Wednesday 17th
(I've resisted the temptation of that Jeff in Venice title for so long. It's a bad pun, I know, but it's also the title of a new novel coming out in 2009, so I thought that by using it I might also pick up a few confused searches later on.)

Apart from the 5 o'clock wakeup my journey went without snags. The security-check queue at Gatwick was short and swift, but just as I was putting my belt back on after the scanning arch, and so about to attain trouser-security, I was asked to take my shoes off to put them through another x-ray machine and then an apologetic chap with a clip-board started asking me about my destination and the length of my trip. Phew!

So, Venice in no time (well an hour and fifty minutes), no queue for bus tickets, and the only small blight the annoying man on the bus faffing loudly about paying a Euro too much for his bus ticket with a different company and then having an exhibitionist mobile-phone call to his secretary, so proving how important he is, even when he's just about to start his holiday. Pshaw!

My hotel, The Locanda Gaffaro, is but a five-minute walk from Piazzale Roma. My room is not going to be ready until one o'clock, the chap with the unwarm manner tells me, so I ditch the case and the laptop and head out for some lunch and reassurance. I am soon reassured that Venice is indeed still special, and I buy an ordinary slice of pizza and sit in the campo by the Frari fašade and eat it. Entertainment is provided by a chap with a guitar singing what sounds like a very early Eagles song, but which I eventually recognise as Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. Soon someone comes and sits and smokes near me, as they always do, so I move off. As I'm just aimlessly wandering my feet slip into the groove to the Rialto and then on up to the railway station. Near La Maddalena, in the main drag up to the station, from a place called Il Gelatone, I have my first gelato - fior di latte and lemon sorbet, and very subtle the flavours are too, especially the nicely un-sherbety lemon. In front of the station there's a weird huge free-standing staircase made of wood (see above right). I take some photos from it, just because I can. On my way back to the hotel I buy some Nicolotta Veneziana - basically Venetian bread pudding, but not so spicy. I notice that the controversial new Calatrava bridge is now open, so the stealthy non-celebratory opening happened after all. Pah!

Back at the hotel the man with the borderline-surly manner books me in and my room is fine - not huge or plush but it'll do. It's down a short corridor behind the reception desk, which might be a noise problem, but I'll see what kind of a night's sleep I get. I brew myself some herb tea in my plastic tooth-mug (must get a proper mug) using the water-boiling thing I bought several trips ago and settle down for tea, cake and little rest.

An early-evening walk to San Marco, of course, checking out the scaffolding on the way - the view towards the Salute from the Accademia bridge is now even more blighted (see right), there's unsightly stuff around the bottom of the campanile in the Piazza, the part of the front of the Doge's Palace where the chunk fell off is still all scaffolded over, and the Bridge of Sighs is hemmed around by an abomination of blue advertising hoardings. Sigh!
 

 



















 




















  Thursday 18th
Having been awake since 5 yesterday morning I had been looking forward to lots of sleep last night. I was more than a little frustrated in this, however, by the noise from the front desk, my room being near it as I said. The music from the radio desisted by about 11, but people coming in and phone calls being taken did not help hasten me to my slumber, and the builders starting up next door at 8 swiftly ended it. I later asked if there was a quieter room available, but was told brusquely that mine was a quiet room. My experience of hotels in Venice is usually that they are OK but not worth a repeat trip or recommending. So this hotel more than conforms to type. But enough of this, let's get out.

I decide to devote today to my local churches around San Polo and Santa Croce, these being the sestieri with the most gaps to fill on my Venetian churches website  as this is not my usual patch. I started with San Rocco. The church tends to be overshadowed by the Scuola next door, and after that Tintoretto-fest you might not need any more. The church is well lit and so not as dark and requiring of coins-in-slots as many others. There are Tintorettos, but they're a bit unspecial, especially after the Scuola, the best being an Annunciation to the left of the door. The chancel is attractively decorated and above the altar is the saint himself, whose remains were brought here in 1485.

On to Santa Maria Mater Domini, which is pleasingly plain and uncongested by art, with yellowy-buff coloured walls and grey stonework with some white marble and those red curtain-material-covered columns. What art there is is pretty fine, including an early and therefore less dark Tintoretto, The Invention of the Cross, and The Vision of Saint Christina by Catena, a mysterious pupil of Giov. Bellini who seems to have been a spice merchant who painted part-time.

