Fourteen Months Abroad – Venice, Italy

October 15.—We are in Venice—the city of canals and gondolas. A gondola brought us with all our luggage to the side entrance of this pension yesterday afternoon. Water flooded the first step of the porch, but we landed safely on the second without wet feet. Our train passed over a stone bridge more than two miles long as we entered Venice. I was rather sorry, after all, to leave Verona. I became more interested in that very ancient city and wish we might have remained longer to become more acquainted with it and with the better class of people. But half past eleven found us at the station waiting for our train, which brought us safely here at half past two. We have our room in Casa Kirsch and take our meals at Hotel Metropole. Last evening we could obtain only a poor little room, as the pension is crowded. In passing from one house to the other we cross a bridge over one of the canals. We saw beautiful red climbing roses yesterday on a building near a station. There were slender, tapering evergreens on our way and rows of unknown trees across the fields with broad spaces between for cultivation.

October 16—We have been to the other house for break-fast and have talked with Mrs. Rhodes, an artist from America, who is traveling alone. Our landlady has found us a more comfortable room. The weather is cloudy with more or less rain. We find it hard to adapt ourselves to these damp, water-soaked houses. Our windows look down upon one of the canals. The gloomy looking black gondolas and other boats are continually passing through this canal and under the bridge quite near us. We look out also upon a beautiful broad lagoon, on which steamers, some of them large, are going back and forth. From the station we came partly on the Canal Grande, then by smaller canals and under bridges. Our gondola collided with another, making a sensation; the man in the other gondola lost his oar.

“Venice is seven miles in circumference. The Grand Canal winds through the city in a double curve, dividing it into two unequal parts, and is the main thoroughfare—a `marine Broadway.’ ” The canal under our window is Rio dei Greci. “The city has three large islands and one hundred and fourteen smaller ones, which are formed by forty-six canals ; by means of four hundred bridges it is held in a compact mass, so that despite the watery ways it is possible to walk all over Venice from one end to the other. For all ordinary purposes of travel and traffic the canal is the high-way and the gondola is the vehicle.” A genuine street is called Via and the broad pavement which borders on the lagoon is a Riva. There are real streets, but we have as yet seen only the narrow paths along some of the canals. This lagoon is separated from the Adriatic Sea by a long and narrow sand bank divided by several inlets. One of these inlets, Port di Lido, was anciently the main entrance for ships. The Isola di Rialto is the chief of the hundred or more Venetian islands. The famous Rialto Bridge receives its name from this island.

Yesterday was devoted to the Piazza di San Marco (St. Mark’s Place) which is the largest open space in Venice and is said to be the finest square in Europe. Here “is the great center of business and amusement and of all that is grandest and lovliest in Venetian architecture.” On the east side is St. Mark’s church. Near it stands the Campanile, or bell tower of St. Mark, and on the left of St. Mark is the clock tower where two giant bronze figures standing on the plat-form by the great bell strike the hours with sledge hammers. At two o’clock each day flocks of pigeons which live in the Piazza descend into the square to be fed by visitors who buy corn for them of men who are offering it for sale. The four bronze horses above the portal of St. Mark’s, carried away by Napoleon I and afterwards restored, are of pure copper, each weighing about two tons. They were brought to Venice from Constantinople in 1205. We walked through the arcades around the piazza looking at the lovely treasures in the stores. A service was being held in St. Mark’s Church. The priest was elegantly robed.

As I look down upon the canal almost underneath our windows, I enjoy seeing the gondolas pass under the bridge. I look with interest to see what sort of freight is in each gondola. There goes one full of people. We see boats containing freight of various kinds. I stand and look out, either into the canal below us, or off to the lagoon, where can be seen large and small steamers, gondolas, sailing vessels and other vessels and boats. It seems damp and chilly. L. says that “Venice is a great place to see, but a desperately poor place to live in.” We are almost afraid to stay here. A lady speaking some English has charge of this pension. Each day at twelve a heavy cannon is fired. It just now startled me. Umbrellas are up.

