Two Cities With a View

NEW YORK CITY and Venice are two places I know well, having lived most of my life in the first, and visited the second on numerous occasions. New York is a rambunctious, restless place. It never stands still. Those who return after an absence of only a few years will find an altered skyline, and in the neighborhoods where they once lived, new shops and faces.

Venice is a startling contrast. View the paintings of Carpaccio (c. 1455-1526) or Canaletto (1697-1768) and you come upon scenes of present-day Venice: the palazzi along the Grand Canal; gondolas; outdoor fish, fruit, and vegetable markets shaded from the sun by awnings; wash hanging out to dry; decorative carpets draped from windows for festive occasions.

I find the railway stations of both places appealing. Grand Central station is one of the world's great stations, a marvel of engineering and urban planning. It also holds special memories for me. From here, as a child, I set out with my family on my first transcontinental journey. From that time I became enamored of trains.

The appeal of the station in Venice is not its physical structure, which lacks distinction, but the fascinating destinations of the departing trains. Westward, they leave for Nizza (Nice) and Parigi (Paris). Southward, for Rome, Naples, and Palermo. Eastward, for Vienna. One night, I came upon cars bound for Zagreb and Belgrade in Yugoslavia, Moscow, and Warsaw.

In both cities I have a favorite place to sit. These places share in common an unobstructed view of the water, an antidote to the claustrophobia of city dwellers who inhabit the canyons of New York and the narrow passageways of Venice.

From the Dogana Di Mare, where the Grand Canal opens onto the lagoon, I enjoy gazing across the water at the Campanile, the domes of San Marco, and the Doge's Palace. From here I can see a variety of vessels pass: vaportetti (water buses), ferries conveying cars from the mainland to the Lido, and tugboats with names such as Hippos, Novus, Maximus, Strenuus, and Squalus.

WHITE luxury liners that cruise the Adriatic, and travel as far as Istanbul and the Black Sea ports, come along the Giudecca Canal. One of the ships is the Palladio. It is suitably named. On its way to sea, shepherded by tugboats, the vessel passes the Palladian churches of Il Redentore and Le Zitelle on the island of Giudecca, and the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, with its magnificent Palladian church.

Sitting, as I often do, in Battery Park at the lower tip of Manhattan, I look out at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, both reminders of the immigrant roots of my city. When Walt Whitman viewed New York City harbor over a century ago, he saw among the busy collection of ships a majestic three-decker; a beautiful Sicilian frigate; a revenue cutter; the stately Columbus; a crowd of East River sloops; a Liverpool packet; a dozen small steamers; barges; and three large Long Island Sound boats.

The harbor, today, remains much the same, though there are fewer ships now, for this is a part of New York City which does not change. As Whitman wrote in 1849, envisioning the city 100 years into the future, ``You and I, reader, and quite all the people who are now alive, won't be much thought of then, but the world will be just as jolly, and the sun will shine as bright, and the rivers off there - the Hudson on one side and the East on the other - will slap along their green waves, precisely as now; and other eyes will look upon them about the same as we do now.''

New York and Venice. Cities that have become part of me, as they will be part of the lives of future generations.

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