View Full Version : Venice in Winter

November 28th, 2010, 06:15 AM
I love Italy especially in summer but the winter months have lots to recommend.

A few days ago the NYTimes published this lovely article about Venice written by Rachael Donadio, an American journalist living in Rome. The piece is also an homage to the writer Joseph Brodsky and his book "Watermark."

The article is long, I've posted a few excerpts. Link below. There is also a slideshow of photos.

Venice in Winter
November 24, 2010

I HADN’T been back to Venice in years when I found myself there on assignment. It was November; the city’s scattered trees had begun to turn brown. The light, as always, was beyond compare and there was a watery chill in the air. I loved it immediately.

Or rather, I remembered how much I loved it. Italy can do strange things to your perspective. Memories of a place become more real than the place itself. I had lived for years with the Venice of my recollections — traveling there at 19, drinking peach iced tea in the July heat, discovering Giorgione — and then last November I was back. I was older, so was Venice.

The visit whetted my appetite, and not long afterward I returned one freezing January weekend, armed with several sweaters, boots and a well-worn copy of “Watermark,” Joseph Brodsky’s marvelous prose poem about Venice in winter, which would be my guide. It is an emotional guidebook more than a practical one, but, I would argue, just as reliable. In Venice, maps fail. As everyone knows, to be in that floating city is to be forever lost and disoriented, as if in a labyrinth.

On that November foray, I had listened to a group of American college students talking as they wandered around near the Rialto Bridge. “I don’t mind if we’re, like, lost all day,” one told his friends. “Dude,” another replied, “I don’t think we have a choice.”

Goethe could not have put it better. Venice, as he famously wrote, can be compared only to itself. So many wonderful writers have captured Venice, from Goethe to Henry James to Evelyn Waugh, that it is all the more remarkable that in 1992 Brodsky, in “Watermark,” managed to create a truly original piece of writing about this cliché-worn city.

On the train ride up, I opened the book and out fell a bookmark from a Rome bookshop where I had worked for a while after college and where I had first read “Watermark” on a slow afternoon. On the back of the bookmark I had written a line from Philip Larkin — “outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest ...” — and, mysteriously, some philosophical terms: “ontology: philosophy of being; epistemology: study of knowledge and its limits.” Fitting enough notations for a city that surely tests the limits of one’s knowledge.

In summer, Venice is torrid, stuffed to the gills with the 18 million tourists who overwhelm it each year, clogging its bridges, swelling its vaporetti, vastly outnumbering the famously grouchy residents and making the city seem like one big floating Disneyland — a perverse metaphor for the future of Italy, if not all of Europe, a place that has staked its future on selling an image of its past and may yet be destroying itself in the process.

That season was not for Brodsky. “I would never come here in summer, not even at gunpoint,” he wrote in “Watermark.” Instead, the Russian-born poet longed for cold. In a series of rented apartments over a series of Januaries toward the end of his too-short life, he came, froze and wrote. (Brodsky, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, died at age 55 in 1996; he is buried in San Michele, Venice’s wonderful cemetery island, where, in a joke as playful and deep as his verse, someone has placed a metal letterbox on his grave.)

“In winter you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though behind your gauze curtains a gigantic china teaset were vibrating on a silver tray in the pearl-gray sky,” Brodsky wrote. “You fling the window open and the room is instantly flooded with this outer, peal-laden haze, which is part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers.”


On that first visit to Venice and on every single one since, one thing has been the same: I didn’t really want to leave. As the end of the Brodsky weekend drew to a close, I found myself melancholy, reluctant to return to the chaotic life that awaited me once the train crossed the narrow bridge to the mainland — to “terra firma,” as the locals call it, as if Venice itself were a ship lost at sea.

That afternoon, as I headed back to the train station with my little suitcase, a wet snow began to fall. It landed on the trees in the semi-hidden courtyard gardens and melted into the canals. En route, I took a few wrong turns, but I didn’t mind at all. “Anzi,” as the Italians say, au contraire. I thought that this might just be true happiness: being semi-lost in Venice on a cold and snowy day.


January 13th, 2011, 03:40 AM

Reminds me of my favourite short film, shot in 1950s Paris. Both timeless.



January 13th, 2011, 12:40 PM
The beauty of winter here is the damp grey meloncholy pall that blankets everything....and the choices Italians make to temper it.

This is another very good article about Italy-in-winter from the NYTimes... this time the subject is Tuscany.

"The real Tuscany, as locals have been telling me over the years, is found in the dead of winter..."

" And the landscape turns to a vibrant shade of jungle-y emerald — the only place I know that gets more colorful in the winter."

(Colorful when the grey mist subsides....)

And most of all... something that tourists who come in the warmer months miss out on:

"So goes a common refrain: the flavors of Tuscany actually taste better this time of year. First, Tuscan cuisine is winter fare: big red wines, lots of porcini mushrooms, black truffles, chestnuts, and hearty pastas with meat sauce. In addition, Tuscans eat what’s in season, and the best stuff ripens between October and March." "Winter, in other words, is eating season in Tuscany. "


^ There is a very good slide-show too.