Whatever our trepdiations, we've arrived. The uniforms of the few guards are grey and sharply pressed. Customs consists of walking past a bomb-sniffing dog -- or, as I suspect, he is really a dog-sniffing dog, who is there to sniff the butts of visiting dogs to make them feel at home.
After some negotiations with the taxi pilots (drivers?) we set out in two boats across the channel (lagoon) between the airport and Venice proper. I boggle at the sights. The sun slants down into the wide canal as we trundle past boats; large buss, gondolas, utility boats. Many buildings are under repair. In general the buildings are tall, four stories at least, and lean into the canals, peering down on passing boats. Occasionally we see graffitifor various political movements, usually simple, like " No fascisti! "
There are pilings, some nearly rotted through, others painted gaily in stripes of blue and white. Some buildings have trellised rooftop gardens of wild and rustic beauty. I can easily imagine myself sitting under the bright sun with a tall glass of red and my journal.
Our taxi pilot pulls up to the Hotel Principe. But -- we are stayin at the Saviona a Jolanda, not the Principe. At first he tuts and say, "No, no - Principe!" and points to it. But L. hammers at him cheerfully in Italian, and he shakes his head with disgust and we set off again.
This time we come off the Grand Canale. No more graceful bridges and occasional palazzo - instead we wander a maze of tiny canals, decrepit buildings and rotting doors to the first floors that have not been used for centuries due to the slowly rising waters.
Our broad water-taxi can barely clear some of the narrow waterways which are constricted by gondolas moored to the sides - there must be many in the area just for the Carnivale season and the flood of touristi it brings. Occasionally our pilot has to call out and negotitate right-of-way with some of the gondolieri, but it is done efficiently and without rancor.
Our tour of Venice end soon after we pass under the Ponte Rialto and the Ponte D'Accademio. We pull up to the Calle Riva de Schiavona and there is our hotel, twoo doors down from the Doge's Palace. We unload the boat, and while others check in, I stand guard over the bags and trunks.
The crowd streams by - tourists and local alike stroll the Calle on their way to the Plaza San Marco. There are elaborate costumes of bright stains and rhinestones, tall hats and masks; others in the more traditional black cloak, white baltus mask, and tricorn hat. There are whimsical costumes too, priests and wizards or people in normal clothing with their faces painted and brightly colored hats.
Finally I am checked in to our fancy and regal room - which is approximately the size of a monk's cell. As long as the monk is understood to be an agoraphobic midget monk. While V. unpacks everyone's hats from his sturdy team-trunk, I take a shower. Quickly after, we are out on the streets of Venice, dressed in Renn Faire gear.
We wander. A few are tired and stay in their rooms to recover form the jet lag. I am too excited, too curious. I want to see the city!
We stop for drinks on the Calle d. Riva Schiavona at a stand by the docks. Two bottles of good red cost fifteen Euro.
In a gaggle we wander down to the Plaza San MArco which is the heart of Carnivale celebrations in Venice. It is thronging with people of every nation of origin imaginable; thousands of them milling about and forming clumps around groups of couples in the most elaborate of costumes. Everywhere there are cameras flashing. We circle the plaza and see the salon where those in the most beautiful costumes are seated in front of wide picture-windows that border the plaza. The rooms are ornate, with gilt trim over everyting and lustrous gold fabric-covered walls. The people inside are in powdered wigs, makeup and masks, and look like fantastical versions of Louis XIV's courtiers. The people peering through the windows and taking pictures are gazing not just through glass, but also through time, in the past where Talleyrand and Richilieu, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon, the Doge of Venice and other aristocrats are dripping in opulence and pointedly ignore the teeming peasants a few steps away.
Before too long, we are all tired out. It's been 48 hours, or more - or less. My body is long past having any clue what time of day it is. We stagger to our rooms and collapse. I sleep lightly, confused as to what time it is, even with a few melatonin.