Yes, that title is a real groaner. But it’s amusing me much more than it should in the midst of my sadness about leaving Venice, so it stays. It is my blog, after all, so haters can suck it.

Venice has always held an outsized place in my imagination. So many artists have inhabited it or been inspired by it that part of me had always known some essential qualities of it from afar: the peculiar light, the decaying beauty, the murky blue of the lagoons.

But seeing it in person was almost overwhelming in its familiar beauty. And art, after all, can only tell us so much about beauty.

I didn’t know that Venice smelled like the sea but only in the softest way, and sometimes it smells like the iodine tang of dead seaweed. Or like the grease of tiny fishes being fried from a window far above you, or coffee from the pastry shop on the corner.

I didn’t know how the marble banisters of the bridges feel cold to their core under your chilly hands as you stop to admire a quiet back canal. Or how the church bells echo eerily over the water every hour, from every direction.

Expectation vs. reality

I had actually expected to be disappointed by Venice at first.

It has such a reputation of being the Disneyland of Europe, a false ideal filled only with cruise ship tourists and the shitty made-in-China trinkets they buy as they waddle through the tiny streets.

To be sure, the heavily touristed areas around St. Marks and the Rialto bridge were heaving with selfie sticks and overpriced shops even in December. But fortunately for me, the worst of that crowd stays within a two block radius of the city, leaving the rest of it free for me to roam.

I popped into bacaros (little taverns serving ciccheti, small Venetian snacks) to sip an Aperol Spritz and heard only Italian. I walked the quays in Castello during the day and Cannaregio at night and saw no one else as I peered into the waves of the lagoon.

And I was in heaven. I’m still not entirely sure I’m not dead, because a walkable water-filled city with decaying palaces and Titians adorning tiny churches and full of prosecco is my paradiso.

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