Following Celtic Ways

Ramblings and reviews by John Willmott as he travels the Celtic Ways and Waterways visiting hidden ancient Celtic temples, sacred wells, and provoking legends .... plus music and theatre along the way

Monday, June 27, 2005

Croatia: Day 1 - We Sailed From Venice

by John Willmott of Celtic Ways

Something different, folks. I'm writing this as I leave Venice for Croatia on a wonderful dream yacht, Cathleen. As we sail over the wonderful calm Adriatic waters in comfortable sunshine I'm pondering over our flash tour of Venice. Someone once told me that Venice is not a place to visit alone. It is a place to share with lovers. That is so true.

Venice is a truly memorable place to visit, though it also poses concerns. Most of all, there is a feeling that the spiritual and somewhat monastic origin of Venice has been replaced by "the family". There is a disturbing underlying feeling of exploitation that we loosely describe a "mafia".

The water taxis are the first example. Make sure you negotiate a fair price for any journey BEFORE the journey. Cathleen was moored off of St. Marco's Sq. but when the boat tender pulled in the taxis automatically tried to destroy it. There were other incidences where we found we had to be careful with our resources. There's an element in Venice who's concern is to make sure visitors spend every cent they arrive with and max out all of their credit cards, without providing value. Venice seems like a test on personal stewardship. Somehow I found Venice was a testing ground for values and faith. If you arrive in Venice "in tune" with yourself, your values, responsibilities and spirituality you will find the place very fulfilling, but I suggest you do not arrive alone and vulnerable.

We found that eating and shopping near to the Rialto bridge was great value. The self service restaurants are like the old style USA diners. The food is fresh, made from delightful recipes, good portions and nice prices. Over the bridge is a lovely market that is perfect for gift shopping where you can find value at low prices.

St. Marco's Square is the most famous site for visitors and it is also incredibly expensive . However, it was worth paying 6.30 euros coffee plus 2.50 charge for bringing to your table just to listen to a wonderful, talented, upbeat and sometimes humorus Italian style jazz band in the comfortable sunny breezy open air.

For me, the fascination and even romance of Venice is its treasure chest of symbolism within. The main symbolism centre stages St. Theodore and his dragon and St. Mark and his winged lion. St. Mark is the more popular imagery due to being an evangelist as this sits better on the conscience of Venice more than St. Theodore the warrior.

From the moment I started exploring I was gripped with questions and wonder around whether Venice was really a centre of faith or power, or a design for a new concept of power and leadership.

You wonder how so many churches were supported, let alone built. The imagery within the churches provoked thought. We only had time to explore a few but most of them, especially St. Marco's, was dominated with male imagery. This was quite a comparison with Ireland's main focus on female imagery. The male imagery even extended into men either holding or surrounding babies. In St. Marco's there is one Madonna figure holding the Christ child, but the child is wearing a golden crown to command a symbol of leadership. An exception is the Madonna image by the vestry and popular prayer area where Madonna and child are close and equal with their halo images.

For me, The Doge's Palace was the highlight of Venice. The artwork and imagery is very different to the churches. What struck me was how they illustrated the concept of leadership and rule as being servitude to a higher "Spirit" and Guide. The images of kings and leaders were very humble. Unlike the churches there was an illustration of an equality and balance of both male and female energies. There was a lot of illustration of how one energy supports the other. Overall there was a complete feeling of wholeness, balance, an awareness of the responsibilities of stewardship. There was also a wonderful balance of love and passion aside justice and formality.

In short, the artwork is awesome, engrossing, inviting and involving.

As you may know from my previous writing I love the expressions of old and ancient stone masons. They always seem to leave a contemporary self expression symbolic signature to break up their monotony of conforming to the commissioned designs they had been contracted to work on. This was also true of some of the paintings in the Doge's Palace. One painting that amused me was one of the animals waiting to board Noah's Ark. All Noah's Ark portrayals illustrate the animals waiting or boarding two by two. The same was true on this painting, except for the cats. One cat is eying up the two doves while the other is curiously wandering where he or she should not be.

St. Marco's Church and Doge's Palace are rightfully the main draws of Venice. We were fortunate to arrive at both without experiencing the legendary long queues.

Away from this "main" centre there is a potentially endless exploration of churches, galleries, gardens and thousands and thousands of small shops and market stands. I saw no chains here, not even a "sail-thru" McDonalds.

Talking of sail-thru, the boating community is another feature of Venice that fascinates, but you cannot help but feel that these people are also working for "the family". Sitting on the deck of Cathleen I was amused at one moment seeing a laundry boat overloaded with bags of laundry. I was sure some would fall overboard, yet the next boat was full of cases of beer securely tied as a cargo of 24 carat bars of gold.

The sad thing about Venice is the decay of many of its buildings. So many buildings seemed to be on the verge of dereliction. It questioned where the millions, if not billions, of euros that arrive daily in Venice eventually land. Somehow the investment of our visits does not seems to convert into the preservation of this surreal island for lovers and their celebration of love in the eyes of God illustrated on earth. One person did say, though, "why invest in an island that might not be here in 10 years time". Sadly, Venice is said to be sinking as the land it sits on is apparently on the move. The next Atlantis?

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