07/10/12 Midnight. Hotel Leonardo. First impressions of Venice.
As our train zoomed across the bridge connecting Mestre and Santa Lucia, I could feel the onset of Venezia, like the rush of a gale, just by looking at the neatly lined buoys bobbing on the dove blue sea. It was an unusual feeling, heaped high with anticipation, but also déjà-vu, as though I had pulled into this dock before, on my way to Lantau Island (Hong Kong).
Exiting the train station, my imagination’s loose threads wove into one fine reality: the Grand Canal lay before me, its banks rising with quaint, pink and yellow, low buildings; wooden window shutters; peeling plaster. Slight whiff of sewage from the gently undulating water, nursing later afternoon gondolas and wake-spreading water taxis. Tourists of all diversities. Cobbled streets. One Trattoria after another, their entrances propping café-style tables and tourist-repleted chairs. Dragging my luggage along to find the Leonardo Hotel, I couldn’t help leaning over slightly to peek into the alluring alleyways and catch a glimpse of the delicious dishes whose smells exerted a gravitational pull on my senses. Hot aromas of Brie, mozzarella, and every cheese imaginable; the snap and sizzle of garlic seeping out softly (and killing me softly) from plates piled high with pasta. If you think about it, a large fraction of what we stereotype as “Western food” are all Italian! Pizza, spaghetti, different pastas, tiramisu, cakes… I am so ready for the Feast Of My Life. Bring it.
We ate at the Trattoria di Gigio tonight. Lasagna, baked cod, salmon gnocchi, and boiled vegetables with a glass of house wine. The servings were perfecto, but I wasn’t sure whether our dishes were genuine or we’ve been tongue-washed to American-tinted Italian, because the lasagna seemed a little dry and the cod too salty for my taste. I certainly enjoyed the restaurant’s bright ambience though.
Afterward, we walked up and down the Rio Terrá San Leonardo, from which our hotel’s alley (literally one meter wide and 99% unlit, thanks to free lighting from light pollution) branched off like a capillary, and sat for a while on the warm stone bank of the canal, dangling my bare feet above the water’s surface. Everything felt very “right”… in the sense that they matched my imagination’s Venice like a perfect jigsaw, from the shards of light floating on the water, to the panorama of buildings framed under the yawning arch of a bridge nearby, to the somewhat dilapidated feel of the place.
Yes, it was as Tolstoy had put it in “Childhood”: remembering what had never been.
Small shops bountiful with trinkets and glittery masks to lure visitors and, unexpectedly, fruit stalls in the street’s spinal center, selling A-Z of drinks, snacks, and fresh cherries, mangoes, and berries.
It’s amazing to tell myself, again and again, that: hey, I’m in Venice! I can’t wait to explore this city in sunlight tomorrow. Just to get lost in its maze of alleys and canals and precious, untouched pockets of scenes for which I hope to God my camera will do justice. I honestly don’t do Venezia justice for spending one measly day here. Ciao!