Chioggia, Enhancing Your Life… SLOWLY

(Written on the Lido of Venice in February, 2012)

These are strange days, heady days. Days of waking up and wondering and wandering. Dawns break, ordinary at first, but following several coincides, happenings, encounters, they have now slowly evolved into beings loaded with promise. Like Pinadas waiting to be burst. I wake up generally with a feeling of melancholy, but then life takes over and life certainly has showed itself from its best side on my travels recently. How long has it been since I slowed down, my travels at least and opened myself to what the days bring?

Ruskin would argue these gifts have come because I have done exactly that, slowed down, when he wrote of the ‘Europe in a Week by Train’ offered in 1862 by Thomas Cook;

‘No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us one whit stronger, happier or wiser. There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things are thoughts and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast; and a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being’.

He was distressed by how seldom people noticed things and deplored the blindness and haste of modern tourists. As a Tour Guide in the 21st Century, although this continued desire puts bread on my table, they are sentiments I can certainly empathise with, especially as I board my group onto a bus after only two hours in Assisi or one at Delphi.

Several years ago whilst channel surfing I caught a fleeting glimpse of a walled, perfectly preserved medieval town. In vain I tried to find the channel again, for this one glimpse captured my imagination as an almost unreal, magical place, unlike any I had seen before, but the image had vanished. Incredible as it may seem, in those days there was no option of googling and I was left to wonder whether it really existed. I thought of Don Quixote seeing giants where windmills stood for it certainly looked as though the city was nestled in a Cervantes landscape, and hoped that one day I would discover where it was, visit it somehow and not be disappointed. Only years later when work took me to Carcassonne, in the South of France was I ‘reunited’ with its walls, towers and battlements and I recognised it instantly. I was not disappointed. No one had told me I should have been.

To me Chioggia was, until yesterday such a mythical place. This time an image in a guidebook in part of the ‘day trips’ from the main attraction section, all such books contain, had provided the inspiration years ago. It showed a picturesque canal accompanied by no more than a paragraph of text under the place name. Unlike as had been the case with Carcassonne this time I vaguely knew where Chioggia was, somewhere to the South of Venice and what it looked like; canals, not walls. Other than that, as I left my Lido island hotel, I didn’t know whether I was destined for an island, peninsular, the mainland, a city, a town, a village, disappointment, windmills or giants.

“When (we Venetians) leave seawards – heading south-west that is – we feel a sense of adventure, as if we might never return, since that immense mass of liquid, our lady and our mistress, could engulf us”. Francesco Da Mosto

However, what I term tour guide snobbery has long since taught me I am supposed to dislike Carcassonne as a Disney-esque 19th C recreation absent of any authenticity (although I am increasingly becoming a fan of Viollet-le-Duc and his reincarnation of the Gothic across France). The groups I escort to his masterpiece – Ruskin would and did deplore it – are not privilege to this prejudice and, like me the first time, gaze at the imposing walls, pristine fortifications and narrow medieval streets through their viewfinders, feeling no doubt transported back in time. As far am aware there is no such prevailing dislike among my fellow guides surrounding Chioggia. This is probably due to two facts. One, we don’t go there. Ever! And two, there is nothing ‘fake’ about it. Chioggia is a one hundred percent authentic, centuries old Venetian port, complete with its own fishing fleet, the canals it used and still uses, to dock on, Venetian style palazzi, churches filled with relics, frescos and old worshipping Italian widowers (the traditional dress of the married-to-fishermen women of Chioggia converts from apron to mourning veil in one quick manoeuvre). It is Venice as it might have been had she not taken over the Med.

“Little Venice”, the nickname most commonly attributed to Chioggia by the few guidebooks that see fit to include it. Today assigned to the annexes of tourist literature, for most of its documented 14 century history, the small port, has likewise been no more than an extra in the dramas played out by its famous Northern neighbour, Venice. “La Serenissima” – The Serene. The Republic once went to war with Genoa and, in a rather hotchpotch alliance, also the King of Hungary over who would control the salt flats and strategic location of Chioggia. However when 1380 turned to 1381 that tiff was over, the Genovese fleet quite literally stuck in the mud of the lagoon. Chioggia became Venetian once more, leaving Wikipedia writers a little short on historical material ever since.