Next, and best, was San Cassiano. The church has no fašade and a very plain exterior (see above left) but makes up for this inside. The interior is highly decorated but manages to stay this side of excessive, despite having an altar by Meyring and Nardo, the first being responsible for the decoration of San Moise, the church that makes you say 'blimey!' His work here is relatively restrained as are the rather splendid Venetian chandeliers. The use of pale colours generally lightens the interior, even the heavily decorated ceiling, with its paintings by Cedini. Even the Tintorettos here are likeable, with a Crucifixion, Resurrection and Descent Into Limbo ranged in sequence around the chancel. St John in the Crucifixion even gestures comic-strip-like to the Resurrection over the altar. Then in The Descent into Limbo Jesus meets up with Adam and a very sexy Eve. I had to ask, but access to the small chapel half way along the left hand wall is worth it as it is an odd little room - all marble and inlaid semi-precious stones. Also it contains a painting of the Martyrdom of San Cassiano, and yes those children are hacking at him and stabbing him with pens. He was a teacher murdered by his pupils using pens, and so is the patron saint of schoolteachers. My guidebook tells me that this gruesome painting features in the novel Lucifer's Shadow by David Hewson, which I have not read.

On my way to get lunch I dropped into San Stae. I was intending to buy a Chorus Card here but the Chorus woman on the desk didn't even know enough English to understand 'Chorus Card', so she let me in for nothing, maybe because the place was featuring an exhibit for the Architecture Biennale and as it was so tedious she probably felt she should be paying me to look at it. The items on display in the exhibit were described as 'conceptual objects', a meaningless phrase which just about sums them up. The church itself is squarish and pale and has no pews and a few unexceptional paintings by 18th Century painters. (My guidebook suggests that these are better than I thought, but one of the exhibits was making a funny noise which may have put me off and did make me leave a bit quickly. There was also nowhere to sit. Excuses over.) The fašade is a low-key baroque riot by Domenico Rossi, but still likeable.
After a soft and fresh mozza/tom ciabatta roll from the station I had another cono from Il Gelatone - vanilla and strawberry and yummy. Today's cake, also from the station buffet, was called a Brioche Bicolore (left) and had stripes of filling flavoured with forest fruits and apricot. A new one on me, the sugar/fruit balance was a bit too tipped towards the sugary, but not a bad cake at all.

On my evening stroll I came to a canal where some children were racing paper boats, I think made by the elderly relative who was helping, which were of a wind-propelled type I'd never seen before. I can best describe them as like classic dart-shaped paper aeroplanes folded in the middle with a strut attached holding the wide end up like a sail. When the wind caught them they truly went like the clappers. And then who should come along the canal but the famous female gondolier, in a somewhat non-standard white sailor-type uniform.  Walking off my evening meal I revisited some old haunts in Cannaregio, picked up a cono there (coco/limone), got some earplugs from a farmacia, and found an internet point with wi-fi! I've not been able to put these ramblings up on my site yet, but tomorrow I'll return to this joint and then I hope to be posting daily, or maybe bi-daily. It's not very near you see, being a little way along the canal behind San Felice, but it is bright and new and unsordid. The helpful chap said that once I pay and get the logon I can even use the service from the bridge outside if the place is closed! Back to my hotel via the Calatrava Bridge (left) which is proving a nifty alternative route for me and seems to be becoming pretty popular and well used. It does wobble a bit, though, and the transition from stepped to smooth and then back to steps again can trip up the unwary. Ahem!       
Friday 19th
Thank heaven for little ear-plugs! This being what Maurice Chevalier used to sing when those pesky little girls got too noisy. After a good and uninterrupted night's sleep I decided to celebrate with a shave. The hotel has a garden where breakfast is served, but at such cool times of year as this they serve it in your room. Yesterday morning I'd followed instructions and rang the desk when I was ready and a tray (with a cup of coffee, a slice of toast, a sweet croissant, some jam and a couple of packets of those rusk things) was swiftly brought by the younger and nicer chap. This morning Mr Grumpy brought it unasked-for half way through my shave.

