. They are little Italian palaces with all mod cons.
I envied those gardens with their palm trees and scented hedges and wondered why anyone ever bothers to grow geraniums if they don’t have an Italian balcony.
The Lido is green and decidedly leafy so a gentle stroll down the avenue to the sea is enjoyably shady.
As with most holidays I have been on, there was a house for sale that would have been the perfect fulfilment of my vacation daydreams. Oh what joy to have responsibility for that rambling Italian garden.
Five minutes walk from the apartment was the public beach with its flights of engineering fancy, raised walkways and an open air night club for when the season gets going in July.
I was happy enough with the restaurant on the beach where it was, naturally, still possible to get a cup of very good coffee.
Here everyone could get on with whatever they like to do on the beach on a hot Italian morning.
No one seemed to notice when I got on my with my tai-chi. The coffee must have revived my dormant energy.
The Lido really is the place to cool down – the sea was warm and clear and decidedly welcoming.
The public beach was free and perfectly enjoyable as long as you could find yourself a bit of shade. A short walk away, under another avenue of trees, there was a much more expensive option.
Just down the road was the Grand Hotel Des Bains, the most fashionable Lido hotel in the early Twentieth Century. I visited here in 1972 but could only afford one drink inside its lush interior.
Sadly that is no longer possible as the hotel has closed and is being refurbished as an extremely expensive set of apartments. While I was there, it was well and truly locked up.
Once, of course, it looked very different. I’m told that the main halls are to be restored to their original glory but I hope that the likes of you and I will still be able to go and have a look inside.
I am sad that this memorable and historic building will now be closed to the public even to people like me who only ask for a drink served with style.
It still looks fine from outside and I was delighted to be able to see it from the beach. This is the hotel where the Russian ballet impresario Diaghilev not only stayed but it is also where, in 1929, he died. Dying in Venice has always been trendy. His friend and protégée Igor Stravinsky came here too and, when he died, in New York, he left instructions that he too should be buried in Venice next to Diaghilev’s grave.
The beach is still there and I was lucky enough to be able to spend a truly memorable afternoon feeling that I had walked straight into the film.
Like Gustave von Aschenbach, I hired a beach hut with my own deckchair, sun-bed and canopy – all set out, as in the film, by a bathing attendant, or bagnino, called Tomaso.
It didn’t take much imagination to feel oneself a part of Thomas Mann’s and Luchino Visconti’s world.
The sea was as wonderful to bathe in as it looked.
The light was a film-makers dream.
The old hotel smiled benignly on my indulgence and put on its show almost as if it knew that it was preparing for its farewell performance.
I didn’t die in that deckchair, phew, but I did feel like whispering, “ready for my close-up, Signor Visconti.”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then read the book and see the film. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s the trailer:
COLIN BELL’S PUBLICATIONS:
Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love
Ward Wood Publishing
October 30, 2013
Genius Floored: Uncurtained Window
Soaring Penguin Press
June 15, 2013
Genius Floored: Whispers in Smoke
Soaring Penguin Press
June 6, 2014
Poetry and short story anthology
A Kind Of A Hurricane Press
The Blotter Magazine Inc.
Three pages of poetry in the American South’s unique, free, international literature and arts magazine.
The Fib Review
My Fibonacci poetry has appeared in this journal from 2009 until the present
Shot Glass Journal
Muse Pie Press
My poetry has appeared in various issues of this short form poetry journal
Every Day Poets Magazine
Every Day Poets
I have various poems of the day published in this 365 days a year poetry magazine.
In The Night Count The Stars
March 1, 2014
An “uncommon anthology” of images, fragments, stories and poetry.