Truman Capote once purred that being in Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one sitting, and he was right: heady, rich, and sweetly sickening--not the canals, which, in November presented no olfactory assault, but the apparent demise of so many extravagant, architecturally bejeweled palazzos that sit at the edges of the Grand Canal in a steady, sinking state of decay.

If Venice continues to be the victim of its own neglect, it will be an unparalleled tragedy, for it is unlike any other place in the world. And while we were prepared for creepy fogs and slimy steps (a la Nicholas Roeg's evocative film of the 70's "Don't Look Now"), our November visit fell during a week of crystalline blue skies, cold crisp air, and, of course, the luminous light everyone knows about and that is even more wondrous than art history texts could ever convey.

The Venetians tell us that the young people of the town flee to the mainland for work and affordable housing, since, even if they could afford to buy in Venice, the necessary restoration is prohibitively expensive. But it seemed to us (religious skeptics both) that merely one row of the fabulous P'alo d'Oro (the golden altar screen studded with rubies, emeralds, pearls, and sapphires that sits in the Basilica of San Marco) would pay for a significant amount of dredging, construction work, plumbing, etc., etc., all those mundane but necessary amenities that will allow San Marco to remain the visited monument that it is.

Venice is a thousand plus year old city with no cars, criss-crossed in a maze of "streets" and alleys not solid but purely (or not so purely) water, and that, like all public waterways, are subject to storms and tides and the water traffic of barges, the vaporetto, the motoscafu, the gondola. It is a city steeped in the Byzantine and the Christian, a city of elegant women unrepentant in plush fur coats, a city of fabulous art that surprises the untutored as it decorates both the remote and the obvious, startling adventurous tourists who discover it once in obscure corners but often never again as they travel bravely through back neighborhood labyrinths. -AMR

Listen to the soothing sounds of Venice. (MP3)

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