My plan today was to head up past the station, visit San Geremia and then wend through Cannaregio and hopefully have the stamina to get all the way over to some unphotographed churches in Castello. Some chance! I thought I'd check out the two poor churches crammed behind Piazzale Roma on my way. Sant'Andrea della Zirada I'd photographed last year, and this year the view of it's fašade was no less impeded by piles of builder's stuff. Santa Chiara, just around the corner, I'd not found but found it today and it was open!  It's very small and neo-classical, building having been begun in 1815, when the closing of churches was more common than the building. It has an unusual barrel-vaulted chancel which is only the width of the body of the church. This is divided from the main - flat-roofed - body by two very chunky Ionic columns.  There are no paintings but two side altars feature purple curtains where the church's two Quarenas (currently in restauro) should be.

San Geremia
is entered from the campo of the same name, and you actually thereby enter from the right-hand side. The main fašade  damaged in a fire in 1998 is undergoing restoration, but still looks pretty destroyed. The interior takes the form of a Greek cross and can best be described as dirty white with buff-coloured detailing. And it has far too many signs - word-processed and hand-written signs telling you what's forbidden, or how much you must pay for things, cover every flat surface, and some curved ones. It's oppressive. The chapel of Saint Lucy - her remains were moved here when her name church was demolished to make way for the railway station - is off to the left and backs onto the Grand Canal. You can even go up behind the altar and press your nose against the glass case she lays in, which is creepy. Her face is covered by a silver mask but her hands and feet are horribly visible. The art is so middling I found myself admiring an Annunciation by the much-maligned (and not just by me) Palma il Giovane, even though it was dark and badly-illuminated. A Tintoretto is promised in a museum to the right of Saint Lucy's chapel, but this seems now to be a gift shop. But I'd had my fill of Tintorettos yesterday so wasn't inclined to make a fuss.

Heading off into Cannaregio I found the mythical neighbourhood shop from one of my past trips that still sells bottles of San Benedetto water for 50 cents, made a purchase and strolled on. Passing the odd little church of Santa Maria dei Redentore I found that it was open! It is a plain small aisleless space with a pair of side altars and quite a nice painting of saints and the holy family over the main altar. Nowhere in the church to find out anything about this painting and no-one to ask. It looked 16th Century.

After some walking and photographing I decided to get some lunch. I bought one of those olive and cheese-stuffed bread things and crossed the Rialto, intending to make my off-the-beaten-track way back to my hotel, finding a pleasant spot to eat my lunch along the way. And I found Campo San Boldo, a very pleasant spot, with a comfy well-head to lean against and watch gondolas go by. When I left I looked back and noticed that the palazzo I'd sat looking at (the one with the chirping budgies in the window on the second floor) seemed to be propped up by a truncated campanile. But there's no church anywhere nearby. Maybe there was a church of San Boldo that was demolished. I'll check later. (I checked later, and I was right!) Meanwhile here's the proof (right). Cono on the walk
back, from the place behind the Frari: chocolate and coconut. Cake of the day: apple strudel, and the best cake so far - very fruity and a bit spicy.

I have not mentioned the weather so far as it's been cool and cloudy and not the sort of weather to not wear a jacket. As I finished typing the above and packed up my laptop to lug it half-way (well maybe quarter-way) across Venice to the favoured cyber-point I mentioned little did I know that the sky had turned blue and the weather warm. Raised temperature, heavy bag, long walk,  jacket on...you get the picture? Anyway I've uploaded all this safely and so I'm now off back out into the sunshine.

I treated myself to another gelato on the way back, and went for two new flavours - green apple and pistachio. This may seem like a bit of a green dominated choice, but the pistachio was in fact brown. So there. I also found some uve fragola (the strawberry grapes I mentioned on my 2006 trip) on sale from one of the stalls by San Leonardo. I'd missed the season last year so was not about to not buy a too-big pannier this time. Not having a Grand Canal-side balcony to spit the pips from is a bit of a come down, but I did spit some pips into lesser canals on my way back to the hotel.
 








I later found a Sargent watercolour of this spot,
 painted from a gondola floating  just to the
left of the edge of this photo.




