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July 21, 2020 By Freddi Miller

The Last Time I Saw Paris

The song is lovely and makes me want to return to Paris, but it’s the last time I saw Venice that stands out in my memory. I had lived near Venice 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 Piazza San Marco. The first time I made that portion of the trip I saw an unusual building on the right side of the canal about halfway to San Marco. It wasn’t large in relation to other buildings, but there was lots of greenery on the main floor. Soon I learned it was the Palazzo Venter del Leoni. It was the home of Peggy Guggenheim who was an occasional resident. Her villa had one of the most important collections of European and American art in Italy and it was open to the public. Finally, my chance to see it!

The day began with a visit to Murano, the island famous for glass blowing. While there, and before my husband and I were ready to leave, we began hearing loudspeakers with warning sounds, of course in Italian, of the “acqua alta” — high water. Finally, we decided it might be wise to go back to the mainland (Venice) right away. By that time, the water was over all the landing areas at the vaporetto stops and covering the Piazza San Marco. What to do? Take our shoes off and wade back to our hotel just like the other tourists and the Venetians 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! Earl went back to our hotel and I set out to find a way to her Guggenheim Museum. Venice is fairly well prepared for the “high water” with boards above the water on the main walkways. I followed those as far as I could but continually ran into dead ends. Finally, I discovered a footbridge and made it to the other side. I found my way into Peggy’s museum with its wonderful contemporary art. Having spent so much time getting there left me little time for enjoying the collection. After quickly viewing the paintings and sculpture I went into the garden where her fourteen pet dogs are buried with a plaque that reads: “Here lie my beloved babies” with a list of their names and dates of birth and death. Next to their communal grave is another grave with the marker: “Here rests Peggy Guggenheim 1898– 1979.” An unexpected finish to a long-awaited visit.

Author’s Note: The 1981 Michelin Guide to Italy says about the acqua alta: “Today the exceptional position of Venice constitutes a threat to its very existence. The nature of the terrain on which it is built induces a sinking while the level of the surrounding waters is constantly rising.”

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