It was time. Her song was next.
The conductor raised his arms. The 4 rows of choristers stood straight. With a wave of his wrist, a young girl on the front row began, “I am a small part of the world.”
Another clear voice followed with, “I have a small hand which I have to hold.”
Then Grace’s rich tones filled the Chiesa San Stae with beautiful sound as she delivered the remaining 3 lines of the opening verse. We were filled with unparalleled joy.
Parental and grand-parental emotions exploded and only, after many many moments did they recede, leaving us all with the wondrous thought. “Wow, this world is a really great place after all.”
Where did all this happen? Well, Venice of course, where else would a good school take its choir on tour?
Where else would parents and grandparents follow?
Now the wife and I have been in Venice before, some 10 years ago, but it had been only a 24 hour curiosity stopover. Principally a boat trip along the Grand Canal, a walking tour round and about San Marco Piazza, followed by a couple of hours admiring the glasswork displays on the island of Murano. But not this time, we had church services and concerts to cover at different locations on the main island. There was no need to go wandering off.
The map readers amongst us were soon in their element, choosing routes that the “narrows,” (alleys, jitties or gennels), offered. Normal sane visitors would avoid the “narrows,” but it was a simply a matter of, a six or two threes. The main thoroughfares, e.g. Giovanni Ravano towards the Rialto Bridge en route to San Marco Piazza, continually beats the people numbers stood in the Stretford end at a home Man. U. match. Hence major thoroughfares were no go areas.
The “narrows” became the preferred choice because they always allowed movement, which sometimes resulted in a 360 turnabout because some multidirectional options displayed by the street signs confused our map readers. The “narrows,” could of course, double the walking distance, because of the dodging and weaving required to get past the oncoming human and animal traffic. We quickly learnt to avoid dog-walkers and any newcomers pulling their suit cases. Also we soon realised that standing still or sitting down was a dangerous pastime. Aerial attacks by the pigeons could occur at any moment.
On reflection I suppose that the really adventurous visitor would refuse to join the map reading brigade and enjoy the freedom of getting lost. This would be pretty easy in this maze of buildings, which includes 400 odd bridges and some 150 canals. The next time I visit I might try it.
Occasionally we took to the water for a 2 euro gondola canal crossing to avoid a main route. However this deviation did come with its own hazards. It soon becomes clear that there is no discernible code of conduct for water transport. Fast taxis, slow gondolas, bulky barges and water buses plough the canals at will producing chaos and mayhem. It is a hair raising experience simply to stand and watch as each eager segment of the Venetian navy tests its life expectancy.
Floor space is, of course, at a premium everywhere. We soon realised that every nook and cranny on our routes was taken by a shop or a restaurant. “Gelati” was on offer every 100 paces, carnival masks, knic knac jewellery, every 50 meters. The origins of the 40 day carnival, Boxing Day to Shrove Tuesday, are uncertain but the multi shaped masks, (pottery, papier mache, wood etc.), have been a feature of Venetian life for around 800 years. Well, of course, that’s not nearly as ancient as the other very common oldie, the “pizza and pasta” parlours.
During Mass, in the Basilica di San Marco, the choir offered a little relief, to the predominantly English congregation, with contributions / renditions of Latin and Italian melodies. For us “parentals,” simply being present in such a revered place, during a service, was a very unique and moving experience.
The Basilica is simply an enormous cube. All the walls and high ceilings are covered with magnificent old paintings, decorative stonework, statues and inlaid gold ground mosaics.
From the early 800’s it was the city chief’s, (the Doge), chapel. It became the only cathedral in Venice around 1800. Adjacent to the Basilica on the San Marco Piazza is a very opulent looking building. The Doge actually lived. It is now a museum.
The next day we meandered away from the maddening crowds through the back streets and over bridges and canals towards the eastern segment of the main island. This brought the Venetian way of daily life sharply into focus. Barges motored along the narrow water ways stopping adjacent to land based rubbish collection points where they simply hoisted the bins and emptied them into the holds.
Manpowered trolleys were seemingly everywhere, delivering, collecting and bumping into people. You got it. “Scusi signor, Scusi.”
We saw lots of maintenance work being done. The stonework and the brickwork is in a very sorry state on nearly every building. I suppose the most important maintenance is simply the piling. Piles are continually being driven deep into the earth to prevent another building from increasing its already off centre inclination. This work is maybe just justifiable, after all Venice is sinking by a foot every 200 years. The rate of slippage is apparently being accelerated by all the propeller driven water traffic particularly the 20 knot water taxis. A question such as so why don’t the Authorities place speed/size restrictions on the boats? Is simply greeted with a shrug and a shake of the head from all the 60,000 residents.
FYI The island of Venice emerged many years ago from a marshy area. The marshes were made habitable by hammering some million tree trunks deep into the watery ground. Ultimately, sedimentation progressed and the islands of Venice emerged.
We moved past the Arsenale and did not see a soldier. So we continued onwards to the park, the only piece of public grass available in Venice. Its waterfront and its seaward view to the outlying islands, on this bright sunny day, was truly beautiful and yes probably it was decidedly improved by the small number of people around. Then the mosquitos arrived. Ah, perhaps insect invasions had something to do with the absence of other folks.
“Alilaguna” had a dock close by near the park so we tootled off on a slow waterbus ferry circling the southern section of the island. We sailed past two enormous cruise ships being readied for their trips around the Greek Islands. So that is how they manage to fill this place.
We dropped off finally in the middle of the Grand Canal, well positioned and prepared for the evening concert. The church, Chiesa San Stae, was again magnificent and a very perfect location for the young ladies to sing in. The quality of the choir’s vocal rendition was again delightful and in very much in keeping with the venue.
At the close of the concert the choir received the enthusiastic appreciation of their audience. The Director of Music, of course, smiled along with the girls. How wonderful to be capable of passing on a love of music to the next generation, I thought.
Sunday arrived and we followed our proven course treading the “narrows,” away from the maddening crowds. This time we headed west towards the Jewish quarter, which apparently was one of the first “Ghettos” in Europe. En route there every public square seemingly had a group of people singing. Why not? One could ask. Just because the rest of the world doesn’t sing it shouldn’t stop those who want to? There was one such group enjoying themselves in the square in front of the Jewish Museum when we arrived.
Years ago the Museum was apparently a Bank and a Pawn Broking establishment. This pair of activities were seen to be an ideal couple in the old days. With the combination helping to cement the social fabric of the community. Today there is apparently a need to have a machine gun totting individual standing close by in order to maintain the current social fabric.
An hour later we found ourselves in the Basilica dei Frari, another church, being entertained by the harmonised voices of the choir singing at another mass. Again perfect sound in a perfect setting.
We passed the late afternoon quietly before moving slowly down the narrows to find the beautiful Chiesa di San Polo, to await the evening concert. The girls, the choir excelled.
As we all know all good things do come to an end. For three days Venice had offered us a unique experience and brilliant family time. Grazie mille Venezia.