In the footsteps of Hemingway

In the footsteps of Hemingway

In the newspaper of the sun it is immediately distinguished by the square shape of its bell tower and the bulk of its cathedral, suspended between water and sky on the horizon line that looks to the East, towards the Balkans. It almost seems to slide over the tops of the thick curtain of marsh reeds that surround the lagoon, leaving glimpses of the pink and mauve color of the limonium flowers that cover the sandbanks that surround it: it is Torcello la bella, the purple island of Venetian lagoon: on the left, along the road that goes from Trieste to Venice, the massive bell tower preceded by the spindle one of the island of Burano.

From the road that gradually unwinds between the fields of Roman Altino and the slate lagoon, the two bell towers reach each other, join, climb over, move away, return to govern their islands from above. , in his novel “Across the river among the trees”, makes Colonel Cantwell stop on the bridge over the Dese River, who admires with his driver Jackson the splendid spectacle of the island that precedes Venice.

It is on this island that in the winter of 1948, the American writer retires to the Cipriani inn to write the Venice novel, which caused so much scandal at the time for his alleged love with the young Venetian countess Adriana Ivancich, Renata To reach Torcello, take the vaporetto at the old customs house, the Ricettoria di Cavallino Treporti, the peninsula after Jesolo. Just a quarter of an hour of water travel with an intermediate stop in Burano and you are already there. Or you can get there by vaporetto from the Fondamenta Nuove di Venezia, after almost an hour’s journey on the placid waters of the lagoon. You pass near the cemetery of San Michele, then touching the island of glass, Murano, and passing by what remains of the island of San Giacomo in Palude.
At the time of the Serenissima Republic, a singular character lived on this island who asked the begging boats that passed close by with a four-meter long pole at the end of which a net was placed. It then docks in Mazzorbo and Burano, the islands whose simple houses are highlighted by different bright colors so that fishermen can each distinguish their home from afar. And from Burano, after five minutes, you arrive at Torcello opposite. Torcello’s color is purple and all its range of colors up to pink.

Purple like the artichokes grown everywhere, fuchsia and indigo like the thistle flowers in August, pink and mauve like the limonium, the sandbank flower that covers the lagoon in summer, pink like the light of the Palude della Rosa at sunrise and sunset Torcello is a particular island, magical, where gray herons go to sleep in flocks, where swallows go crazy, where colonies of white and piebald cats live placidly. It seems haunted: on the canals that flank and run through it you can see myriads of bubbles that gush out of the water, and which have fueled the legends of mermaids over the centuries. The reality is that the subsoil is rich in gas that escapes in this way. It may be that the phenomenon is more pronounced under the devil’s bridge, it may be due to the legends that hover there, it may be due to its flowers and fruits that anticipate the seasons, but this island has an inexplicable energy of its own, as narrated by the Murano writer Alberto Toso Fei in “The mysteries of the lagoon and tales of witches”.

At the docking of the vaporetto you can see on the left an old house overlooking the canal, propped up with large beams: it is the Casa dei Borgognoni, once the sacristy of an ancient church. The people who lived there until a few years ago said they heard the footsteps and breaths of the ghost of a friar, who in the seventeenth century died here due to an explosion and ended up stuck in a fireplace. In love with the Lagoon, Clementina and Lucio, who lived a tormented love story here. Lucio Andrich, the brilliant Agordino artist recently rediscovered with a splendid exhibition held last year on the island of Sant’Erasmo, loved himself and left with Clementina, the blonde wife who, sitting in front of the house on a stone bench, embroidered perpetually magnificent and enormous free-design tapestries that reproduced the motifs painted by the eclectic master.