“Little Venice”, the nickname most commonly attributed to Chioggia by the few guidebooks that see fit to include it. Today assigned to the annexes of tourist literature, for most of its documented 14 century history, the small port, has likewise been no more than an extra in the dramas played out by its famous Northern neighbour, Venice. “La Serenissima” – The Serene. The Republic once went to war with Genoa and, in a rather hotchpotch alliance, also the King of Hungary over who would control the salt flats and strategic location of Chioggia. However when 1380 turned to 1381 that tiff was over, the Genovese fleet quite literally stuck in the mud of the lagoon. Chioggia became Venetian once more, leaving Wikipedia writers a little short on historical material ever since.

But what does my coming here actually achieve I speculated as the Vaporetto drew up and dropped the few locals and myself literally in the main square, Piazza Vigo? Alain de Botton, finding himself in Madrid and tempted, as I had been that morning, to stay in bed, is eventually chased onto the streets by an impatient maid. Guide book to Old Madrid in hand, he ‘does’ the sights as one is supposed to. But it is as others have determined one is supposed to. He expresses much better than I can the feeling any modern traveller must at some point encounter. This feeling that everything worth discovering has already been. “Anything I learned would have to be justified by private benefit rather than by the interest of others. My discoveries would have to enliven me; they would have in some way to prove ‘life-enhancing'”. De Botton.

He laments the categories by which guides, historians and guide books have imposed their own values on Madrid. We are told what to think of buildings, squares and museums. And by their very emission, to ignore others. Chioggia is generally emitted. Following 4 out 5 books, I would not now be strolling along the Vena canal, the smell of ‘fritto misto’ emanating from openings in houses and restaurants alike. In the uninhibited guide to Madrid de Botton goes onto speculate on the peculiarities of which such a guide might be composed of. A list of interesting things on the Venetian Lagoon, might and perhaps should, include Chioggia, with its still active fishing fleet, small ‘trattorias’ where fish is a fraction of the cost of that served up across the waters and largely tourist free canals. That morning my ‘compass of curiosity’ had indeed been allowed to ‘settle according to its own logic’ and the needle had pointed resolutely to the orange bus that was to take me to the Chioggia Vaporetto.

The very act of writing for 2ndcupoftea is in some ways contradictory to this philosophy. I am a guide and to an extent I have just told you what you should do. I am making the assumption that what I ‘learn’ from my travels, the places I visit are not merely justified in terms of ‘private benefit’. But that something in me going to Chioggia and subsequently suggesting it as a day trip from Venice might prove, as Nietzsche calls it; ‘life-enhancing’ to others. A bit dramatic? Probably. The two lions that sit silently guarding the white marble bridge stretching over Chioggia’s main canal have greeted locals, fishermen, foreign merchants for centuries. Their frozen stare now takes in the few tourists who do find their way to this remote part of the Lagoon. How many as they walk back past them and embark once more for the comfort and reasurance of Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, and Rick Steve’s listed eateries, monuments and lodgings have had their lives enhanced by their few hours in Chioggia, is debatable. Whatever the number, I’d argue that Chioggia is a good place to slow things down and simply be, if only for an afternoon.

 

~ by 2ndcupoftea on May 14, 2012.

7 Responses to “Chioggia, Enhancing Your Life… SLOWLY”

  1. Now isn’t that strange? I was only thinking over the weekend, I wonder where is Thomas is now?”, “Has he left Mongolia?” And then the thought was gone, probably lost in the great caverns of emptiness in my mind. It was either that or a bit of totty walked past! Nice piece, may well add Chioggia to the “must visit soon” list. Hope you are well my friend.

  2. great post… Thanks to your eyes and mind, they saw our town as no one before on the internet. Take care, bless!

    Enrico Veronese, twitter curator of @ComuneChioggia page

  3. Colin, you’re welcome! Check http://www.sottomarina.net/index_uk.asp for accommodations, art, food, events and more

  4. Thank you so Enrico aka Chioggia Commune. That is really kind. I hope others such as my friend Colin follow my advice and do visit. Take care and thanks again.

  5. I’ve had a similar experience in being enthralled and inspired by a tiny glimpse of some far off land. Robert Burns is a literary hero of mine and I became a tad obsessed with Afton Water in Ayrshire, Scotland after reading his poems. I’ve only seen pictures of it, but Christi and I will picnic on its shores someday.

  6. Bravo, Bellissimo estratto della realta di Chioggia, io sono nato li, ma vivo in Venezuela da troppi anni, leggere il tuo blog, mi ha veramente emozionato. Grazie

    • Hi JMV. – thanks so much for the kind words. I really had a great time in Chioggia. I am back on the lagoon for three weeks now, so it’s time for a return visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *