Tuesday, 5 October 2010



There is a strange quality to the ground in Mestre. I keep noticing small patches on the pavement where there seems to be nothing underneath. These gaps could be where paving slabs have gone, or next to manhole covers... at any rate places where the most recent covering has broken away. There is just a dark space there, a kind of gap. Andrew suggests it's because the place could be built on sand, which would be one explanation. But in any case, it adds a slightly disreputable or unstable element to the place. I have not noticed this effect in other places.

During the night there were times of torrential rain, coming from the south. It woke me every now and then and I got up to close the windows leading to the two little terraces which face over towards Venice. I also heard those mosquitoes again, and each time I put on my small greenish bedside light, I found I could see nothing of them, dead or alive. In this region of Italy, it is possible to gety malaria or West Nile Fever from mosquitoes, as I discovered when I tried to give blood following our last trip here a year ago. I had to wait several months before they would let me donate. I found out, at that time, that my blood group is the very cheerfully named Be Positive group (B+).

So we had breakfast and – checking as well as we could the weather – went to Padua by train. Tickets come from an efficient machine and cost 2.35 euros each, one way. Cheap! At Padua we got a special city ticket and went straight to the chapel with the Giotto frescoes. Getting in is an art form in itself.... All bags of any size have to be checked in.t You get timed tickets (and if you miss your slot you have to pay again for a new one), and you have to gather outside a special air-lock room at least 5 mins before your entry, in groups of 25. There you see a video showing you what's inside, while the air you breathe inside this airlock is acclimatised so as not to damage the precious artworks. Then they let you in and it really is breathtaking.... every square inch covered with radiant images of the lives of Christ and of Mary and to some extent the donor/patron. He is seen kneeling in a prime position right under the Cross, giving his chapel to the Virgin to make up for any shortcomings his father (or he himself) may have clocked up in their careers as bankers and usurers. The blue is pure lapis, the images wonderful, the seven sins and the seven virtues edifying, the framework of all the images made to look like marble... It is a wonderful thing and worth all the hassle. Outside is the remains of an oval Roman amphitheatre, now a garden.

We couldn't see the Mantegna in the church next door because it was shut from 12.30 till 4 or something despite the signs saying it was open all day. The town is lovely, arcaded, full of students, fashionable shops, nooks and crannies, cyclists, trams, cobbles, churches, churches, churches, museums, useful signposts, markets, cafes, etc. The sun shone, we walked. We tried to eat in the open air but were too late and had to go inside... panino for A and salad for me, all good. It's a nice place to stroll around. We couldn't get into the big palace in the middle because it was completely shut... restoration work, which was not mentioned when we bought our day ticket, so that was a shame. It's a stunning building, with the markets around and beneath it, and apparently with a single massive room upstairs on the first floor, full of treasures.

But we wandered through parts of the university, came to the Duomo (cathedral) also shut till 4pm despite being 'open'. That sent us into the Baptistry next door – and Wow! what a treat. A small square nave with a fine circular dome, and again every inch covered with images of the divine Lives.... This surely was the inspiration for the Giotto chapel, but never a word of this one mentioned there! A sign said, take no photos but everyone was snapping away. It is gorgeous.

We walked on, down to the shrine of St Anthony of Padua, with Donatello statuary around and about. This is a marvellous building, with the most marvellous tomb and shrine inside it, full of white marble friezes, false perspective and a steady line of pilgrims walking round it and – laying one hand on the green marble back of the tomb – praying quietly for the health and wellbeing of their friends and family. It is truly lovely, and even to unbelievers like me a place worth going to see. I loved it.

Just as we went into St Anthony's church we had a text from Lucie in London to say her contract at work has been extended to March, something she has been worrying about, so we felt grateful to St Anthony for this benevolence. In the shop through the tranquil cloister, we looked at the serried ranks of models of the saint, and of other demigods. There is a vast amount of stuff for sale there. I liked the many snowstorm St Anthony, of course, but finally decided to buy a special very very tiny piece of cloth, held in a card, which not only had a picture of the saint, but an inscription which explained that this cloth had – very reverently – been brought in contact with the tongue of the saint, this organ having survived absolutely uncorrupted for nearly 800 years, which is a miraculous sign of course. I like the idea of the tongue of this stalwart young Christian from 1200AD or so, being a living wet warm pink organ readily pressed into service against sheets of cloth which can then be cut up into truly miniscule fragments (by nuns, presumably, or orphans), so they can be sold to pilgrims like me.

We admired the grand Donatello statue in the piazza outside the church, got a rather chic icecream for Andrew, waited for a tram and headed back up into the city. We wanted to see inside that Duomo of course, which had been shut earlier. It was another shocker – a huge white empty space, with giant cruciform columns topped with rather Deco-looking Corinthian capitals. Michaelangelo had a hand in the original design of this cathedral but it had some alterations later. Now you could be forgiven for thinking it a North German Protestant church, apart from the smell of incense. The altar steps are modern, like Clarice Cliff in marble – wonderful.

Tired, we came home via that tram and a fast train, picking up some fruit for supper. While I have been writing this Andrew has put some local saltcod and a stuffed aubergine together for supper bought at the Co-op in Venice yesterday. Delicious. It has got dark outside, with a lovely sunset. We have Radio 4 online, which is so much, so hugely much better than BBC TV World, so it is all quiet and calm and we are happy. Tomorrow Verona perhaps, or Trieste, we haven't decided. We wish you were here, too. It is being a lot of fun. Padua would be a great place to stay, convenient for Venice and with great character of its own.

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