National Geographic : 2009 Aug
• Luscious decay is a constant, as is maintenance. Repairing a foundation damaged by flooding means draining the canal, then clearing it of mud. To live in Venice is costly, but locals like this couple at the Casino of Venice willingly pay the price. Frezzeria. Ahead is the Correr Museum and cleaning ladies on hands and knees with buckets and brushes. She crosses the Piazza San Marco, blissfully empty in early morning. "I step on the paving stones and fall in love with the city all over again," she says. Another bridge, a brisk walk across the Campo San Filippo e Giacomo, and she arrives. It is exactly 7:58. Listen. Veniceshouldbeheardaswellasseen. At night the eye is not distracted by the radiance of gilded domes. e ear can discern the slam of wood shutters, heels tapping up and down the stone steps of bridges, the abbreviated drama of whispered conversations, waves kicked against the seawall by boats, the staccato of rain on can- vas awnings, and always, always, the heavy, sad sound of bells. Most of all, the sound of Venice is the absence of the sound of cars. Often Franco Filippi, a bookstore owner and writer, cannot sleep, and so he gets up and threads his way through the maze of streets, ashlight in hand, stopping now and then to play a beam over facades of stucco and stone until the cylinder of light picks out a roundel of carved stone, called a patera, depicting some fantastic beast that slithers, prowls, or ies. It is then, while the city sleeps and he is rapt in the contemplation of a touchstone of its past, that he reclaims his Venice from the crowds that ll the streets, squares, and canals when it is day. Gherardo Ortalli, a professor of medieval his- tory, nds his path less poetic. "When I go out in the campo with my friends, I have to stop because someone is taking a photograph of us as if we are aboriginals," he says. "Perhaps one day we are. You go and see a sign on a cage. Feed the Venetians. When I arrived 30 years ago, the pop- ulation was 120,000. Now it is less than 60,000."