October 17.—Again we have been to St. Mark’s Church. Sitting in front of the great altar, we were prepared to en-joy the morning service. Three priests in rich robes were officiating. On each side of the altar were old men and young men who sang and did the responsive reading. Men wearing black skirts with short white robes trimmed with broad white lace and maroon-colored silk capes coming down to the waists were on each side of the altar. The large, heavy gold crosses hanging from their necks and against their breasts they touched with reverence. Other men, young and old, were dressed simply in black skirts and short, white gowns trimmed with broad lace. These men (sometimes carrying candles) conducted the priests out of the church when the service was over. Before leaving the church we met two ladies from Cleveland. The younger lady asked L. if he did not remember teaching her Anglo-Saxon in the College for Women. He replied, “You know we forget things when we are abroad.” He recalls her now. How interesting such unexpected meetings are in a foreign land, and in this wonderful city of Venice ! Leading into St. Mark’s Church are three metal doors inlaid with silver. The verd antique canopy over the high altar is supported by four columns of Greek marble. It is rich and imposing. The altar is said to contain the body of St. Mark. The colors of the mosaics, both interior and exterior, are remarkably bright and well preserved, covering an area of 45,790 square feet, or more than an acre. Its profuse decorations in gilding, bronze and rich marbles, its mosaics, its carvings, its statuary, its five domes, its pointed canopies—all make it a marvelous old church. We admired the tesselated floors—inlaid stone floors. L. thinks “there is not another such church in the world.” This morning, on our way to our room from breakfast, we stepped into an old church close by. All was shabby both without and within except the paintings by old masters and a very large fresco painting on the high ceiling.

A crowd of people are walking over the bridge. Boats are passing underneath containing vegetables, furniture and other things—on Sunday afternoon ! In Germany, Italy and Austria we have not seen that regard for the Sabbath which we have in America.

Later.—We took a gondola and crossed to the Santa Maria della Salute, which stands at the entrance of the Grand Canal. This church with its beautiful domes, its sixteen marble steps (which we ascended), its fine paintings by Tintoretto, Titian and others, its statuary, and its seven altars, is said by many to rank next to St. Mark’s in splendor. It was built by the Senate as a thank offering on the cessation of the plague in 1630. Nearly one hundred statues make beautiful its three facades. The high altar, wonderful for its large amount of statuary, is crowned by the figure of the Madonna holding the child Jesus in her arms. She is directing an angel to drive out the plague (an old hag).

October 18.—For awhile the rain ceased and we walked to the post office and to stores to look at views—photographs and picture postals—returning to lunch at half past twelve. We have here what L. calls a “continental breakfast;” dinner is at half past six in the evening.

October 19.—Our room is full of sunshine this bright, beautiful morning. There have been breaks in the bad weather here so that we have been able to go about doing things that did not need bright days. Yesterday after-noon a steamer carried us the whole length of the Grand Canal, a little beyond the railway station. On our way we stopped at the Rialto Bridge. This stone bridge was for centuries (till 1854) the only bridge over the Grand Canal. Now there are two iron bridges. We went up and over by broad stone steps in the center of the bridge, on both sides of which are shops with all sorts of merchandise. From the bridge we descended to the square in front of the oldest church in Venice, built in 520, which is now considered unsafe and is closed. This square was Shakespeare’s “Rialto” in “The Merchant of Venice. On our way along the canal we saw numberless old palaces and some old churches. Next to the Grand Hotel we passed what is said to have been Desdemona’s palace. In one of the palaces near the Academy of Fine Arts Browning died. On returning we went by the lagoon to the Public Gardens. There we saw a beautiful mass of single dahlias—a dozen or more different shades and colors—and roses. But the most astonishing sight was the gigantic yuccas in full bloom. L. stood beside one, I put the umbrella on the top of his hat, and the stalks of bloom were still higher. They were ten feet high at least, and so heavy and immense that stout sticks were necessary to support them. The reflection of the sunset in the water of the lagoon we greatly admired. We have climbed the thirty-six inclined planes in the campanile or bell tower of St. Mark to the belfry. From this point we enjoyed a fine view of the whole city. We looked down upon the five domes of St. Mark’s Church in the form of a Creek cross, the central one being the largest, and upon the stone bridge on which we entered Venice, which is two and three-fourths miles long with two hundred and twenty-one arches. Clothes were drying on the tops of houses. The tower beginning at the ground is separate from the church. The inclined planes, substituted for steps, end at the now un-used spiral staircase which leads into the spire. Mrs. R. was with us. We found our large field glass useful.

