Story type: Essay
We arrived in Venice last evening, latitude 45 deg. 25 min, N., longitude 12 deg. 19 min. E.
Venice is the home of the Venetian, and also where the gondola has its nest and rears its young. It is also the headquarters for the paint known as Venetian red. They use it in painting the town on festive occasions. This is the town where the Merchant of Venice used to do business, and the home of Shylock, a broker, who sheared the Venetian lamb at the corner of the Rialto and the Grand Canal. He is now no more. I couldn’t even find an old neighbor near the Rialto who remembered Shylock. From what I can learn of him, however, I am led to believe that he was pretty close in his deals, and liked to catch a man in a tight place and then make him squirm. Shylock, during the great panic in Venice, many years ago, it is said, had a chattel mortgage on more lives than you could shake a stick at. He would loan a small amount to a merchant at three per cent, a month, and secure it on a pound of the merchant’s liver, or by a cut-throat mortgage on his respiratory apparatus. Then, when the paper matured, he would go up to the house with a pair of scales and a pie knife and demand a foreclosure.
Venice is one of the best watered towns in Europe. You can hardly walk a block without getting your feet wet, unless you ride in a gondola.
The gondola is a long, slim hack without wheels and is worked around through the damp streets by a brunette man whose breath should be a sad framing to us all. He is called the gondolier. Sometimes he sings in a low tone of voice and in a foreign tongue. I do not know where I have met so many foreigners as I have here in Europe, unless it was in New York, at the polls. Wherever I go, I hear a foreign tongue. I do not know whether these people talk in the Italian language just to show off or not. Perhaps they prefer it. London is the only place I have visited where the Boston dialect is used. London was originally settled by adventurers from Boston. The blood of some of the royal families of Massachusetts may be found in the veins of London people.
Wealthy young ladies in Venice do not run away with the coachman. There are no coaches, no coachmen and no horses in Venice. There are only four horses in Venice and they are made of copper and exhibited at St Mark’s as curiosities.
The Accademia delle Belle Arti of Venice is a large picture store where I went yesterday to buy a few pictures for Christmas presents. A painting by Titian, the Italian Prang, pleased me very much, but I couldn’t beat down the price to where it would be any object for me to buy it. Besides, it would be a nuisance to carry such a picture around with me all over the Alps, up the Rhine and through St. Lawrence county. I finally decided to leave it and secure something less awkward to carry and pay for.
The Italians are quite proud of their smoky old paintings. I have often thought that if Venice would run less to art and more to soap, she would be more apt to win my respect. Art is all right to a certain extent, but it can be run in the ground. It breaks my heart to know how lavish nature has been with water here, and yet how the Venetians scorn to investigate its benefits. When a gondolier gets a drop of water on him, he swoons. Then he lies in a kind of coma till another gondolier comes along to breathe in his face and revive him.