Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Okay,
this is ridiculous—the reasons that Las Vegas, Nevada is superior to Venice,
Italy are so self-evident that we don’t need you to waste our time having you
list them for us—blackjack, strippers, pools, sun, American dollars are legal
currency…we get it, move on to Rome already. But bear with me here. The reasons you list are all valid but they
wouldn’t hold up in court. What we need
here is a legitimate logical argument, something that proves once and for all the
superiority of the Sin City. So dig
Las Vegas has a
Venice—that’s right, got that covered.
And Vegas’ version is cleaner, newer, smells better and has a Cheesecake
Factory! Plus, the gondola rides are
cheaper. If Las Vegas has a Venice that
is better than the actual Venice then it, by the simple rules of logic, must be better, right? Not convinced? Well, the Vegas Venice is a short walk from a
Paris, a New York, an Italian lake (with a fountain that’s cooler than any you’ll
find in Italy), an Egyptian pyramid and a small Irish-themed casino with $5
blackjack and all-day beer pong matches.
There, I’ve said my piece.
In reality, Venice (or Venezia) is one of the truly special
places I’ve seen in the world.* In spite
of my well-documented feelings toward it I’m not quite willing to put Las Vegas
into that category. Yet, Venice did affect
me in a way similar to the way that some of the things in Vegas affected me the
first time I saw them—it just doesn’t seem real. The difference, of course, is that Vegas
gives you this feeling because it isn’t
real. But in Venice it is. And that’s part of what is so incredible.
Vegas is build on a foundation of concrete and steel girders; Venice is build on what equates to stacks of railroad ties. Normally, I’d put my money on concrete and steel to stand the test of time in this situation…but the Venetians were smarter than me. They took these wooden pillars and submerged them where, in the absence of oxygen, the wood doesn’t decay and is actually hardened over the years by an infusion of minerals from the lagoon. Thus, The Floating City doesn’t actually float but does still stand some 1000 years later.** I’ll take my chances laying down money that Caesar’s Palace won’t fare so well after the better part of 10 centuries.
You’ve seen the pictures.*** I have no need to go into lengthy explanations of the canals, the gondolas, the bridges. The elements of Venice are exactly as they’ve been described to you in the past but the effect they create is somewhat magical when experienced first-hand. The sheer number of canals is staggering and no two streets are the same or look like anything you’ve seen before anywhere else. It’s hard to believe that actual real-life takes place here. In fact, without tourists I question whether or not it would. It was the first place I went in Europe where I heard English spoken at least once every block (although it was to be eclipsed by Florence in this category in a few short days) and the tourism industry is certainly propping up the local economy. Still, if you drift away from the major sights you can find real people living real life with laundry hanging over the streets and only Italian (or the Venetian dialect of it) being spoken.
There is no doubt that rising water levels and seasonal flooding and the disappearance of Venice as a city of power and influence have taken their toll on the infrastructure of the city. The original canal-side entrance to many of the buildings—front doors with steps down to water level stoops—is non-functional. Water damage is everywhere. There are signs of decay. The water itself is dirty but not as dirty as I had expected and is actually a cloudy sort of emerald green color when you look right down into it—I found it pretty and a little bit magical. In some ways the flaws of Venice are essential for understanding that it’s a place grounded in reality. This was, in fact, once a very real and important place and not a fantasy dreamland. The city preserves its antique atmosphere in total better than any other place I’ve visited. Much of this can probably be attributed to the prohibition of basically any wheeled vehicle on the islands—cars, buses, bikes, etc. The only wheels you’ll see are on the hand-trucks that they still use to deliver whatever needs to be delivered to the hundreds of shops and restaurants around the city. You’ll see delivery guys slowly pulling up and down the stairs on each side of the staired bridges you’re forced to cross every block or two. Until heading way out of the tourist district did I see a modern apartment building that looked like it was out of place. There’s nothing over five stories high and only one McDonald’s (can’t do completely without McD’s).
The major sights are impressive, as usual. The Grand Canal is the buzzing center of transportation action with bus boats, water taxis and gondolas zipping up and down and across. It’s also the center for annoying tourists huddling onto bridges. The Basilica di San Marco (St Mark) stands in the Piazza San Marco and is famous for being the [supposed] resting place of the remains of St Mark which they [supposedly] stole from Egypt and four bronze horses above the entrance which they [really] stole from Constantinople. They really liked stealing things. The cathedral itself is impressive, most of all its detailed mosaics and the view of the plaza from the balcony above. From here you can see the bronze horses up close and the columns at the entrance of the square featuring St Mark’s pet lion.**** Even more recognizable is the Palazzo Ducale (at least, that is, if you’ve been to the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas), the facade of which uses a combination of white stone and pink marble to remarkable effect. Behind the palace is the famous “Bridge of Sighs” through which prisoners were led from the palace to the dungeons. It’s a covered bridge with one small window, legend says that the prisoners would get their last glimpse at freedom through this window (and issue a final sigh) before descending to the dungeons for good.There are many other things to see in Venice but we were short on time—this will be a recurring theme. We didn’t even make it into the palace or into any of the many galleries to view the art and riches of this city, once one of the major centers for art and commerce in the world. We also didn’t make it to the casino. That’s right, they have a casino—the parallels to Vegas continue. In fact, composer Richard Wagner died in this casino. The city, however, did not have the common sense to locate the casino such that you have to pass it on the way to your room—like they do in Vegas—or I wouldn’t have been able to avoid it. Oh well, now I have a reason to go back.
**I’ve had a hard time getting a solid date on when exactly they started constructing
these structures but the basilica at San Marco (since rebuilt) was originally
consecrated in 1094. I need to do more
research but not tonight.
***I'm operating under the assumption that you've seen pictures of Venice at some point in your life. If not, I’ve included some for your benefit. So now you have, either way.
****From Twain: They say St. Mark had a tame lion and used to travel with him—and everywhere that St. Mark went, the lion was sure to go. It was his protector, his friend, his librarian. And so the Winged Lion of St. Mark, with the open Bible under his paw, is a favorite emblem in the grand old city. It casts its shadow from the most ancient pillar in Venice, in the Grand Square of St. Mark, upon the throngs of free citizens below, and has so done for many a long century. The winged lion is found everywhere—and doubtless here, where the winged lion is, no harm can come.