Saturday, December 16, 2017

Italy | Venice | We Crociferi

From Kastraki I took the train to Athens, where I once again stayed at my Favorite Hotel in the city. I could not resist climbing the Hill of the Muses again for another view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.
The Acropolis, topped by the Parthenon (click on photos for enlargements)
The Parthenon. Unfortunately it always seems to be under repair.
The Acropolis at night, from the balcony of my hotel. The Parthenon is not visible from this angle.
Then took an early morning flight to Istanbul. Would have loved to stop for some mutton kebabs at the take-out place next to my Favorite Hotel in Istanbul, but of course I cannot enter Turkey because of the recent Visa Snafu. So I caught a connecting flight to Venice. The plane left Ataturk Airport in Istanbul at 5:36 p.m. It was dark at ground level when we took off, but we emerged from the low, heavy cloud cover just in time to see the sun sinking halfway below the horizon, now banded with fiery reddish-orange light that gradually faded into a dome of deep cobalt blue. For the next hour or so we chased the sun westward. Several times it reappeared above the horizon only to sink again. We finally lost the race with the sun and arrived at the predictably named Marco Polo Airport in total darkness at 5:50 local time, for a flight of two hours and fourteen minutes. There is no line at Immigration and my portmanteau is the second piece of luggage to emerge on the conveyor belt.

Marco Polo Airport has undergone major remodeling since I was here last. A fifteen minute walk on a new sky-bridge ends at the dock where water-buses now leave for the island of Murano and Venice itself.  From the water-bus it is impossible to make out anything in the dark and the fog. After about thirty minutes the lights of Murano Island water-bus stop appear out of the gloom. A half dozen people get off and we continue on another fifteen minutes to the  Fondamente Nuove stop on the north side of Venice itself. I am the only person getting off. Most passengers are continuing on to the hotels around St. Mark’s Square, on the south side of Venice, which offer more convenient access the city’s more famous sights. During the day numerous water buses to the airport, outlying islands, and other parts of Venice itself all converge here, and the walkway, lined with ticket vendors and attendant kiosks selling selling water, snacks, and souvenirs is usually bustling with transients. Now the Fondamente Nuove is eerily quiet. I look up and down the 800-yard long fog-shrouded walkway and do not see a single person; it appears as if the city is  deserted. 

I veer off Fondamente Nuove onto Salizzada dei Specchieri (street of the looking-glass makers), which is also suspiciously, forbiddingly empty. After a hundred yards or the eight massive  Corinthian columns that make the facade of the Church of the Gesuiti (Jesuits) rear up out of the gloom on my left. Above the entablature carried by the columns statues of the twelve apostles and assorted angels appear out of the fog. I get the discombobulating feeling that they are gazing down in judgment at the lone wanderer on the street below. Not that I am the first to be put off by these statues. W. D. Howells (1837–1920), erstwhile editor of the “Atlantic Monthly” and author of Venetian Life (1866), observed that “the sight of those theatrical angels, with their shameless, unfinished backs, flying off the top of the rococo façade of the church of the Jesuits, has always been a spectacle to fill me with despondency and foreboding.” A later observer, James Lees-Milne, in his Venetian Evenings, noted: “To my mind these statues look more like lost souls about to throw themselves in despair to the bottomless pit, only prevented from doing so by the rusted iron bands which tie their loose limbs together and keep them in.” By now a surprisingly chilly and uncomfortably damp wind is gusting through the street, adding to my discomfiture. The tee-shirt and Mongolian cashmere sweater I had donned that morning in Athens are clearly inadequate.

The Salizzada dei Specchieri opens out into the Campo dei Gesuiti, a long narrow square likewise empty. On the left side of the square, abutting the Church of the Gesuiti, stands an immense white-walled five story building that was once a Jesuit monastery. It has been transformed into both living quarters for students and a hotel for the public. Veering off the square and through a portal I emerge into a huge courtyard lined by a colonnaded passageway. In the courtyard and passageway are huddled groups of people, presumably students, the first humans I have seen since arriving at the Fondamente Nuove. Lady Gaga booms from the sound system of a cafe off to the side, accompanied by a buzz of conversation and laughter. I am back among the living. 

The receptionist assigns me to a room on the fifth floor. You have to use your key card to use the elevator. After passing through three unmarked doors and wandering down several long corridors I finally locate my room in an isolated cul-de-sac. I cannot help but wonder if I have been purposely exiled to this out of way corner of the huge building, away from the younger and more livelier residents. If so, this suites me fine. The last thing I need is some noisy college students next door. According its website the We Crociferi has shared dormitory-style rooms, private rooms with bath, studio rooms, and small apartments complete with kitchens. It is not clear how many of these units it hosts, but the entire facility has 255 beds, all of them singles. The website is quick to point out that these single beds cannot be joined together. Perhaps this is a residual holdover from its days as a Jesuit monastery, and now an attempt to maintain some degree of propriety among the college students who stay here. Some on-line reviews, apparently from adult couples, grouse about the lack of any double beds in the rooms. Why these people find such a problem with a single bed is beyond me. If they want to couple they can do so on a single bed. I have done it more times than I can count. Then they can retire to separate single beds. Or they can just remain in the single bed, which may result in even greater intimacy, since you simply cannot roll over to your own side of the bed after coupling is completed. In any case, my room has three single beds, only one of which I will be using. As far as I know I will not be doing any coupling in Venice.

Room decor is minimalist; gray concrete floors with no carpets or rugs, and whitewashed brick walls. In keeping with its function as student quarters a built-in formica topped desk extends the entire length of the front wall. Study lamps on flex-arms light the desk area, there are no less than eight—eight!—electrical outlets, and the overhead lights are more than adequate. Actually this functional work space, often so sadly lacking in even much more expensive hotels, is the real reason I am staying at the We Crociferi.  As a bonus my room, although isolated, looks directly down on the Campo dei Gesuiti  and has a great view out over the roof tops of Venice, with the dome-topped 182-foot campanile, or bell tower, of the church of Madonna dell’Orto soaring up off in the distance.
The We Crociferi on the right, in daylight
One of three courtyard at the We Crociferi
Courtyard at the We Crociferi
Courtyard at the We Crociferi
Courtyard at the We Crociferi
Arcade at the We Cruciferi
The Church of the Gesuiti, to the left of the We Crociferi. The angels on the facade are less dread-inspiring in the daylight
182-foot campanile, or bell tower, of the church of Madonna dell’Orto visible over the rooftops of Venice

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