The Venice Skyline Seen From a Room With a View

AFTER New York, the city I know best is Venice, but this doesn't prevent me from getting lost in its narrow streets.I have been to Venice six times. "For business?" a stranger asks. Not once. Only for pleasure. No one goes to Venice on business! That is part of its charm. My heart swells each time I approach Venice. As the train crosses the lagoon on the causeway linking the mainland to the city, I lean out of the window. The first sight I see from the train is the dome, resembling a sea crustacean, on the bell tower of the Madonna dell' Orto (Madonna of the Orchard). The church is in the Cannaregio district of the city, where one finds an unchanged, tranquil old Venice. The artist Tintoretto lived in the district and is buried in the church. I stay at a pensione on the Z attere, near the Accademia, overlooking the Giudecca Canal. It is a lovely part of the city, far from the hurly-burly of the Piazza San Marco. No less an authority than Bernard Berenson, the eminent Italian Renaissance scholar, recommended the place. Close to 40 years ago, my mother and sister visited Berenson at the Villa I Tatti, near Florence. I hope Mother had the good sense to ask Berenson about the great Venitian painters Bellini and Titian. She never said, but she did tell me me she raised a practical question: Could he recommend a place to stay in Venice? Berenson may have known that Mother was a widow supporting two children. Fortunately for the family finances, he did not recommend the Danieli, among the most expensive hotels in Venice, which he frequented. Instead, he proposed a pensione on the Zattere. Since then, two generations of my family have stayed here. I am now writing from my room overlooking the sparkling waters of the Giudecca Canal. Bells ring at the three nearby churches: the Salute, the Gesuati, and the Redentore across the water on the island of Giudecca. The Giudecca Canal is much wider than the Grand Canal. Cruise ships from as far away as the Black Sea arriving in Venice pass the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, enter the Giudecca Canal, and continue to the Statzione Marittima. The majestic white ships, escorted by proud tugs, are thrilling to watch. They dwarf the small houses and Palladian churches on the Giudecca. Gazing at the ships, I recall how I used to check the newspaper for ship departure times when growing up in New York. I would then bicycle from our apartment to Battery Park at the foot of Manhattan to watch the Queen Mary, with her three smokestacks, enter the Upper Bay from the Hudson River and pass the Statue of Liberty. That, too, was a thrilling sight. I know the New York skyline like the back of my hand. On boat trips returning from Torcello, I am beginning to master the Venice skyline of church domes and towers. Gazing toward Venice from Torcello more than a century ago, John Ruskin described "a multitude of towers, dark and scattered among square-set shapes of clustered palaces, a long irregular line fretting the Southern sky." The view remains unchanged. Venice has so many delights. To see the paintings of Carpaccio and Canaletto and then to walk through the streets they depicted; in a single day, to compare Titian's "Presentation of the Virgin" at the Accademia with Tintoretto's at the Madonna dell' Orto; for a daily user of the New York City subway system, to travel above ground, by water, seeing beautiful sights along the way. I love everything about Venice, including the train station. Referred to as Venezia S.L. - Venezia Santa Lucia - the station stands on the site of the former Palladian church and cloister of Santa Lucia. I usually arrive at the station after a seven-hour night flight from New York to Milan, and a three-hour train trip from Milan to Venice. Exiting from the station, I behold, not streets packed with cars, buses, and trucks, but gondolas and vaporetti (water buses) on the Grand Canal, and the charming church of San Simeone Piccolo. These sights soothe the weary traveler. Once in November, I arrived at the station late in the evening. Venice was enveloped in darkness and fog. The almost empty vaporetto I boarded timidly inched its way along the Grand Canal toward San Marco. Like a ghost ship, we passed under the Rialto and Accademia bridges. The Piazza San Marco was deserted. Venice in fog is unforgettable. When I leave this island city by the Adriatic to return home to my island city lying off the coast of North America, I will lean out the train window and watch Venice recede in the distance. My last view of Venice, like the first, will be of the Madonna dell' Orto. And once again I will be reawakened by my fervent desire to return.

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