October 20.—Mrs. Rhodes accompanied us yesterday after dinner to the Public Gardens where L. took a picture of a large yucca. Met there Mrs. C. and daughter, who returned with us. We all went to the Rialto Bridge where L. tried to take a picture of the shops on the bridge. We saw the Browning House, an old palace in good condition. Beautiful pink geraniums were blooming in the windows. A memorial tablet to the poet is on the south outer wall of the house. Last evening Mrs. R. and I went without L. to the piazza of St. Mark to see it illuminated and to hear a large Italian band play. The piazza was full of people celebrating the thirty-first union of Venice to Italy. The musicians wore circular cloaks and hats heavily trimmed with long, green cock’s plumes, or feathers, which frequently fell over their faces. We see a variety of costumes in Venice.

An Italian man-of-war is opposite us in the lagoon, near the end of the Grand Canal.

October 21.—L. has gone to the post office to order our mail sent from London. I must take back some things that I have said against Venice. The dampness and smells and mustiness that we noticed here at first have mostly disappeared with the wet, disagreeable weather. Meanwhile Venice is growing upon us. Oh how beautiful the outlook is from our windows this morning! The clouds are heavy but the air is clear and the lagoon is beautiful. The delicate pink and green shades are lovely. The buildings and trees on the other side of the lagoon, which have been more or less veiled since we have been here, are very distinct, especially through the glass. The boats with red sails are beautiful on the green waters of the lagoon. It is strange that in Munich and all the way here from Munich the rivers have been green, and now the water in the lagoon and canals in Venice is green. Here comes L.

Later.—The Piazza (Square) on which St. Mark’s Church stands is a fine open space 560 feet in length. Arcades line three sides and contain the finest shops in Venice. At right angles with the Piazza is the Piazzetta—a small square which opens to the south. On this Piazzetta stand the two famous columns of oriental granite—the red column bearing on its summit the marble statue of St. Theodore, the grey column the winged lion of St. Mark in bronze. “All public demonstrations, civil, religious, and patriotic, are held on the Piazza. In no other city in the world does the life of the place so center in one spot.”

This afternoon we enjoyed a sail in the steamer on the lagoon to the Lido and back; passed an American convent. Since dinner I have been visiting Mrs. Coe in her room. Her daughter has kindly given L. the names of some hotels and pensions at different places.

October 22.—L. and I this morning called on the Amercan Consul, threading our way along the narrow paved paths to his home. Soon after lunch we went with Miss Suter to St. Mark’s Church to see the celebrated Pala d’oro, a rich altarpiece of gold and silver plate, ornamented with gems, enamels and cameos. Then L. returned home and I went with Mrs. R. and Miss S. into a lace school where we saw the girls making lace on the little hard pillows. Bob-bins were largely used instead of needles. Afterwards we priced the lace in the stores and found it expensive. Miss S. and I left Mrs. R. them and returned home in a heavy rain. We have met here two sisters from Copenhagen, an Austrian lady and her daughter, and a gentleman and his wife from Hungary.

