More words have probably been written about Piazza San Marco than any other urban outdoor space on earth! The Piazza of Venice, there are no other ones in La Serenissima.
We Have Met the Enemy and He is … Us! (Pogo)
Do not let over exposure to the massive volume of prose, ranging from sublime to overwrought, from photographs to snapshots, guidebooks to catty trip reports, the focus on outrageous crowds and costs, dissuade you from experiencing the Piazza or sharing your viewpoint (not another snarky one, please!).
Innovation often requires a fresh viewpoint that has been informed by independent experience.
Each of us has individuality with personal knowledge of the place whether gained through academia, erudition or autodidactic endeavor. Our knowledge includes any or all of that plus personal experiences in and with, or imposed upon us in the Piazza, whether a hurried glance amidst a “blink of the eye” tour, a too-short pre- or post-cruise evening soiree, or days, months, even years of lingering there, working, studying or playing the flaneur. Any comprehension or reaction may be of inestimable value to each one of us and to the dear souls we knocked off the passarelle while distracted and gawking about.
Your musing may be the next treasured story.
The Drawing Room of Europe
This is “The Drawing Room of Europe” according to one Napoleon Bonaparte, self-crowned Emperor of France and conqueror of Italy, to whom the Venetian Council said “OK, here’s the keys” rather than draw for the right to keep paying the tab they had run up while letting Venice run down. Napoleon soon gave the Republic to the Austrians to help seal a more important deal, a hefty “bonus”, if you will.
Now, we are invited guests to a 24/7/365 “open house” in this drawing-room. Consider your reaction if you were to hold a little open house, and bus after bus disgorged cranky, awestruck, unwashed hordes of out-of-towers into your living room, gawking, pawing and complaining. Then, when visiting Piazza San Marco, without regard to the demeanor and activities of the others, comport yourselves with respect for the host, as honored guests.
The Piazza San Marco as he first saw it, with a few unruly buildings including an ancient church along several sides, did not truly became Napoleon’s drawing-room until he “rearranged the furniture” through extensive demolitions and new construction, without regard to the preferences of, well, the Venetians, the owners! The result is evident to us two centuries later, quite an accomplishment! Still, a word to the wise…
Be careful about who directs and pays “your” interior decorators, for whose later use!
The Road Less Traveled
The enjoyment, education and appreciation of the place can never be sated, although the desire or ability to continue the pursuit may fade away. A temporal necessity to avoid the place often overcomes the compulsion drawing us back into it, avoidance when the packed crowds, the pigeons, acqua alta, benefit concerts we cannot afford, too much Carnivale, the nightly “Battle of the Bands”, or over-commercialization become too much to bear.
Certainly, there are many “alternate routes” around Sestiere San Marco that are faster for reaching places beyond at peak visitation times than traversing the Piazza. Almost all of them are fascinating enough on their own merits for a lifetime of experiences and study.
Now and then, using a “short-cut” to reach the Palazzo Ducale, an early entrance into the Basilica, a quiet visit to the Biblioteca Marciana, Museo Correr or Museo Archeologico, is essential. Those can usually be reached without mounting a full invasion or bracing oneself the seething tide of the masses on the Ponte della Paglia (Wow, photograph your friends in front of the construction shroud-covered Bridge of Sighs!) or wading through crowds on the Marzeria. Instead, stroll along Calle Canonica or Calle Cavaletto, or past the Bacino Orseolo, or consider one of the options radiating from the Bocca di Piazza.
Giving in to the Compulsion
Most of us will “sneak back in” when enough of the deterrents are absent in order to continue our obsessive fascination with the place. In the daylight, that may take a visit during acqua alta, when quiet and orderly lines of passarelle-using pedestrians open the space back up to view.
The spritz, cappuccino, te, bierra or prosecco is decadently overpriced in the Piazza cafes – whether at the Florian, Quadry, Aurora, Gran Cafe Chioggia, or its neighbor on the Piazzetta. Consider a post-prandial experience with apertivo and orchestra for a more peaceful experience at the same price!
However, must one not occasionally give in and become fully immersed (not into the acqua alta!) in the theater of the sublime, or sometimes of the absurd, to be a passive aggressive part of the spectacle? A little self-justification helps defend the worthwhileness of the sacrifice required in order to absorb the place, consider its architecture, art, history, community and effect upon the modern world, to be a bit player in the production, and to advance the cause of society by communicating your insights to others.
Survival in the Piazza requires your facile use of the key words, cin-cin, grazie, scuzi and… Basta!