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Shylock-What, are there masques? Hear you me, Jessica,
Lock up my doors, and when you hear the drum
And the vile squealing of the wry-necked fife,
Clamber not you up to the casements then,
Nor thrust your head into the public street
To gaze on Christian fools with varnished faces,
[THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Act II Scene V]
These words of Shakespeare reverberated through my mind as I walked down the lanes of Venice this February. Masks, fancy dress ,the theatrical and festive atmosphere of carnival evoked an ethereal feeling .The carnival takes us back into the past. A sort of magic costume that conferred a new and unexpected power on any one who wore it, where one could choose to live their dreams by dressing in velvets , silks and donning a mask to fulfil one’s desire.
Promenading is a must during the carnival and the most prominent one was that of Campo Santo Stefano where reveler’s paraded up and down a section of stone pavement across the centre of the square. This year one of the most spectacular and breath taking event was ‘The Flight of the Angel ‘ descending from the Bell Tower of Saint Mark’s Basilica to the square.
Venice is truly paradise on earth. Devoid of cars this city forces its visitors to walk or use boats. The pure pleasure of getting lost while navigating through the lanes adorned with medieval splendor ensures that a trip to this mystic city is an occasion to indulge in an unforgettable and intimate historical experience.
It is only expected that when one speaks of Venice one mentions Gondola the boat that has typified Venetian transport for over a thousand years and the gondolier who rows with a single oar, standing on one side of the stern. These boats are almost 11metres long ,has a flat bottom, with a slightly assymetrical shape and painted black .The senate standardized this colour in the 16th century to stop noble families from vying with each other to flaunt the finest and most luxurious gondola. Black was considered elegant in Venice, the colour of mourning was red.
For a quintessential Venetian experience the gondola ride along the famous Grand Canal is a must. This S shaped big watery way carries the story of the city and is lined by palaces, Churches and other public buildings on both sides. The typical Venetian palaces has two entrances, one a terra (towards the land) and one ad acqua (towards the canal), the latter being the main one. The most evocative moment while navigating through the Grand Canal is without doubt the passing under the Rialto Bridge.
SHYLOCK-Now, what news on the Rialto?
[THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Act I, Scene III]
And it is here that Antonio insults and spits on Shylock before he needs his loan and here that he feels ashamed to return to when he can no longer repay the debt. This question asked in this 16th century play reminds us how important this city was as a centre of information during the Renaissance. This stone bridge is easily the most famous and beautiful amongst the four bridges built across The Great Canal. Crowded by tourists and lined by shops on either side it connects the district of San Marco and San Polo.
The Museum of Jewish Art in the Venice Ghetto displays valuable vestments, sacred furnishing, silver wares of various manufacture and origin, religious items and works of arts . Along with the five Synagogues in the area this provides a splendid opportunity to get in touch with the Jewish culture.
A visit to the Island of Murano where the glass factories are located is a must see if one where to visit Venice. The furnaces are still working. Glass is made following the traditional techniques and some allow tourists to visit them and view a demonstration of this unique method. Watching these glass blowers and artisans is quite fascinating .There is a lot to choose from if you are planning to make a purchase- contemporary art glass, glass jewelry, Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers .Murano comprises of seven islands, linked by bridges and the church of Santa Marie e Donato , a masterpiece of Venetian Medieval architecture, is the artistic highlight of this island.
Venice is one of the most unreal cities of the world and its ‘calli’ adapt themselves to the isles shape as if they were casually designed and getting lost in this maze is extremely easy.
There are plenty of dining options in Venice with the up market Ristorante, to the humble trattoria, takeaway pizzeria, gelato bars and cafes doting almost every nook and corner. Apart from the regular pasta and pizza, a must try is the seafood based risotto as is the rice based starter dish with peas RIsi e Bisi.
A trip to this elegant city is a sheer delight .An unforgettable experience and as you wander among the calli and campi of Venice discover the world between fantasy and reality which tell many a story.