October 23.—We were taken through the rich apartments of the royal hotel Danieli this morning, including the Doge’s room and bedroom. The furniture and mirrors were rich with gold. Four paintings of the Doges (Dukes) were shown us, one of the Doge who built this palace, which is now a hotel. Afterwards a steamer conveyed us to St. George’s Church on its island, where we spent an hour looking at the paintings by Tintoretto and at the wonderfully carved wood-work back of the altar in the sacristy. Again on board the steamer we explored the Guidecca Canal, which is much larger and deeper than the Grand Canal. We passed warehouses but no palaces. Miss S. was with us. It was a rough but pleasant trip. A body of soldiers just passed us and went over the bridge ; they wore white hats with a bit of red in front, yellowish trousers and dark blue coats trimmed with red.

Evening.—L. and I found this afternoon that we can take walks even in Venice. We went by a roundabout way to the clock tower, then through the tower and along the narrow shopping street (Merceria) to the church of San Salvatore (Holy Saviour), where there was a large amount of statuary, a remarkable altarpiece and two paintings by Titian. One beautiful painting was lighted by candles. From the church we went to the general Post Office and from there to the Rialto Bridge and market. We walked back.

The shop windows on each side of the narrow walks were full of beautiful things this afternoon. In one place we passed a vegetable store where they were cooking, out of doors in front of the store, a large kettle full of what looked like sweet potatoes. I am told that vegetables are cooked for poor people who cannot afford fires. Fuel is expensive in Italy. There are plenty of mosquitoes here. Lace is furnished to cover all the beds at night. L. has used his every night, but I, not taking the trouble, have some bites that I do not enjoy. L. says, speaking of the old architecture in Venice, that “there is the most faded gentility” here he ever saw. Even on the sides of some of these miserable old buildings there are old Corinthian columns with the arches above.

October 24.-Since writing we have visited the Doge’s palace with Mrs. and Miss C. We were first conducted into the prison by the guide and saw the various cells, including one where the prisoners made confession to a priest through a grating before execution. We then went into the Palace and saw the paintings, among others a very large oil painting, the Glory of Paradise, by Tintoretto, containing thirteen hundred figures. We passed through all the rooms, which were filled with paintings by different masters, and saw the wonderful ceilings and mantelpiece. I touched one of the giants as we went up and down the Giant Staircase. The great wells with bronze curbs in the court-yard were interesting. We have been also to the Academy of Fine Arts which contains about six hundred pictures. The Assumption of the Virgin, by Titian, interested us. The second Sabbath of our stay in Venice is our second bright day. This morning I could see two bright, beautiful stars from my bed. A splendid sunrise and the reflection of the bright clouds in the green water of the lagoon gave us a gorgeous picture not soon to be forgotten.

This afternoon we went again by steamer to the Lido. We walked across the narrow strip of land to the Adriatic Sea, where we picked up shells, the waves rolling almost over my feet. The Lido is the sand bar that shuts the lagoon harbor off from the Adriatic. We found a small village with one church. The Sabbath bells were ringing as we left for Venice. A most delightful trip which gave us much pleasure. The gardens on this little island supply Venice with vegetables.