At the docking of the vaporetto you can see on the left an old house overlooking the canal, propped up with large beams: it is the Casa dei Borgognoni, once the sacristy of an ancient church. The people who lived there until a few years ago said they heard the footsteps and breaths of the ghost of a friar, who in the seventeenth century died here due to an explosion and ended up stuck in a fireplace. In love with the Lagoon, Clementina and Lucio, who lived a tormented love story here. Lucio Andrich, the brilliant Agordino artist recently rediscovered with a splendid exhibition held last year on the island of Sant’Erasmo, loved himself and left with Clementina, the blonde wife who, sitting in front of the house on a stone bench, embroidered perpetually magnificent and enormous free-design tapestries that reproduced the motifs painted by the eclectic master.
On the sudden death of the ethereal Clementina, Lucio settled in the fishermen’s house behind it facing north, on the Palude della Rosa. It can be reached by following the path flanked by brambles which departs from the main road that leads to the cathedral of Torcello. It is about four hundred meters to reach a gate in the shade of a laurel and a locust tree and pull the bell. Here now lives the painter’s nephew, Paolo, who inherited the house and works from his uncle on his death three years ago. Going through that gate has the same effect that Henry Potter feels when he wedges himself into the station pylon to catch the train at platform nine and three-quarters: you enter another world. An ancient chair, red with an armrest, is placed under a fig tree on the right, on the side where the bells of the island’s tower can be seen, while the path, now paved, curves around a small building used as a guesthouse, surrounded by countless fruit trees and artichoke plants. On the right an embankment and beyond a canal, the Ghèbo del Ciucio, there is the splendid view of the Palude della Rosa. This is a naturalistic oasis that gives refuge to thousands of birds, herons, black-winged stilts who roam here undisturbed in search of food at low tide, and the water withdraws completely to discover the velma of the lagoon and denude the sandbanks that surround it. and marble architraves that act as benches. This house houses the Magnificat by Marco Frisina.

You can hear it as soon as you enter, it hovers in the rooms, climbs the staircase leading to the attic, where from the dormer you can enjoy a breathtaking view over the lagoon towards Tessèra and the Belluno Prealps that seem to float on the water, an imaginative panorama of creation that does not have The house has been completely restored by Lucio Andrich, the floor made with Venetian tiles and terrazzo, the ceilings with wood from the Civetta woods in the Dolomites, the fifteenth-century doors surrounded by imaginative wooden frames, the fireplaces with Dutch majolica, terracotta and blue mosaic tiles, marbles set on the wall, old furniture, his works everywhere, oils on canvas, engravings, painted benches, sketches, photos, pyrographed wooden figurines, glass, castings … nephew Paolo cultivates his uncle’s artichoke fields, has a passion for making quince jam from his orchard, and runs a bed & boat in the small rooms of the guesthouse furnished with furniture ancient. He is an eclectic character too. On summer evenings he stops being a farmer and prepares unique impromptu evenings.

There is life on the island.

After eight in the evening, when the daily tourists leave, from the vaporetto, from the jetty behind the house, the boats of friends dock, always arriving in large numbers, bringing freshly caught fish and bottles of prosecco. And there, under the patio, we chat, laugh, eat and drink to the background of Frank Sinatra’s swing music, waiting for the right moment to ask Paolo to recite Zanzotto’s poems or the Iliad’s passages in translated Venetian from Casanova. He is planning a bird-watching on the Palude della Rosa, while he is preparing a pedestrian itinerary that from the vaporetto passes through the artist’s house and arrives in the small square in Torcello along the island. From the Andrich house, continuing towards the Cathedral, there is the Devil’s Bridge, famous for a legend. During the Austrian occupation, a Venetian girl fell in love with an officer of that army. Her family was upset, so much so that the young man was found stabbed one day. The girl from that day, ate no more, perished, was so desperate to ask for help from a sorceress. This turned to a demon, who promised to bring the boy back from beyond and make him meet his lover. In return, he asked for the souls of seven children who died prematurely.

The contract was signed, a suitable place for the meeting was found, a stone arch over a stream, the Torcello bridge precisely. A date was set, December 24, when the forces of good were busy elsewhere … The girl and the sorceress showed up for the appointment and found Beelzebub and the young Austrian on time across the shore. The young woman crossed the bridge, reached her beloved and disappeared into the night with him, towards a place where no one would ever separate them.

