National Geographic : 1961 Apr
Venice, City of Twilight Splendor Ermete in graceful vases. Each spent a dec ade or more earning his title as master. Glass blowers must begin at an early age. Lino Rossi, who passed the simple tools that Ermete needed to shape a goblet, became an apprentice at 14, as soon as he had finished his legally required schooling. Watching Lino as he obeyed Ermete's commands, I sensed that this boy with tousled curls and angelic face had the soul of an artist. "Lino," I said, "what made you decide to become a master?" The big, star-filled eyes looked at me with surprise, and perhaps pity. "Money!" he answered. "What else?" Venice is famed, too, for its handmade laces, including the exquisite Point de Venise. Women and girls do most of the work, either at home on near-by Burano or at that island's lacemaking school. Sixty girls may work on one tablecloth, which will sell for $5,000. Other skills still flourish in small city shops. Giuseppe Orio laughed with self-contained delight when Umberto and I peered into his small, smoke-blackened smithy. "More tourists!" he roared as he pounded a red-hot piece of iron on an anvil. "Always snapping their cameras. They think I'm picturesque!" Advice to Diners: Go to the Market Followed by Giuseppe's laughter and a hungry yellow cat, we walked on to the big public market near the Rialto Bridge. Some of the best restaurants in Venice but by no means the most expensive - lie near the market. We trailed two merchants in white aprons to a narrow street dotted with cafes, and found a sidewalk table shaded by a red-and-white-striped awning and a cluster of tall yellow flowers. The calamaretti,bite size fried squid, arrived crisp and hot with a sliver of lemon. We sampled bisato-eel grilled on a wood fire - and finished with thin, crisp pancakes sprinkled with sugar, called galani, and a glass of white wine. Half an hour later Umberto and I pushed on through streets now crowded and drip ping under a sudden shower. "Don't go too fast," he warned. "When peo ple meet in the rain in these narrow passage ways, they have to agree on who raises his umbrella and who lowers it, or there's a col lision. Here, go right." I turned ahead of him into a two-foot-wide space between buildings. This was Ramo Salizzada Zusto, just wide enough for a sin gle file to the next thoroughfare, 55 feet away. "I used to go through here every morning to school," Umberto said. "I was late half the time, because I had to wait here for a break in the traffic coming toward me before I could duck through." Traffic Stops Where Canals Begin Past the Church of San Simeone Grande we emerged onto a wide curb of the Grand Canal. A small boy sat crying. He had dropped his huge red ball into the water. Now he watched helplessly as it floated away. As we looked, the pilot of a big water bus skillfully swerved his craft toward us, so that the waves from his bow carried the ball back into the boy's outstretched hands. Bystand ers cheered, and the driver doffed his cap. Opposite us stood the railroad station that links Venice to the mainland. Not far away rose the Autorimessa, the city's huge canal side bus terminal and parking garage. Be yond there, wheels may not go. I was remind ed of Robert Benchley's classic reaction to his first glimpse of the Queen of the Adriatic. "STREETS FULL OF WATER," he cabled home. "PLEASE ADVISE." In a concrete way these two structures rep resent a serious dilemma facing the city. The problem is this: Plans have been advanced for building a modern business center-a "little Manhattan"-in an unattractive area alongside the bus and railroad terminals. The center would provide much-needed of fice space. But the idea was torpedoed, at least temporarily, by protests of Venetians opposed to anything that might change the character of their city. Still another plan stems from the undeni able fact that Venice, far from being dead commercially, ranks as Italy's third greatest port, after Genoa and Naples. Its proponents see their city as standing midway between the pipeline terminals of Syria and Lebanon and the insatiable appetite for oil of, say, West Germany. To make their dream a re ality, they have already planned a huge new Gondola beneath a crowded bridge shatters an image on wine-dark water. Rush hour traffic goes by foot. Vines cover the iron balconies of a restaurant. Some 150 canals twist through the city; more than 400 bridges tack it together. SUPERANSCOCHROMEBYJOHN SCOFIELD, NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSTAFF© N.G.S .