 








  Saturday 20th
I thought that I deserved a bit more sleep, so I had set my alarm for 8.30. But even through the earplugs I was awakened by knocking on my door soon after 8. I ignored it thinking it was a mistake. Then there was more. I got up and answered the forth lot. A different young guy at the door tells me my breakfast is now cold and he will warm it up. When he returns (the kitchenish area is right next to my room) I tell him I thought he was supposed to bring it when I ring and say I'm ready, he says he understands the contrary. The toast is cold and the coffee tepid. I question all of this with Mr Grumpy on the desk later in the day and he says I'm down for breakfast at 8.20. No-one had told me this, I say. The 's' word still doesn't pass his lips.

But the sky is blue, the  sun is out, and I'm off boating. I buy a vaporetto pass for 48 hours and head from Piazzale Roma around the back, as it were, to the Zattere and over to Giudecca. My first church is Santa Eufemia which has a surprising interior of an old shell bellow, with old columns, contrasting with the flouncy rococo decoration above - all white, pale green and gilding. This effect is accentuated by the plaster on the lower part of the walls having mostly been chipped away to reveal the rough brickwork. The paintings around the chancel are uninspiring works by some followers of Veronese. The art highlight is Saint Roch and the Angel by Vivarini (which was the central panel of a triptych, the info in the church tells us) with a lunette above of The Virgin and Child. This sheet of facts also tells us that The Birth of Christ and The Adoration of the Magi by Marieschi are 'no longer in place' and that the ceiling panels are by G. B. Canal a follower of Tiepolo. There's also a Morleiter statue of the Pieta, where the body of Christ rests on a rock rather than in the usual maternal lap. The Doric portico which faces onto the Giudecca Canal was recently restored, but still looks very grubby.

I then walk around photographing closed churches and stroking a fluffy and orangey tabby cat who was appreciative but also busy chewing grass, so I thought I'd leave him to it. I went and looked wistfully at the ever-locked gate of The Garden of Eden, my page devoted to which is one of my top correspondence-generators. One day we'll get to see inside, I am uncertain of that. I might have gone into the church of the Redentore, but there was a swish wedding on, one of the drawbacks of Saturday church visiting, I suppose. So I caught a vap to San Giorgio Maggiore instead. The interior is stony and monumental, with white walls and thick clusters of supporting columns and pilasters. On the right as you enter is an Adoration of the Shepherds by Jacopo da Bassano, an atmospheric night time scene that benefits greatly from a .50 euro coin in the light. Opposite it is an odd Martyrdom of Saint Lucy by Leandro de Bassano, one of his four painting sons, which depicts strong men and oxen trying to move the saint with ropes. I went up the campanile too - 3 euros and there's a lift - for some stunning views over Venice, and into the nearby cloisters (left).

A no.2 vaporetto came along, going back through the Giudecca canal and around to the bus station and along the Grand Canal. So I got on, got a seat right at the front, and had a good long ride in the sunshine, all the way to San Marco. Opposite the Peggy Guggenheim, in the garden of a swanky hotel, there were crowds of well-dressed guests, maybe from the wedding I'd seen earlier, with so many police at the water gate and in boats that the man sitting behind me said 'Look,  that building must be the police station - nice!' I walked back from San Marco to the Accademia Bridge, noticing that there was confetti outside San Moise too. Imagine getting married in San Moise! I suppose it being such an ugly church means that your guests can't help but look good. I bought a slice of pizza at a fave joint by Campo San Vio, and took it to sit on my favourite bench on the campo looking over the Grand Canal at my favourite stretch of palazzi opposite. Sigh. A man came and joined me on my bench, with his own slice of pizza, and fed the same sparrows, pigeon and seagulls that I'd just been feeding. But then, of course, he lit up a cigarette. I headed back to my hotel west along the Zattere and then up. On the way I picked up a very superior pear and stracciatella ice cream from Nico. But I forgot to get a cake!


Sunday 21st
I woke up before 8.00 this morning and as I was pootling around and waiting for 20 past I noticed a vivid red splodge on my pillow. After checking my head for leaks I realised that I must have squashed one of the mosquitoes that have been finding my arms and head so delicious these past few nights. Hah!

