Venice, Italy: Adrift in a Lagoon


Originally Published on February 13, 2005 (Honolulu Advertiser)

“The plague!” declared Lorenza Lian through her puffy, Venetian lips, “We were, how do you say … relieved of the plague by Santa Maria and so every November 20th we light the candles at the Chiesa Santa Maria della Salute in gratitude.” She beamed as she talked as if her Venice had been delivered from the deadly scourge just last week. But the Black Death she was speaking of that killed every third person across Europe (nearly 25 million people) occurred nearly 700 hundred years ago.

Venetians, like the history of their little city, have memories that go way back. Outside there was no end in sight to the line of faithful who inched across a temporary pontoon bridge that reached across the Grand Canal to the church. Well-dressed Venetian women in fur coats and couture shoes and stylishly appointed men, crept along a typically meager calle. It was so narrow in one place that I was sure it was named Calle Thermopylae.

While standing motionless within the crush of worshipers, I concluded that every one of the 30,000 residents of Venice were coming to the church to light votive candles in thanks to Saint Mary. Their devotion reveals a lot about how Venetians view time. In a city as ancient as this, time is relative. To speak of Genghis Khan, Marco Polo, or Cristoforo Columbo is not so much ancient history as it is gossip.