Like most European cities Venice comes alive at night. The tourists retreat to their hotels and the streets are full of people in lively conversation sitting at the waters edge, teenagers flirting and laughing dangling their feet over the canals.
Small boats with quiet motors take back the waterways from the gondoliers, the local’s transportation in leu of cars. Eateries are packed with diners inside and outside.
The lights on the water sculpt new shapes and the texture of the city is brought into relief as deep shadows play along the canals. There is a quiet amidst the liveliness, similar to how snow seems to absorb all noise at night the water that makes this city so magical has a melodic effect, softening the busy city sounds.
Because of the small channels and narrow ways, the darkness of night is very deep and neither light nor sound can carry far. Patches of light are so contained as to have a spotlight effect. The quiet humm of the boat and lapping of the canals is all you hear until you round a corner and a burst of light is accompanied by laughter, only to be muted again quickly as you go under the next bridge or around the next corner.
There is a mysterious quality as you navigate the city by boat through the shadows. Ancient buildings loom over the narrow passages that wind together into a labyrinth only a local could make heads or tales of in the blackness. The water seems almost to whisper. It isn’t lost on us the deep history that runs through these channels.
We’d asked our friends earlier what people do for fun here. On a whim our explorations of the city at night took a detour. After picking up another friend who’d finished up a day’s work as a gondolier from just under the Rialto Bridge and procuring some Prosecco, cheese and bread (and these amazing sandwiches) we made our way out into the open air of the black lagoon. Apparently there was a music festival in Palastrina, a neighboring island.
We made a pit stop halfway, for more Prosecco and to stretch and then we were off again. The whole island young and old seemed to be gathered and everyone knew each other. A band that seemed to have some local acclaim was playing live covers on stage and the piazza before them was full of dancing. There is a local form of what Americans would probably refer to as folk dancing or line dancing - so whether it was Josh Groban or Justin Bieber it went left step left step, right foot shake, left foot kick, right step back etc… all in a row. We were definitely the odd ones out but did our best to learn.
We enjoyed drinks and dancing until late, and set off again into the black waters of the lagoon. The clear night sky was bright with constellations accented by a meteor shower, intermittent falling stars glimmering over our little boat on the water. The way back was a little perilous with some skinny dipping required to rescue our craft from the grasp of the lagoon but non of us minded the adventure. Eventually the glow of Venice overtook the dark and our galant hosts deposited us safe and sound at the bridge adjacent to our hotel. We were able to claim only a few hours of sleep that night but it was a deep sleep with dreams of mermaid lagoons and shooting stars.