shot disk the sculpted fretwork ofrndomes and terraces was magnificentlyrnsilhouetted. Slowly, as itrnrose through its shredded bank ofrncloud, the disk shrank and silvered,rnuntil the cornices of the DucalrnPalace and the cupolas of SanrnMarco shone like pieces ofrnalabaster.rnRecently, when a friend generously offeredrnmy wife and myself a second trip tornVenice, I knew in advance that it couldrnnot possibly offer us anything remotelyrncomparable in visual excitement. Yet Irnsuccumbed to the resistible temptation,rnmomentarily forgetting that one’s fondestrnmoments are best preserved by notrntrying to relive them.rnFrom the moment our Air Francernplane touched down at the Marco Polornairfield, located on the mainland northrnof Venice, I realized that this second triprnto the aquafic city was going to be radicallyrndifferent from the first. But the disappointmentrnfar exceeded my worst fearsrnand misgivings.rnIt was a dull afternoon, in which therngreyness of the misty sky was reflected inrnthe muddy opacity of the greenish, souplikernsea, so shallow in many places thatrnV-shaped logs mark the waterways boatsrnmust use to reach Venice in order tornavoid running aground on hidden sandbanks.rn(It was this “blessed” shallownessrnwhich for centuries made the serenissimarnRepublic so invulnerable to attacks fromrnthe mainland and the Adriatic, just asrnrocky reefs and treacherous Channelrncurrents once made the Breton seaportrnof St. Malo a haven for corsairs and pirates.)rnOn this particular afternoon thernmist’ haze enveloping Venice had nonernof the sun-tinged softness which Turnerrnand Bonington, two of the greatest watercoloristsrnof all time, so magically caughtrnin their delicate aquarelles. It was justrnone more sea-mist shrouding what, as werngrew closer, turned out to be the scrofulousrnbackside of Venice.rnThe approach to every great city, inrnthis age of suburban sprawl, is now almostrninvariably made through a squalidrnbelt of unlovely slum-dwellings, cheaprntenements, workshops with corrugatedironrnroofs, and brick or concrete factor}’rnbuildings. Venice, as I now discoveredrnto my dismay, is no excepfion. Whereasrnthe old causeway and the railway trackrntake one directly into the terminal squarernat one end of the serpentine GrandrnCanal, anyone arriving by motoscafornspeed-boat from the Marco Polo airportrnis driven past the cemeterial island ofrnSan Michele (where, I believe, Diaghilevrnis buried) and then along thernnortheastern rim of the city, with itsrnuninspiring waterfront of bedraggledrnhouses, as far as a canal which, cuttingrnacross the city’s eastern proboscus, takesrnone past the red-brick walls and battlementsrnof the old Darsena arsenal and outrninto the bay, or what the Venetians morernaccurately call the Canale di San Marco.rnWhen I asked the cigarette-smokingrndriver of our “water-taxi” why he had notrnapproached Venice from the westernrnend and taken us up the Grand Canal,rnhe answered, “Because it’s much shorter.”rnThe frip, instead of costing a merern130,000 lire (roughly $80 at the currentrnrate of exchange) would have cost farrnmore.rnThis first disappointment was quicklyrnfollowed by a second, far more seriousrnshock. I had long known that the timernnot to visit Venice was during the midsummerrnmonths when, as George Sandrnonce wrote, it becomes “a city of daytimerncorpses lethargically stretched out on sofasrnor the cushioned bottoms of theirrnboats, who slowly fan themselves to life atrndusk on the cooling marble of their balconiesrnor beneath the sun-scorchedrnawnings of their cafes.” The time to visitrnVenice, I had been assured by experiencedrnconnoisseurs, is September or October,rnwhen visitors no longer sweat andrnswelter in the suffocating heat. But whatrnI had not been told was that precisely forrnthis reason, these two months have nowrnbecome the “height” of the “tourist season.”rnI have never been to Coney Island onrna sunny weekend, and I cannot thereforernventure a comparison. But the Venice Irndiscovered reminded me of the crushhourrnon the Paris, London, or Manhattanrnsubway systems — the main differencernbeing that the crush here was of arnless hectic and more famiente kind. Nornmatter where one walked or turned —rnVenice is a city of narrow, windingrnstreets, many of them little more than alleywaysrn—one bumped into or had tornavoid tourists. They were ever^avhere —rnmunching sloppy pizzas or prosciuttornand mozzarella sandwiches in crowdedrntrattorias or at fast-food counters; feedingrnnuts to hundreds of fluttering pigeons onrnthe Piazza San Marco; lining up in patheticrnqueues in order to be able to clamberrnup the many steps of the red-brickand-rnmarble, pencil-pointed campanile;rntaking snapshots of themselves againstrnthe balustrades of the tree-shadedrnGiardino ex Reali, where between thernsycamores sub-Boningtons and neo-rnTurners peddle their slick, too sharplyrndrawn views of baroque churches andrnarched bridges spanning the green watersrnof narrow canaletti; and, above all,rnthey were there in droves, thronging thernbroad pavement of the Riva degli Schiavoni,rnthe long, curving waterfront facingrnthe floating island of San GiorgiornMaggiore and the Lido beyond it, whichrnowes its name to the once proud Republic’srnSlavic neighbors on the other side ofrnthe Adriatic.rnThe Italians, as humorist GeorgernMikes once remarked, are a nation of exuberantrnexfroverts among whom, after arncouple of weeks, even the most inhibitedrnEnglishman is likely to start talking in arnlouder tone of voice and gesticulatingrnlike an orchestra conductor. In 1949, thernlate-evening discussions and, more surprisingly,rnthe early-morning conversazionirnin the narrow sfreets below werernso sleep-disturbing that twice I had tornmove from little hotels near the PiazzettarnSan Marco, not far from the basilica. I finallyrnfound a relatively peaceful haven inrna humble pensione run by an Austrianrnwoman on the Riva degli Schiavoni.rnVenicernvhen “The gods returned to earth’rnVenice brokernLike Venus from the dawnencircledrnsea.rnWide laughed the skies with lightrnwhen Venice wokernCrowned of antiquity.rnAnd like a spoil of gems unminedrnon earthrnArt in her glorious mindrnJewelled all Italy for joy’s rebirthrnTo all mankind.”rn— William Rose Benet,rnGaspara Stampa, Stanza 9rnAPRIL 1998/35rnrnrn