“To live in Venice, or even to visit it, means that you fall in love with the city itself. There is nothing left over in your own heart for anyone else.” – Peggy Guggenheim
To put it frankly – and to risk sounding cliche – Venice stole my heart.
In second grade I remember spending my library visits hoarding travel books from the “Culture” shelves and blockading myself with a wall of hardcover books featuring photos from the world beyond Homestead Wakefield Elementary School.
I remember my favorites, the books I would always return to when my wanderlust could not be quenched: Seoul, Tokyo, Paris and Venice.
Venice. My most favorite. The book my Librarian could never pry out of my pudgy seven-year-old fingers.
Captivated by the long, slender men gliding across turquoise water, the brightly colored buildings mismatched in a hastily stitched quilt of neighborhoods, the alleys, the bridges, the boats, the beauty – all of it rippled through my mind like the crinkled waves of the lagoon.
My mind was made. I would go to Venice.
More than 10 years later, I finally got my wish.
Beyond the churches, the Piazza San Marco, and the beautiful Gallerie Dell’Academia, I discovered a familiar modernity in the folds of the city. Unlike Florence, a city obsessed with Renaissance, Venice seemed to balance the old with the new. We spent most of our free time exploring contemporary art galleries featuring artists like Enzo Fiore, Julio Larraz, and Robert Indiana.
We got lost in the mesmerizing Peggy Guggenheim museum, understanding her own life through the lens of her art collection. I marveled at the incredible works of Jasper Johns, Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, Mark Rothko and so many more.
We also happened upon a photography gallery depicting the story of an African village uniting through the power of Yoga. The Venetian photographer shared with us his secret spots to find the best photos, and we immediately planned a second trip back to his beautiful city.
We found ourselves exploring the night life (or lack thereof) and casually wandering into Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the famous Bellini, in jeans and tennis shoes – severely underdressed compared to the suits and dresses of the beautiful Venetians around us. Embarrassed at first, the smiling bartender excused our attire and served us as if we belonged to the surrounding Italian elite.
The four of us agreed to share two of the famous – and expensive – cocktails, until an old man at the end of the bar offered to buy us two more. So, we all enjoyed authentic Bellini cocktails thanks to the courtesy of a man who wanted us to have a true Venetian experience.
Realizing Harry’s Bar exceeded our price range, we made our way to the more familiar Hard Rock Cafe to hear Arsenals, a local Italian band, perform.
From the juxtaposition of old art and new, the Harry’s Bar elites and the Hard Rock Cafe middle class, the man powered gondolas and the motor powered taxi boats, we began to understand this city. We experienced the opposing ends of its cultural spectrum, realizing its cultural fluidity in contrast to Florence’s cultural structure. And as Peggy Guggenheim predicted we would, we fell in love.
I may not have seen the Venice I saw in books, but what I saw will stay in my mind and in my heart forever.