I was having a bit of a dither about today. I had another day left on my vaporetto pass and originally planned to go to Murano but it occurred to me that a Sunday might not be a good day for this as there would be services, and so I might go all that way and not get to see the famous and reputed Giov Bellini painting. The other option was to boat it up to the Eastern part of Castello to photograph the last church I needed, which is so far east it's barely on land. I decided that Sundays, especially cloudy and cold Sundays, are days made for photographing church exteriors, so I might as well go and 'do' Murano. I caught the vap that went around through the Giudecca Canal and on around the East end of Castello, and I spotted the church I need to photograph (Sant'Elena) and even from the back it's clear to see...it's covered in scaffolding! So a wise decision to not trek out there, and a wasted journey thereby prevented. And then as the boat chugged in to the Ospedale stop, an even more fugitive church, Santa Maria del Pianto, which is always closed up and hidden behind a high wall, turns out to be visible partly from the water, and photographable. My cup verily runneth over!

On Murano I photographed the lovely Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato (see far below right) where a service was on, and then found the crumbling and disused Santa Maria degli Angeli. (This is all a mite confusing, as my list says that there's a church called Santa Chiara but doesn't mention Santa Maria degli Angeli.) By the time I got to San Pietro Martire the morning service was over, which meant that the believing people were leaving, and other people with cameras and guidebooks were drifting in. So did I. (The door I drifted in through is pictured above right.) The outside is plain and barnlike, but the interior is impressively spacious and tall, with a deep chancel and side chapels. The ceilings are wooden and the walls have painted friezes over the arches and below the roof line, like in Santo Stefano. There are lots of big chandeliers, of course. Two huge paintings face each other across the aforementioned deep chancel, and there are paintings ranged around the walls, except where the famous Bellini should be, the one I had looked forward to seeing for... I ask where it is, and am told that it's gone to Rome for the big winter Bellini exhibition. Sigh! Walking back to catch a vap I spot the cute little building (right).

I get off the boat at Fondamante Nove and head for the nice pizza
takeaway place up behind San Zanipolo. I sit and eat my mushroom calzone behind the church, admiring the crumbling house whose garden is the area of grass at the East end of the church, complete with tasteful stone features. On the walk back via the Rialto, I pick up a limone and fior di latte gelato somewhere on the way to San Giacomo dall'Orio and a very fruity apple tart thing, in the campo of the same name.

In the evening I decided to use my vap ticket to get me and my laptop to the internet point with less effort, so I caught a no.1 from the bus station to the Ca' d'Oro. The internet place was closed when I got there so I set up on the steps to the bridge outside, but then the owner arrived. After uploading the above and checking my e-mail I got talking to him. I'd mentioned how expensive the cybercafes were in Venice - the  7 Euros an hour I was paying him being about five times what you'd pay in London. This got us onto how expensive everything is in Venice, including rents. He said that he had friends who were well-paid professionals, but had to live in multi-occupancy flats like students. Public transport, even for residents, is shockingly expensive, even worse than London, and if you need a toilet! OK, you can go in a bar but who wants to pay for an overpriced coffee every time you want to pee? This got us onto the growing tourist hoards against declining residents thing, and what can be done. The suggestion that all visitors should pay a fee so that they can't - shock, horror - visit without spending money is just too much like pricing poor people out of Venice. No easy answers, but lots to be pessimistic about.

After dropping my laptop back at the hotel I headed off into Campo Santa Margherita and bought a slice of pizza verdura and sat and ate it watching the world and his small dog and child on a bike go by. Grom, a new gelati chain that a friend in Florence had recommended has opened a branch in Campo San Barnaba. They're a bit more expensive than the going Venetian rate, but judging by my pairing - raspberry and extra dark chocolate - worth every euro. It was lovely. Fortified I took a wandering route back and realised that I 'needed' to find somewhere to get something to nibble with my evening tea. At 8 0'clock on a Sunday evening I wasn't holding out much hope, but found a small food shop open. As I waited behind a woman having some meat sliced I noticed in the fridge that the mineral water was 85 cents! This was a local's shop! When the woman had left, leaving a lovely waft of garlic sausage, I'm not too veggie to admit, I asked for one of the strudels from the case on the counter. And it was 1 euro - truly an unshocking price. I noticed some lost-cat posters on his counter and so we got into the other Venice conversation - where have all the cats gone? He was a firm believer in the Chinese restaurant theory, saying that cats, and small dogs, were being stolen to appear on menus in the city. I've heard this one before but put it down to melodrama and/or racism, but he was adamant, saying that the cats can hardly run away, or be run over by a car. I'm not so sure, if only because I've never seen a Chinese restaurant in Venice.
 