October 25.—A lady from Hanover, Germany, has given me a little painting in water colors taken from the reading room of our pension—the windows of which look out upon the lagoon. An English lady gave me another picture in water colors. These are for my souvenir book. L. has taken a picture of the doves in St. Mark’s Piazza. One was on my hand with wings outspread. We sat there and waited for the sun to shine upon the mosaic. L. took also a picture of the clock tower. We watched the figures as they changed over the great dial, the figures indicating the hour and minute. This morning we looked at the sixty-two paintings in the school of San Rocco—nearly all by Tintoretto. I am glad we are not compelled to admire all these old paintings. One illustrating the birth of Christ has, besides Mary with the infant Jesus in her lap, two peacocks, a basket of eggs, a cow lying down and a rooster drinking ! The light being very poor we found it difficult to see all the paintings. From the school we went into the church of San Rocco, where there are more paintings by Tintoretto, thence to the church of the Frari (Friars), built in 1250. There very unexpectedly we attended a funeral. A church wedding in Munich and a funeral in Venice ! As we entered the church it seemed full of lighted candles. Each man carried long candles, four fastened together. They chanted the service. A crimson pall trimmed with gold covered the bier, around which priests dressed in queer clothes walked, throwing incense upon it. The six bearers were dressed in white robes trimmed with broad red borders at the bottom and wore red capes and red caps. A brass band led the procession to a black covered gondola trimmed with white bands and very heavily with flowers. Several large floral pieces were placed in the bow and stern of the gondola and on the cover. One gondola contained the bearers with their red capes and caps and another the priest, who carried a single candle with him into the gondola. Men were in another. The mourners, who were ladies dressed in black with heavy lace covering their heads, did not go to the burial. The brass band played solemn music, but after the body was placed in the gondola it was more lively. L. much regretted that he did not take a picture of the gondola as we stood looking down upon it. Young girls with squares of linen veils covering their heads loosely, attended the funeral. Afterwards we walked to the fish market through the narrow street paths. Vegetables and meat were cooking in different places on the streets. We passed a square or open space where a large quantity of clothes were drying. We went through or over Rialto Bridge again.

We find that we can take long walks in Venice, and are becoming quite familiar with the Grand Canal. We have been by steamer and gondola to the Ghetto, or Jewish Quarter, with Mrs. C. and daughter. A wretched part of the city, but interesting to us because of Shakespeare’s Shylock and Jessica. We could see the island of Murano where the glass works are.

After dinner we walked in the sunshine to the garden of the Royal Palace. We could not enter but looked at the roses, cannas, petunias and dahlias through the gilded iron fence which encloses it. We walked on the street the whole length of the garden.

Soldiers have barracks here. Every noon and every night at eight o’clock a cannon is fired. The band plays each evening at that time, going over the bridge and passing this pension with a great crowd of people. The music is fine and we both enjoy it. Since coming here we have met Norwegians, Hungarians, Danes, Austrians, English, French and Americans. Our mail came yesterday from London, bringing us fifteen letters and a postal. This afternoon I walked alone to see the sunset. I watched the sun until it was out of sight. While I was walking a woman rushed up behind me in haste and placing her shoulder to mine looked up at two women who were in a second story window, evidently to have them tell her which was the taller. She was a tall, large woman. I could not tell what the decision was. One day when Mrs. and Miss C., Mrs. Rhodes and myself were in the Public Gardens some young girls followed us about looking at us with great curiosity. The gold in our teeth seemed to astonish them. Mrs. Nesfield and her two daughters from England, whom we met in Verona and who have been two weeks in this pension with us, are to leave tomorrow morning. We have become “quite good friends,” Mrs. N. remarked. We expect to meet them in Florence. We have visited twelve churches in this city. This is the fifth bright, sunny day in Venice.

October 28.-Again we have been walking in the sun. Our room is cool and we like the sunshine. We have been to the post office and into the church of St. Moses close by. The front of this church is nearly covered with statuary and carving. Afterwards we went into the church of St. Zacharias near our pension. The ceilings are bare, but there are paintings on the walls. This afternoon I have been twice through the Royal Palace, which is occupied once in two or three years by the royal family. It is not so richly furnished as the one in Munich. I am told there are at least thirty royal palaces in Italy which are occasionally occupied by the King and Queen. We saw Queen Margherita’s bedroom. Under the canopy and over the head of the bed, is a beautiful painting of the Madonna and Child by Murillo. We saw also the King’s bedroom and the one occupied by the Prince of Naples when he is here. There are fine oil paintings of the King and Queen and other paintings. In the glass room the mirror frames are all of glass. In one room there are crowns on the tops of the mirrors, on the tops of the chair backs and other furniture. There are beautiful tables—one of which was given to Maria Louisa by Napoleon. Afterwards we saw artists painting in St. Mark’s Church, and a procession of young girls dressed in drab colored dresses and black capes, with thin black veils on their heads, enter the church. Four ladies dressed in black had charge of them. They knelt before one of the side altars a long time. Their lips moved and one woman counted her beads. I wrote awhile after returning to our pension and afterwards walked back and forth on this Riva enjoying the new moon, the gondolas, steamers and other vessels on the lagoon. L. is not as well as usual and has remained at home.

