Venice

But to begin I reflect on how Ruskin saved me in Venice. It was my first visit to that city. Perhaps I had not been before because I did not want to risk disappointment or perhaps because I believe that places come along at the right time and there is no point in hurrying a visit to somewhere of significance. That morning I was trying to find a library. Getting off the train I noticed some graffiti. Italian graffiti, like all graffiti, ranges from the well judged to the over enthusiastic. This particular example was somewhere in the middle. Earlier in the day I had been enjoying the graffiti in Padua. There was one artist in particular who had written the lines of a love song one by one around the city. Petrarch would have been intrigued. Coming out of the modernist railway terminus of Venezia Santa Lucia I was dazzled by the sunlight breaking off the Grand Canal. Venice is a city that lets you know when you have arrived. I wandered a bit, crossing canals by small bridges and finding myself in streets often no more than passageways between high, close buildings. I followed signs for San Marco but as I got closer to my destination the density of tourists increased until in a state of near complete alienation I entered the square and saw nothing but people. I had an impulse to go straight back to Padua, which – having lived there for all of a week – by then I regarded as home. But then Ruskin saved Venice for me for I began to see the detail of the place as he had. No one else seemed interested in that detail so I found myself alone and private and contemplative in that vast crowd, in the company of sunned panels of carefully chosen marble and intricately designed capitals carved with botanical motifs. When Ruskin looked at Venice he stepped forward to look and so did I. Every detail became for him not so much a detail in its self as a detail indicative of a city, a part that implied the whole. On the exterior of St Mark’s as it begins to link to the Ducal Palace some of the marble panels are stabilised by metal pegs. Those pegs serve to emphasise the beauty of the stone as a slight limp may make a beautiful woman’s movement even more perfect, or as the deliberate error in an oriental carpet dedicates it to God. And that imperfect perfection is made the more so by warmth, for the light of those panels warms the gaze like the light of a harvest moon as though the light were not merely reflected but created.

Advertisements