Life

When In Venice, Wear A Bowler Hat

The woman is perhaps seventy years old. She could be even older and has a noticeable stooped posture. She is pulling along a shopping trolley and in many ways looks like any other lady of advancing years. Except that she is Venetian and so naturally she is also sporting a bright red beret as well as dark-rimmed spectacles with red-tinted lenses. She has a scarf thrown across her shoulder.

OK, so it is January but I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much fur in my life. Women everywhere are sporting immense pelted visions with slicks of red lipstick and pointy little shoes. It’s Sunday and as the bells ring around lunchtime, the streets begin to fill up. There’s lots of loud exchanges, greetings, and goodbyes. These women look like they are about to walk onto a red carpet. It seems such a lot of effort and glamour for a sober morning church service.

This is Venice. I have often wondered about the place and when, on browsing a cheap Ryanair flight sale, I found a return for £5 each way, how could I say no? I was excited to go there alone, to wander the streets and take in the sights. I had no particular plans other than to be there and write. I don’t tend to ever have loftier ideas about the precise nature of my trips. This is the thing about travel for me, I just go and something always seems to happen. Perhaps this is just me or maybe it is something about journeying.

Anyway, back to the point in question. I knew it would be glamorous. I had been to Italy once before and remember marveling at the sheer tightness of the ladies’ trousers and skirts. How did they get anything done? It looked as if it would be impossible to properly move or bend, eat or sit. But of course, these would all have to be a secondary considerations to style.

Imagine the contrast if you will, there I was in my insulated running leggings and flat biker boots whilst a lady at least sixty years of age sported six-inch stiletto heels and impossibly delicate tights. She looked uncomfortable but committed.

Anyone who has been to Venice will tell you that the ground is often cobbled, uneven and with a bridge to contend with every few yards. But this lady was going for it. She was doing it. There was no suggestion on her face or in her demeanor that it should be any other way.

A short walk away, perhaps 15 minutes, brought me to the harbor’s edge. It was a beautiful day. The sky was clear blue and whilst it was cold, the lack of breeze made it feel almost spring-like in the sunshine. I was able to sit for about forty minutes or so without being cold at all.

Just when I thought I had seen all there was to see of Venetian couture, a man with a black dress coat and matching bowler hat wandered up to the water’s edge, slipped his hands into his trouser pockets and leant back to bask in the sun’s warmth. A woman, clearly his wife, in an elegant circle dress topped with a large scarf, joined him. She placed her gloved hand on the small of his back and swooped around to be caught in his embrace. Was I in a Jack Vettriano painting? It was strange and beautiful.

This was the thing that stood out for me about Venice. Of course, the history and architecture spoke for themselves and it’s not to dismiss them but the people were mesmerizing. This is why, if anyone asks about it I always say, to visit in the winter. Why? In the summer it’s full of tourists and it’s too hot to wear a bowler hat.

I was struck on that Sunday, as I just wandered from place to place, looking at people going about their day of leisure that I was really seeing untouched Venetians. There they were in their natural habitat undisturbed by the rowdy, voyeuristic throngs. There was a relaxed nature about them and more than this there was space and time for me to observe it all. No queues, pushing or shoving to disturb my unexpected street theatre.

There’s something so inherently artistic, sophisticated and high brow about Venice. Does it feel like stepping back in time? In some ways, yes but on the whole it was just, well, unique. Where else would you see a policeman standing nonchalantly on the corner of a street sucking on a pipe? And it wasn’t just any old pipe but a mahogany coloured, intricately carved affair.

Whilst smoking is clearly no longer glamorous (although the Venetians do a good effort in trying to make it look so) there was something so weirdly captivating about it. Rather like the old man in a three-piece suit, again smoking a pipe, leaning against the bridge reading his paper.

I left Venice feeling inspired. Why not slick on a red lipstick? Why not try wearing something a little more coordinated for the sake of fashion? I certainly considered it and thought I could perhaps make a little more effort. But I suppose this just isn’t really me.

I wore enough platform sandals in the 90s to last me a lifetime to be honest. Flat shoes have been a revelation and ‘sensible’ clothing enables my experience of life to be uninterrupted by a chafing waistband or a bunion. This is the way I like it but I really cannot wait to go back to Venice and sit once more in that beautiful catwalk that is the Venetian street.

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