Reluctant schoolchildren in Venice pray not for snow, but to the god of fog…
Not a letter from Venice, but a letter on Venice: for during the two months I passed in Venice, I never really felt like I was doing anything from Venice, though my sense of being on Venice never dissipated. On clear days, which proved exceedingly rare, I was struck by how closely the Alps hovered beyond the plains of the Veneto; on foggy days, which proved the rule, I was reminded that the city is nothing if not a series of loosely connected marshy berms soaking in the northern reaches of a fickle tidal lagoon.
Snow, already a quiet phenomenon in any setting, falls even more quietly in Venice. When it rains above a dry St. Mark’s Square, the stones echo with the sound of falling water, and when it rains above a flooded St. Mark’s Square, the floodwaters amplify the sound of the downpour. But when it snows there are no plows to be heard, and scarcely even a shovel. Reluctant schoolchildren in Venice do not pray to the god of snow: they pray to the god of fog. For snow has a minimal effect on the circulation of people on foot or by boat, whereas a sustained fog can alter or even shut down water traffic, confining the amphibious Venetians and their bewildered visitors to a most peculiar land habitat.
Rather than living by the Rialto, or along some other stretch of the Grand Canal, I stayed in the far eastern end of the city, on the island of San Pietro di Castello, which was described to me as one of the few remaining instances of the real Venice. There were scare quotes placed around either “real” or “Venice”; I can’t remember which. The land route to San Pietro runs along Via Garibaldi, a wide swath of street—a filled-in canal, really—unlike anything else in the city. At one end of the street the vista opens to the Campanile of St. Mark’s Square, the Santa Maria della Salute, and the island of San Giorgio Maggiore; at the other end the canal re-commences with a picturesque vegetable boat. The narrow walk beyond leads to a wooden bridge for San Pietro, the seat of ecclesiastical authority in the city for many centuries, far removed from the temporal locus of power at the Ducal Palace.