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A Modern Flâneur on... Il Canal Grande

[VIDEO] Venice, Italy

“I have not told half of what I saw.”
~ Marco Polo’s dying words (1254-1324)

“Art is stronger than Nature.”
~ Titian (1488/90-1576)

“There are no words, it's only music there.”
~ Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

“I do not conquer; I submit.”
~ Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

Joel Bowman, enduring the morning commute…

The visions began in Tbilisi, before the overnight train rambled south, past majestic, snow-capped Ararat and across the Armenian border. Wandering the Georgian streets, those dog summer days hot on our shoulders, we began to conceive of a watery city, cooled by mist and history, at peace with fate and destiny.

Against the polished mahogany and fir, larch and lime, we would rest our lazy spine, valise rocking gently at our feet. The song of the gondolier on the morning breeze, his familiar salutations echoing down watery culs-de-sac, and the sunlight glistening on moss-green stairs, lurching into the murky depths. We would close our eyes, amber rays warming bare forearms, the vessel beyond our control…

By the time Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice on the eve of the 19th Century (1797, in the War of the First Coalition), the Queen of the Adriatic had been in long and steady decline.

First came Mehmed the Conqueror and the Ottoman-Venetian Wars, which cost the merchant city (over thee centuries and more) much of its eastern Mediterranean riches. Then that intrepid Portuguese upstart, Vasco de Gama, whose circuitous voyage around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope usurped the Venetian monopoly on the Indian spice trade, sank the City of Water deeper still. The Black Death, too, haunted her famous canals; first in 1348, then again between 1575 and 1577, carrying off some 50,000 souls to their watery grave. The Italian Plague, which followed in 1629-31, killed three times as many…

When Casanova sat down to recall his Histoire de ma vie (Story of My Life), the city’s days as La Dominante were long behind her. The famous libertine died a year after the Little General marched into town. By then, La Serenissima was virtually underwater…


Vivaldi’s summer ostinati sounding faintly in our ears, Po and Piave stirring beneath the hull, we sense the morning light pass over our drowsy eyelids. Our gondolier beckons to the pretty ladies on the bridges, who laugh at his advances.

Along the shaded estuaries, the morning commute has already begun. But for us, our Grand Tour is drawing to a close, the rambling season now setting behind us. Astern, the rèmo gently sculls the ancient waters and for a quiet moment we recall Tbilisi and Ararat and the whole Mediterranean set out before us… and the aqueous vision of the moment now at hand.

Alla prossima,


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Joel Bowman ~ Notes from the End of the World
Joel Bowman ~ Notes from the End of the World
Joel Bowman