Finding Romance in Venice

What do you do when barbarians keep attacking your city, stealing your money, ravishing your women, and burning your houses?

If you’re a group of northern Italians who like to color outside the lines, you begin rebuilding the city on an island in the middle of a lagoon.  Then you build on the island next to it, and the one next to that, until you have almost 120 islands connected by bridges combining to form your city.

Somehow, that city evolves into one of the wealthiest republics in the world.  And hundred of years after that, it becomes known as the most romantic city on the planet.

The history of Venice, of course, has all the elements of a good story:  money, sex, religion, tons of conflict, and a little irony.

Every little island had, and still has, its own campo (our word for plaza) and its own church, which means Venice boasts nearly 120 churches.  Of course, the biggest and most famous of all the churches in Venice is St. Mark’s Basilica, also known as the “Gold Church” because its domes are inlaid with gilded mosaics.

Venice was an extremely wealthy republic until Napoleon conquered it in 1797. During his campaign, the four horses on St. Mark’s façade were taken as spoils of war (they were returned by France in 1815).  Interestingly, those four horses were booty taken from Constantinople during the Crusades, and the church itself was founded upon the remains of the Apostle Mark, which were stolen from Alexandria, Egypt.   Supposedly, his remains were smuggled past Muslim guards in barrels of pork.

Even the grandest cathedrals of the world have a slightly checkered past.  I love that.

As for the sex in Venice’s history, housed in the Venetian arsenal along with hundreds of swords, spears, guns, and shields, was a 16th century chastity belt.  And from the looks of that belt, the Venetians were obviously concerned about protecting every form of booty in their town.

That belt has to be the envy of every redneck dad who sits at the kitchen table cleaning his gun when his daughter gets picked up for a date.

The chastity belt made me wonder how Venice came to be known as the most romantic city in the world.  I was pondering that irony as we left the Doge’s Palace and headed for the famous Rialto Bridge.

Lenny Kravitz sings a song called “What Did I Do With My Life?”   The words of the chorus get me every time:

You can live any way you wanna
All you have to do is dance
Achieve anything you thought of
You just have to take the chance
You can fall in love with your life
‘Cause that truly is romance
What did I do with my life?

During my gondola ride in Venice — with a third-generation gondolier singing “O Sole Mio” and pointing out Casanova’s residence — I had this thought:  I freakin’ love my life.  I am, quite possibly, the happiest girl in the world.

Venice, I get it.

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