 








Monday 22nd
So, two more days left. What to do? My remaining needs are to continue with the churches in the sestieri near my hotel, go and see the exhibition at the Fortuny Museum, which has been strongly recommended, and hoover up some churches in the San Marco sestiere and maybe into Castello. Which seems to suggest one far day and one near day. I've also read about a bookshop just beyond the Rialto that does part-exchange of pristine-condition novels in English, which will solve the problem of the book I brought to read only to find I'd already read it. Then there's my Bellini in San Zaccaria and those cats in Campo San Lorenzo... So the far day it is. I also decided to take a chance on no jacket, as the sky was blue. This turned out to be an unwise gamble, until about 11.30. This week has been colder than weeks I've had in October, even March.

I go by San Toma on the way, but it's firmly closed, as ever. As is San Samuele over the other side of the GC. So to the Fortuny Museum. It was the early 90s the last time I visited an one of the two exhibitions on is mixed in with the eclectic masses of stuff on the main floor, which I remember as one of those special places where the colours and textures and choices of art combine perfectly, and perfectly evoke its creator. The exhibition stuff mostly adds to, or at least doesn't detract from, this charm. The other exhibition, of the drawings of George Barbier, is not to my taste, his work looking too much like 20s fashion designs. Too girly, except for the nudes, which I quite liked.

Onward, via the San Lorenzo cat colony. The fenced-off pile of workman's stuff is back in the Campo and there were few cats to be seen. Then a stupid woman brought her stupid aggressive little dog, which wasn't on a lead, to chase the cats (including the worse-for-wear tabby favouring his right back leg, above left)  despite her shouting at it. Before the temptation to strangle got too strong I made for San Zaccaria and attained calm in front of my loved Bellini. I photographed some more churches on my way to San Francesco di Paola on the Via Garibaldi, and it was open! But it being 11.50, as it always is, I got only a few minutes to admire the famously unusual gallery at the back, with its two narrow arms stretching half way into the church. But I did have a short chat with one of the two chaps chucking me out and he was able to answer my enquiry about the other odd thing about this church, the clock painted on the facade. He shrugged, mentioned that the church used to face another church over a canal, before the canal was filled in and the other church was demolished to make way for the public gardens, and said that it's because Saint Francis died at 9,30. I then found Sant'Isepo (aka San Giuseppe di Castello) a church that's in a bit of a mess, but its campanile is still ringing (left). Tintoretto, Palma il Giovane and Veronese all have stuff inside, the old sign tells us.

Walked up to the same takeaway pizza place I
went to yesterday, because I'm a creature of habit, the pizza's good, and yesterday I'd forgotten to have a gelato from nearby Rosa Salva.  I didn't forget today, which was lucky, because the hand-written sign said pampelmo. I've never had grapefruit ice cream before, but boy do I want to have it from here again. Very, very special. Then on the long walk back, I bought a zaletto veneziana, which is one of those almost-cake almost-biscuit things and I think I'm finally getting the point of them.

After my afternoon rest I decided to see if I could manage a couple of evening visits to churches in Cannaregio that I'd never been inside. On the way I was sidetracked by San Nicolo da Tolentino. Having passed the place so often I was not expecting the interior to be such a contrast to the hulking great exterior, so was not expecting the quiet baroque riot inside. Recently having been restored the decoration is very, but not over. The stucco and frescoes do not make you feel the breathlessness that this style often engenders. This trip so far had lead me to suspect that I'd seen most of the best art, but there's some very nice stuff in here from the 16th and 17th Centuries, some by people I've never heard of. OK so there are too many by Palma il Giovane, just like there are far too many putti in his Annunciation, a subject that usually features none of the little blighters. There are a couple of paintings by Sante Peranda I liked especially, one being of S. Gaetano, and The Charity of Saint Lawrence by Strozzi is striking, and not just because it seems to depict the saint being sold some nice lamps by an old geezer. And I have to mention the tomb of Francesco Morosoni, a huge and frantic piece of work on the left side of the chancel, which has a carved curtain being pulled back by angels to reveal the lounging patriarch who manages to be lounging surprised, and praying simultaneously.

On my way I noticed that San Simeon Piccolo (the one eternally behind the hoarding, opposite the railway station) was open. I looked in but there was a service on, with nuns in the congregation even. My quick look took in a small, but bright, circular space. San Marcuola was ten minutes from closing by the time I got near it, so I  headed up to San Marziale. There was a service in progress here too, with two old ladies, and the priest with them, chanting sitting down facing the front. I'd come so far I sat quietly at the back and took in the plain and aisleless space with six extravagant side altars. Four feature barley-sugar spiral columns and two are even more sticky-outy and architectural with precarious putti. The ceiling paintings were disappointing as they were sorely lacking in the luminosity my guidebook had promised.

I trudged back (today has been a heavy foot-toll day) via the Rialto Bridge, where things were looking lovely and dusky, and through some narrow back calli and over quiet dark canals with lights sparkling. I even found the famous old red light district around the Ca' Rampana and the Fondamanta della Tette (tette being tits, as in breasts) where the prostitutes used to hang out, as it were. At this suggestion of sensual pleasure I decided to head over to Campo San Barnaba, where I sampled Grom's wares again. The extra noir chocolate again, with Mirtillo this time. Better than sex it was too.

Tuesday 23rd
I've desisted with the whinging about my hotel, you will have noticed. The Fawlty Towers thing was wearing a bit thin, even for me. But I have to say that this morning, when he brought me my breakfast, Basil said buon giorno. The first polite greeting I've had from him since I arrived. It may just be me, as I hear him being friendly to other guests and people on the phone. Maybe I remind him of the man who stole his wife, or daughter, or something.

Today I'd set aside for local churches, and I warn you I visited seven this morning! I started with San Simeon Grande with its pleasingly rough-looking original columns, it's asymmetric layout and the Tintoretto Last Supper that looks unfinished, as well as like many hands were involved. The chapel to the right of the chancel has some nice 18th C? frescoing on the ceiling that's considerably corroded lower down. A reclining statue of the saint himself that Ruskin made some typically waspish comment about could not be found by me. San Zan Dagola next, the church of Headless Saint John. Old, dark and sparsely decorated, this one is 11th Century with very few later additions, a ships-keel ceiling, and a nicely weathered look. It re-opened in 1994 after having been closed for twenty years. It has painted walls and bits of  archaic-looking fresco discovered during the restoration.

A trek over to the Rialto to look inside San Silvestro, a very unarchaic church mostly dating from the mid-19th Century when it was rebuilt in a relatively unembellished neoclassical style. It has a flat ceiling painted with coffering. There's a Tintoretto Baptism of Christ opposite an appealingly bright sub-Bellini St Thomas a Becket Enthroned. It's by Girolamo da Santacroce from 1520, but with a couple more dingy saints added in the 19th Century. Each of these paintings is too small and the wrong shape for the spaces they inhabit. Opposite the church entrance is the house where Giorgione died of the plague in 1510. San Giacomo di Rialto is hemmed in by the market  bustle. It's a dinky little Greek-Cross shaped church with some charm, but no real art, which is not the problem for San Giovanni Elemosinario which is also Greek-Cross shaped and also continues the day's classical thing. The art here's better with a bright Pordenone-frescoed cupola and a Titian altarpiece of the church's name saint, St John the Almsgiver. This church also had the keenest and most communicative Chorus attendant I've ever had the pleasure of chatting with. She not only sold me a very tasteful Chorus canvas book-bag, she passed on washing and ironing instructions (30 degrees and inside-out) and told me that they are made by prisoners in Santa Maria Maggiore, the church-attached prison just west of Piazzale Roma.

Feeling hungry and a bit churched out I stopped for a slice of aubergine-topped pizza from a place called Pizza 2000, which had locals queuing in it, which is always a good sign. As I was quite near San Giacomo dell'Orio at this stage I thought I'd squeeze this one in before my afternoon rest. This is another Santa Croce sestiere church with the ancient thing going on, with more old columns and capitals, and the asymmetrical theme too. It has some surprising spaces, like the opened-out right side, some odd little chapels, and two sacristies. Also surprising is the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, a sudden burst of 17th Century decorative overkill and balustrades and a painted dome. One sacristy is full of Palma il Giovanes -the church has 12 paintings by the prolific little... There's also a Lotto altarpiece, The Madonna and Four Saints, though, and a Veneziano painted crucifix. There's a small square and easily-missed Veronese is a dingy little side chapel. But the weirdest painting here, and maybe in the whole of Venice, is the deceptively innocently named Miracle of the Virgin by Zompani. What it actually shows is a chap who has run up and attacked Mary's funeral procession, only to find himself miraculously thrown to the ground with his hands ripped off and still attached to the coffin. My guidebook tells me that this painting also features in David Hewson's novel Lucifer's Shadow, as does another bizarre painting I found on Saturday in San Cassiano.














To add to the day's weirdness quota I bought an almond pasty thing (above) on my way back to the hotel, only to find it contained chocolate paste. I nearly took it back, but ate it instead. Not weird, but tempting nonetheless, was one of those shops selling printed stuff I found in Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini. These shops vary in taste and tackiness but in Grafiche Ellemme I bought four very tasteful cards, a bookmark and a packet of bookplates. The authentic smell of ink in the shop inspires confidence in itself.


 
 




After resting, I realised that this was going to be my first Venice visit ever during which I didn't visit the Accademia. This didn't seem right. It was nearly 5, the gallery closes at 7.30, I could be there in 15 minutes. I'm a confirmed morning man as far a gallery-going goes, so this was a novelty. But the place was decidedly uncrowded at this time. I could get used to this. I decided I was going to act casual and wander and soak up, rather than reading and learning. The room where The Tempest and the smaller Bellinis used to live is still 'temporarily' closed - that's two years now. They have now been given a better purpose-created home in one of the smaller rooms towards the end, but most of the Bellinis were, of course, not there due to having been loaned to the exhibition in Rome. My favourite Veronese Annunciation was back, though, the wall having been blank last year. And a big Sebastiano del Piombo being on loan to the exhibition I went to in Berlin meant that there was a huge Cima de Conigliano altarpiece dragged from storage in its place, which was nice. In the shop I was tempted and bought a little book about Titian that's pocketable, readable, and has good colour plates, which is an unusual combination for an art book.

Went to Piazzale Roma to get my bus ticket for tomorrow, and came back via a gelateria I'd noticed in Calle dei Bari a few days back and seemed to remember from a trip ages ago. I remembered unusual flavours and was not wrong. Tonight I had fig and ginger, but was also tempted by pear, almond or uve fragola flavours!

I'm home tomorrow, and decided not to haul my laptop out tonight, leaving the posting of this last update until I'm home tomorrow. Sorry if you looked and were disappointed.
 



  Wednesday 24th
The hotel's reception is up an outside flight of stone stairs to the second floor, with a gate with a remotely-opened lock at the bottom at the entrance to the garden. You buzz and the reception guy presses the unlock button. Except yesterday afternoon he'd disappeared and some people were buzzing for about 15 minutes, on and off. When I came back myself in early evening the gate was open and there was nobody upstairs. I leant over the counter and got my own key.

This morning I asked to pay my bill, did so, with no sign of a 'Thank you' or even an 'I hope you enjoyed your stay'. After last-minute packing away I was ready to leave, and regretting not having enough Italian to manage a sarcastic 'Thank you so much!' As I passed the desk I contented myself with a low-key 'Arrivederci' and then Basil starts asking me when my flight was and how I was getting to the airport. A conversation! At this stage!

The trip home was a bit more delayed that the one out - a very long queue at check in and the flight delayed by 40 minutes. But a quick pass through security at Marco Polo and fast baggage reclaim at Gatwick, so contentment, on balance. And more than content to be met by J. at Gatwick with an M&S sweet-potato wrap, some mango juice and a drive home, to two cats and some soothing cream slapped on my multiple mosquito bites.

To sum up: not the best trip for cat-spotting, accommodation, weather, or insect-interaction, but Venice is still the best place. The fact that I was sweeping up (as it were) some of the more minor churches means that I was not exactly experiencing the biggest and best places, I accept that. But the word familiarity is maybe beginning to apply with enough strength to almost get the word over put in front of it. Maybe. But ask me when the bites have stopped itching, or later when the trip-booking urge becomes great.


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