October 29.—After breakfast we visited three churches. First we went into the church of St. John the Baptist. On the exterior over the front entrance is a mosaic of John baptizing Jesus, who stands in the water. John is pouring the water upon his head from a small vessel. In the interior a similar picture is back of the altar, but much larger. In both pictures a dove represents the Holy Spirit descending. In the altar picture angels cluster about the dove. There are other paintings and other beautiful things. Each church we see is different from any other and they all interest us. Next we went into San Antonio Church. A statue of the Madonna and Child, both crowned, is there. Next we at-tended a strange service in the Greek church. Over the altar is a splendid Greek cross, but we saw no crucifix and no images. There are mosaics and much besides.

While out we saw a poor woman buying a small piece of cooked squash from a kettle for her little boy to eat. There is always something interesting to see on the streets—much to learn and enjoy and much to pity. We see many very poor people and many beggars follow us. It has interested me to notice how difficult it is for the inhabitants of Venice to find suitable drying places for clothes. Often they are on the tops of houses. It is cold, with a clear, blue sky.

October 31.—It has been foggy nearly all day. I have not been well yesterday and today and have done no sight seeing.

November 1.—We have had a number of bright and beautiful days in Venice, although they have been cold. I am trying to keep my feet warm by one of these Italian stoves, and am wondering if they ever have any birds here in Venice besides doves and sea gulls and birds in cages. Will wild birds come here and build their nests where there are so few trees. L. says “Venice is living on its decayed past.” Poor city—and poor people who have to live here!

We have been much interested in the fish market where there are many kinds of strange fish and other sea creatures.

November 3.—Our trunks are packed and we are nearly ready to leave. I wish much that we might go today, as it is bright and beautiful. President Hyde, of Bowdoin College, with his wife and son, are here. L. has become acquainted with them, but I have been ill in our room. A call from Mrs. R. this morning, who entertained me with an ac-count of her new friends.

I have been looking at the pretty costumes on the bridge which we have crossed so often on our way to our meals. The scene on this bridge is constantly changing. There is always something interesting to see.

Tomorrow will complete our third week in Venice. This morning L. walked to the Public Garden and went into the Museum of the Arsenal. He saw there a gilt model of the “Bucentaur” from which the Doge threw the ring into the Adriatic. He passed the fountain statue of Garibaldi, with goldfishes swimming in the pool. It is not really true that Venice is living on its decayed past. There is much that is not decayed, much that is beautiful, remaining. Some of the palaces still retain their original grandeur and richness. Many of the marble buildings are blackened-by age, but one can see how magnificent they must have been in times long gone by. Venice has her glass, mosaic and lace manufactures, which are known throughout the world. I have seen them make both lace and glassware here. If I had not been ill, we should have gone to the large glass factory on the island of Murano, and have stopped on our way to see the cemetery, which is also on an island.

Some of the steamers on the lagoon are like ocean steamers. Always when I look out there is a lovely picture. There goes one of the little steamers to the Lido on which we went twice and which carried us within walking distance of the Adriatic Sea. How grand the Adriatic was that afternoon as it came rolling in almost upon my feet.

In this silent city no rumbling of wheels is heard. There is scarcely a sound except human voices and occasionally a hammer and the steam whistles. I keep wondering if the singing birds come here in the spring. I see no animals except now and then a dog or a cat. Another day is almost gone. Good-bye to this wonderful old city. The two Danish ladies have gone to Verona on their way to Florence.