Venice was a place that I spent most of my childhood, entombed in boats, churches, grand galleries and melodramatic art.
The whole city provides me with a sense of delicious enjoyment. The very architecture is dramatic, jutting edges, soaring arches like the essential folds of a woman's body. Spikes protrude from every window sill to discourage the pigeons, and there is still the remnants of barbed wire in the Jewish Ghetto. Of course there are bulging thoroughfares, but take a quick left into a side street and then turn again, and you find yourself in an alley untouched by tourists. It's a schizophrenic place. Oily young gigolos hang out in the shadow of the Basillica and try to pick up my mother. Angelic stone hordes glare down at the street walkers and the street vendors. Intensely glamorous old women with hair fresh from the french Coiffures stride along in chiffon wraps, little crowds of Italian gay men trotting behind like dogs.
The Madonna is on every corner, smiling beatifically down at everything. This is a place where religion rules. People live in vulgar ways, they sin, they covet, they sin, they covet. Pick pockets during the week, go to confession on a sunday. Church is the plaything of the decadent bourgoise. I watch old women clad in black lace kneeling in the pews. The fact that they pray here, in San Marco itself, is a statement about them; they live here, this is the norm for them. After this, they'll go back home and walk their dogs along the canals, loudly greeting anyone else doing the same, enjoying the look of quiet envy shot at them by the scores of tourists.
Yes, we live here, and you never will. Now get out of my way, before my dog bites you.
Venice doesn't just mean the archaic, the classic, the ancient. I regularly attend the Venice Bienniale, one of the pinnacles of new art, with representatives from all over the world, all coming together in the Giardini, or at the shipping docks in the Arsenale. I remember my childhood as a series of long long long white corridoors with bizarre canveses and installations, that have to be dodged around to get to the cafe at the end, and the hot panini waiting for me.