View from Rue Saint-Georges

City of Wonder

Venice reminds us that life is full of hope and possibility

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | September 5, 2018
Pedro Szekely/Flickr
Pedro Szekely/Flickr

Over the years, I’ve visited Naples, Rome, and Florence, but somehow never Venice. This week, a work assignment brought me to the city’s film festival, which takes place at a blissful moment just after the tourist high season but before the summer weather has turned. The air was warm and sunlight rippled off the turquoise-gray lagoon as the gondolas floated past crowds of people sipping spritzes on an infinity of canal-facing terraces. The piled-up wisdom and taste of centuries unfurled throughout the labyrinthine dreamscape, and around every corner was a view that astonished the eye, even in our digital world in which everything has first been glimpsed on a screen. I spent the entirety of my three days and nights wandering around, astounded.

I left Venice wondering what it means to reach the age of 37 and only now come into contact with a place that makes my heartbeat skip like no other I have seen. The more I think about it, the more I smile: I suppose it means there is a tremendous amount of wonder in this world, in spite of all the darkness. I think it means that life is full of possibility and hope.

When I posted this thought on Facebook, a friend replied that he had been in Venice several weeks prior, and after a glass of wine, was moved to tears. It reminded me of something the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky wrote in Watermark, his love letter to the city where he is buried: “A tear can be shed in this place on several occasions. Assuming that beauty is the distribution of light in the fashion most congenial to one’s retina, a tear is an acknowledgment of the retina’s, as well as the tear’s, failure to retain beauty.” I keep scrolling through the hundreds of pictures I took in those narrow streets—those pixelated records of color and light—to keep my own tears at bay.

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