This morning, for the first time since arriving in Italy, I sat on a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal and felt like a writer again. The waters churned with a variety of boats — vaporettos ferrying passenger to and from the train station, service transports hauling everything from cement to fresh produce, luggage of departing tourists, lumber and cases of supplies for hotels. This early in the day, no gondoliers plied the waters, but the canal was filled with the constant hum of motors.
I thought of my father, who was raised in southern British Columbia in the heart of an Italian neighborhood in a smelter town. He would have either loved or hated Venice. I can hear his voice in the shouts of the boat captains and gondoliers, see his thick forearms in the muscled men who work the boats, and recall his love of genoa salami and fatty slices of mortadella commonly found in the trattorias and pizzerias of Venice.
I think of how my labourer father would have dismissed the privilege of the old Venitian families who still live in the sinking palaces that line the canals and how his sympathies would lie with those who earn their living with their physical labour, not ones like me whose skills rely less on their bodies than their minds. I suspect my father would see my as lazy and undeserving of the leisure time I have created for myself. But no matter.
The canals of Venice belong to men. Men with great adeptness who steer long vessels into narrow passages, who use their strength to lift people in wheelchairs in and out of boats, to work all day lifting stone tiles from one point to another, or propel their non-motorized craft filled with tourist along narrow channels, ducking under low bridges, using their feet to push off ancient brick walls, who shout back and forth with their comrades in their dialect. Working men. Men like my father.
No Venetian women pilot boats, but today I saw a plaque commemorating Elena Lucretzia Coronaro Piscopia, who in 1646 became the first woman in the world to earn a university degree. Places like Venice, if their are any, have a tremendous sense of heritage and go to great length to commemorate individual achievement. The memory is long and from thousand year old basilicas to plaques on the walls of buildings, there is celebration of individuals and families who contributed to the creation and sustainment of this most anachronistic and improbable place.
– Posted from my iPad
Location:Rio Terrà dei Sabbioni,Venice,Italy