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Keith Austin: When the world is your lobster Stories from a former Travel Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Dead In Venice

AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 31 January 2009 | Views [2121] | Comments [2]

A few quick snapshots from our window at 8am...

A few quick snapshots from our window at 8am...

We are in our final days here now and our attention is turning towards the overnight rail trip we are taking to Paris on Sunday night. But a few thoughts first on Venetian mysteries:

Where are all those many little old ladies in perms and fur coats going?

Why do so many of the dogs wear coats? And why is EVERY mutt a pedigree mutt?

Just why did Peggy Guggenheim buy herself a statue with a life-size detachable penis. And where is it now??? Surely she didn't take it to the grave?

And what's the go with all the confetti? Nearly every street has confetti ground into the paving stones and yet we have NEVER seen anyone dropping the stuff. The early morning street cleaners - who use those quaintly old-fashioned witches' brooms - must sweep the stuff away every day and yet there it is again ... spooky.

And why, oh why has many hundreds of years of glass-making on the island of Murano culminated in metre-tall clowns and miniature Barack Obamas?

One of the tools we have been using to navigate around Venice has been Rick Steves' Venice 2006, a book found on the shelf of the Cannaregio apartment (Casa Allegra) where we have been staying. Which, by the way, is the perfect place to spend a few days (http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/Italy/holiday-apartment-Venice-area/p50586.htm).

Naturally, being 2-3 years old, there are some price differentials (the single vaporetto ticket is now 6.50 Euros instead of 5 Euros) but that's to be expected - and the upsides are Mr Steves' marvellously idiosyncratic and honest appraisals of the city's many attractions. For instance, his comments about the painting of two bored Venetian ladies in room 38 of the Correr Museum: "The colourful details and love of luxury are elements that would dominate the Venetian High Renaissance. Fascinating stuff, but my eyes - like theirs - are starting to glaze..."

It was how we were feeling about the Madonna And Child by yesterday morning. One more painting, mosaic, fresco of Mary and the Christ-brat and I'd crucify myself.

So we turned our gazes across the lagoon to the Lido, the strip of land that separates - and protects - the Venetian lagoon from the full force of the Adriatic Sea's tides.

It is this place that gave the world the name Lido, for swimming pool complexes, and didn't Visconti or someone famously film Dirk Bogarde in Thomas Mann's Death In Venice there?

"Rick Stein will know!" announced Popsi Bubblehead with all the perspicacity for which she is known. "I'll get the book!"

But lo and behold, there is not a jot about the Lido in what had become our esrtwhile Bible of Venice. The other guide books dribble on ad nauseam about the gaff but from Rick - nothing.

And yet, somehow, he was spot on! The trip out to the Lido, on vaporetto number 1 from our local stop of Ca' d'Oro, is stunningly picturesque - so much so that you really do have to keep telling yourself that, yes, you are actually sitting on the back of a boat chugging up the Grand Canal and, yes, that is the Doges' Palace and St Mark's Square floating past.

The Lido, however, was closed. The Death In Venice hotel, the huge Edwardian Grand Hotel Des Bains, is dead. And not just shut dead but boarded up. With chipboard, darling, with chipboard! Ditto the incongruously Moorish Hotel Westin Excelsior, which is like some gigantic Marie Celeste beached on the brown sands.

And talking of sand the beach is rubbish. Compared to Australian beaches, anyway. Indeed, if you close one eye and squint it could be Southend.

Popsi was much taken with the many seashells that littered the shoreline as we walked westward along the sand but I was too annoyed at the idea that much of the beach is zoned off by the hotels for private use by their residents. In summer at least.

We took a couple of hours to stroll around the western side of the island from the Santa Maria Elisabetta vapo stop and back but, really, it does want a little in comparison to what we now like to think of as Venice proper. We were reminded a little of certain parts of the Eastern Suburbs, where wonderful Federation-style houses are hemmed in by brutalist blocks of flats. Spot on, Steve, and thanks for the all the entertaining tips (www.ricksteves.com).

Tags: detachable penis, glass, italy, keith austin, lido, murano, popsi bubblehead, rick stein, rick steves, venice




  Cal Feb 1, 2009 1:08 AM


The more the merrier. I loved Keith's work when he was at the Herald - it's all the poorer for him leaving - and I love him now. I take it that you, Cal, are a member of the so-called iGeneration which has the attention span of a gnat. Keep it up Keith. Best - Bob

  Bob Branden Feb 1, 2009 2:16 AM

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