Skylight Images Creative Writing and Photography

A Postcard from Venice

Marvelous, splendid, breathtaking Venice - it all sounds clichéd but its all true. Lester V. Ledesma tells us why.
Photography by Lester V. Ledesma / Skylight Images

The postcard just came to life.

I am sitting by the river with a capuccino in hand, feasting on a classic view. It is a view so famous, I’ve seen it decades before I even got here: an endless row of marbled buildings, their sumptuous baroque facades watching silently over an emerald green waterway. Boats of all shapes crisscross this scene, none of them prettier (or more iconic) than those slender gondolas steered by boatmen wearing striped shirts and ribboned hats. Indeed, this is just what the postcard looks like.

In the calmness of the morning I hear a violin being played. And despite my solitude I feel an aura of romance, as if the mere presence of these timeless surroundings are enough to induce warm, fuzzy, mindless amore. It is all cliché, I must admit, but dreamlike just the same. I am in Venice, that fairy-tale city on a lagoon where canals, cobbled streets and the renaissance combine to form a place truly unlike any other. Located along Italy’s northeast coast, its sheer beauty has long been sung, spoken and written about – on TV and cinema, in books and magazines - by anyone who has ever been here (from my well-travelled mother to the great novelist Earnest Hemingway).

It was with delight and a hint of excitement this morning that I stepped off the vaporetto water taxi and onto the streets of la citta del Venezia. I’ve known about this city ever since I stumbled upon an old postcard in a dusty bodega many years ago. With much interest, I read about the Queen of the Adriatic, how this once-obscure community of refugees grew from a settlement in the marshes, to a bustling trading port, and then to a merchant republic that held power over most of Europe. Venice’s source of influence was spices, whose flow throughout the continent they controlled in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Such a firm monopoly brought unimaginable wealth to this city-state, fuelling the legendary extravagant lifestyle of the Venetians of old. Lavish parties were a common event in their sumptuous palazzos, which were adorned with the finest artworks and furniture. Sadly, the good times didn’t last. Competition from new European merchants and Napoleon’s invasion in 1797 forced the republic to its knees, eventually reducing it to a mere province of Italy. Today, the spice-flavored affluence may have gone from Venice, but its legacy remains.

This opulence is, of course, seen in grand fashion all over the city. At the Il Grande Canal, the main waterway that bisects it, antique mansions stand side-by-side with ornately decorated churches, comprising an impressive parade of architectural marvels from the renaissance era. The view, however, gets more intimate as one explores the maze of cobbled streets and back alleys that populate both sides of the canal. Venice is a walking city, its avenues too narrow for any kind of 4-wheeled transportation, and by foot is undoubtedly the best way to see it. I saunter around the neighborhood, gazing up at the aging brick-and-marble facades with their arched windows and gargoyled doorways. Occasionally I peer through a half-closed entrance for a glimpse of a private 17th century garden, and stand on the banks of a canal, listening to a gondolieri’s crooning to the starry-eyed couple in his gondola.

However pleasant this walk may be, it barely prepares me for what I see next. Piazza San Marco simply bowls me over the moment I step onto this sprawling square, its massive church and towering campanile literally taking my breath away – pardon the cliché, but it really does.

In many ways, this main plaza is the heart of Venice. The Basilica di San Marco serves as the final resting place of the city’s patron St. Mark, while the nearby Palazzo Ducale was once its seat of power, being the official residence of the Doge – the republic’s ruler. Along with hundreds of other tourists, I gawk at the magnificence of it all: the elegant paintings and the five massive domes on the church façade; the countless marble pillars on the Doge’s Palace; the symbol of Venice – the winged lion – standing high above everything.

I am falling into another time-worn cliché. Never mind the boatloads of funny tourists, or the countless souvenir shops, or this city’s modern-day dependence on these. Venice is so beautiful a destination that I succumb to its charms (read: do the tourist thing). Like my mother and perhaps old Ernie, I haggle for a handful of locally-made murano glass trinkets, and sip some more cappuccino by the Grand Canal. I go museum-hopping the following day, admiring the priceless artworks at the Academia and the Museo Civico Correr. In the afternoon I get all mushy (blame it on the honeymooners on every street) and call my girlfriend to do the wish-you-were-here bit. Venice has captured me completely; before I realize it I have already taken my place among La Serenissima’s millions of admirers.

On my last morning in the city, I walk back to the spot where the old postcard was photographed. I take a picture of the scene with my own camera this time. It’s not the best picture I’ve taken of Venice, but I’m sure it will be the most memorable.