Although there are many things I love and remember in Europe, it’s my last visit to Venice that stands out in my memory.
I had lived near Venice for several months while teaching at an elementary school on an American military base. The trip into Venice was always the same: a train to the Statzione and then the vaporetto (water bus) to St. Marks Square. The first time I made that portion of the trip, I saw an unusual building on the right side of the canal about half way to San Marco. It wasn’t too large in relation to other buildings along the way but there was lots of greenery on what appeared to be the main floor. Soon I learned it was the Palazzo Venter del Leoni, the home of Peggy Guggenheim who was an occasional resident. I always wondered about it.
Peggy Guggenheim had died by the last time I was in Venice. But her villa contained one of the most important collections of European and American art in Italy, and it was now open to the public. Finally, I had my chance to see it!
The Big Day
Our day began with a visit to Murano, the island famous for glass blowing. Before leaving, we began hearing loudspeakers with warning sounds of the “aqua alta” (high water.) So we decided it might be wise to go back to the mainland of Venice. By that time, however, the water covered the landing areas at the vaporetto stops and the Piazza San Marco. What to do? One option was to take our shoes off and wade back to our hotel just like the others who had not heeded the warning of the high Adriatic tide that day.
But I hadn’t seen Peggy’s villa and this was our last day in Venice! My husband went back to our hotel and I set out to find a way to The Guggenheim Museum. Venice is fairly well prepared for the “high water” with boards above the water on most of the main walkways. I followed those as far as I could but continually ran into dead ends. Once, I found a gondola and gondolier but he insisted he couldn’t take me across the canal.
Finally, I discovered a footbridge and made it to the other side. The water wasn’t as high on this side and I found my way into Peggy’s museum with its wonderful contemporary art. Since I had spent so much time getting there, I had little time left to enjoy the collection. I was, however able to venture into the garden in back where her fourteen pet dogs are buried. “Here lie my beloved babies,” a plaque read, with a list of their names and dates of birth and death. Next to their communal grave is another with the marker: “Here rests Peggy Guggenheim, 1898–1979.”
What an unexpected finish to a long-awaited and remembered visit.