Italy: Walking in Venice

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Stay away from Venice in June, July or August. Unless you enjoy being smothered and chocked by thousands and thousands of cheap, crassy tourists. This is a city of 59,000 people. Yet 24 million visitors a year make Venice one of their favorite stopovers.

Most of them in the summer months. It is a wonder it does not sink under its own weight.

Go in the second half of September, October, even November. The weather might not be the best but you will savor the real thing. Personally, I think Venice looks better and more mysterious in the soft rain, or with a light chill.

During the summer Venice is a hot zoo filled to capacity. Herds crawl along the narrow alleyways, called calli, loaded with shopping bags and suitcases, snapping pictures on their cell phones and iPads. Families with strollers try to navigate the tiny bridges and passages. It's like watching a river of humanity slowly making its way to  the various sites.

The city was founded by people who were escaping Attila's invasion. The Huns despised going near water. Now a new breed of barbarians invade it on a regular basis. Cruise ships unload three or four thousand more bodies each day. It is what Babel must have been in biblical times.

Venice is a city that has to be experienced at a slow pace. The least number of people around you, the better. The best time I have ever had in Venice was in November, with my partner, in a semi deserted Saint Mark's Square, the mist coming in from the laguna and a violin player fiddling a passage from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. It was magic. It was as if the city had removed its mask, tears filled my eyes without warning.

Much of Venetian life has balanced itself for centuries on the concept of the mask: one face for society made of papier-mâché and one only seen in private. It dates back to the late 1700s when the Carnevale lasted for months and Venetians lived behind the painted mask, bejeweled and bewigged, not knowing with whom they were playing, or making love to, as masks were seldom  removed except at home or in church.  These days the Mardi Gras lasts only a few days but its people spend most of the year getting ready for the elaborate party. The city's nickname is "The Drag Queen of Italy" and even though it has no gay bars or gay clubs it has traditionally encouraged tolerance and individuality.

For centuries it has embraced the many famous gay travelers who went to Venice in search of their souls. Or to lose it. From Lord Byron to Jeannette Winterson. One of the first openly gay movies ever made is the 1971

"Death in Venice" with Dirk Bogarde based on the Thomas Mann's novel of the same name.  It was filmed entirely at the Hotel des Bains, one of Europe's most fabulous hotels. The movie is now considered a classic. When you are in Venice forget about getting a map or directions. Just walk, get lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets, you will savor and Discover the city in all its mysterious haunting beauty. Make believe you are Donald Sunderland in "Don't Look Now" another classic movie set in Venice.

You will eventually arrive in Piazza San Marco, preferably at twilight, to watch the last rays of the sun slip beneath the waters of the lagoon. Then watch the sky turn a cobalt blue and the wispy clouds a pinkish color with the gondolas lit up by the fading sun. There are few places on earth with the same chromatic intensity. For an enchanted moment you wonder if you are caught in a living painting or a living dream. The experience, depending who you are with, can be insanely romantic or slightly surreal.

Gore Vidal, another famous gay part time resident, wrote in his book "Vidal in Venice,”  "...there is a strong need for magic, for a place that is outside of time, for a postponement of reality. For Venice." Pier Angelo


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