Anastasia Sukhanov
4 min readJan 13, 2019

In winter, especially around Christmas time, Venice shrinks back to its core. The city of excess — excess of history, excess of lavishness, excess of popularity, excess of kitsch — goes back to its roots. Wrapped in fog like an old grandmother in her woolen shawl, winter Venice is no longer an attraction. The only restaurants open are the ones without Instagram profiles, the only waiters on duty speak exclusively Italian. The only currency accepted is that of raw human interaction, without the false politeness of the high season. The owner of a cafe next to my hostel shouts, almost impatiently, “espresso only, but very strong!”, as if his coffee machine was on a holiday too. Few gondolas roam the canals slowly and forcefully, making water lose its fluid appearance, making it seem like it has the consistency of condensed milk. The lives of the locals become apparent, resurfacing in the absence of tourist white noise. But not really, they were there all the time, like a parallel slow lane running next to the race track of visitor invasion. Winter Venice is unpasteurized magic. Just inhale and it’s inside, running through your bloodstream, making you high, making you drunk — not without the trattoria owner serving you never ending glasses of prosecco on the house while his eyes murmur compassionately: “stop overthinking and have fun”, or, maybe, “get out of here already, we’re closing”.

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Venetian churches create a vacuum inside them, the kind of silence that oozes stability. They remain fixed in the city where everything floats, moves, grows. While clams lead a centuries-long occupation of the church walls, not exempt from this shameless use of grand architecture, the insides remain positively untouched. The frugal wood is covered with red and golden cloth, the frescoes are dark, and even daylight seems to barely affect the setting.

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Nonna is a species only found in Italian cities where esthetics seemingly overpower politics: Milan, Florence, Venice… Nonna wears fur, pearls and pastel colored tights. Tourists give way to nonna in bewilderment, while waiters serve her coffee on the house. Nonna doesn’t cook but knows where to get the best pasta. Nonna doesn’t babysit her grandkids but lets them understand that her story-time is not to be interrupted. Nonna has a social life that puts millennials to shame. When a nonna dies, paper notices with funeral details are placed on bridges and buildings, over Venetian mold, to melt into its timelessness — like the mermaid dissolving into sea foam.

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La Feniche is the Opera House of the islands, made even more parallel-world by its postal address. Women in capes like real life Harry Potter characters, men in white suits like mafia Dons, every detail of everyone’s outfit slightly special, slightly away from the ordinary.

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Water makes everything more complicated. Mandarins and cod at the market stalls, restaurant chairs, pizza flour, forks, canned tuna at the supermarket, the cup you drink your morning coffee from, the H&M around the corner — it was all brought to the place of its consumable residence by water, by boats that barely fit the canals, by men with permanent calluses on their salt-dried hands. Perhaps that’s where the origin of Venetian magic lies: this city turns the mundane into fascinating. The police, the taxis, the ambulance, the garbage disposal — all boats, all strange to the mainland eye, all toy-like. Venice is a utopian movie about the life of humans in the water world set in reality, as if created to be a demo for the near future disaster.

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Brodsky said that water represents time on Earth, and that Venice owes its nearly black magic feel to precisely that — if Venice could possibly. Ever. Owe. Anything. We are so preoccupied with our passage through space that we are hardly ever mindful about our passage through time, but Venice will remind you. It will remind you how small your measure of time is, how disproportionately feeble it is in relation to all of the Venetian before, and even in relation to its yet-to-be. Venice will generously freeze time around you, with each vaporetto ride making you shed some of the layers and make you feel younger, more naive, more capable of awe — like a passage through the Styx river, backwards.

Beautiful mature women in Venice wink at me, which has a puzzling and almost unsettling effect, like they are in on a secret. Maybe they are travelling through time, and they’re me from the future — calm, groomed and not melting into one with their men — telling me it will all work out. Or maybe they don’t belong into a time at all, human smithereens of this water world, scattered around just like its 118 islands.