The devil and the witch made an appointment within seven nights, so that the old woman would deliver the souls of the seven children as agreed. But something went wrong, the sorceress perished in those days and the demon waited in vain for that night, and all the nights of all the following years. Since that day, on Christmas Eve, it happens to see a black cat standing on that bridge: it is the devil who is waiting for the witch with the agreed souls.And indeed there is that black cat, but it is Nerina, the cat of the Locanda Cipriani who goes to visit the cats of Giuliana, the over eighty year old dean of Torcello who lives right in front of the Devil’s Bridge. Giuliana loves cats, in her garden that overlooks the street there are always different ones, all quiet to observe the tourists passing by. It is the memory of Torcello, celebrities, crowned heads, Hemingway have passed in front of his house … “Yes, I met him. He used to come here often after the war. He was a friend of Giuseppe Cipriani, he was staying in his Inn, down the bridge, further on. I remember that he wanted the inhabitants of Torcello to go to him at Cipriani every night.
He always offered us something to drink, coffee, he wanted us to keep company with his wife, Mary Welsh. She was nice, affable, kind, she talked to everyone. Did he know Italian? He made himself understood! And how. He was quite on his own, spoke little, and immediately retired to his room. And he drank a lot, wow if he drank! Instead, we stayed down to party, there was music and we danced, and Mary laughed and danced with all the most beautiful young men of Torcello. We were two hundred people then, not the twelve residents of now. He wrote a lot in the morning, he wrote a novel about Venice, I don’t remember the title… The crowned heads? Well, Charles and Lady Diana, the Queen Mother of England, the royals of Belgium. What an uproar that time Giscard d’Estaing came!

The island was swarming with policemen, you could not leave the house. I remember Kim Novak, others … all the celebrities who come to Venice pass this way. “From the house of the” cat lady “you go to the first square where there is the famous Locanda Cipriani, now managed by Bonifacio Brass and his wife Daniela , direct grandson of the legendary Giuseppe. It is an accurate place, on the walls the photos of celebrities, the dedications of Hemingway, a renowned cuisine, famous and mentioned in all the tourist guides, has six rooms.The most requested is, needless to say, the one where the famous writer stayed American. It is booked well in advance by a purely Anglo-American clientele, especially journalists and writers, who stay here drawing inspiration. It is a simple room divided into two: the night area, two single beds and a half, a built-in wardrobe, a chair and a desk, perhaps the original, where all those who pass by and write hope to perceive some the soul … the bathroom is small but nice, the walls covered with small blue mosaic tiles. , a bookcase built into the wall full of books in all languages. I’m not from the inn. Each guest leaves someone of his own, leaves his mark, a little bit of his soul. They belong to that place. Everything has remained as in the fifties, the yellow and ivory colors, the furniture, the upholstery.

Renata, Cantwell, Jackson, Giuseppe Cipriani and Countess Ivancich, the battles on the Piave are still there, hovering around the room. Many arrive from Cipriani by boat or with pilot boats. In front of the landing site there is another famous person, who has always been there, el gansèr, the man to whom the rope of the boat is thrown which is tied with el ganso, the hook. Continue on foot to the Piazzetta della Basilica with its stone shutters. In the center, among the archaeological remains, the throne of Attila stands out, a marble throne that legend has it of the Hun king, the most photographed site on the island, where columns of tourists stop waiting to sit there and be immortalized. In the background the museum with the Roman and medieval remains, the antiquarian with the vineyard next to it, where marble statues with strange poses seem to run in the middle. In front of the throne, which actually seems to have been used in antiquity by the tribunes of the island to administer justice, on the right is the Church of Santa Fosca, from the 11th century, delightful in its pentagonal plan, harmonious in its architectural style, a destination for weddings from all over the world. even in 639, at the time of the emperor Heraclius. When you enter from the side door, one cannot fail to be struck by the grandiose 11th century mosaic of the Venetian school, above the main door, which represents the apotheosis of Christ and the Last Judgment and from the floor of the church, a harmonious succession of geometric designs made with pieces of marble of different colors such as that of the Basilica of San Marco. To the left of the altar there are alabaster slabs that delimit the presbytery: with the light they are so transparent that if you put a hand beyond the stone you can see its shadow: they are all equipped with huge hinged stone shutters.

You can ask the parish priest, Don Rosolino, for an explanation, who will then talk about the origins of Venice. As a scholar he has rediscovered its Aegean origin, ready to educate the listener with a fascinating theory that he has also published.The bell tower is worth a visit, from whose top you can enjoy an incomparable view over the entire lagoon estuary. the remains of a Roman basilica on the island of Villa Baslini, which can be reached by passing over the Devil’s Bridge or by water, and which can be visited by asking permission from the caretaker. souvenir kiosks and return to their homes, when the crowds of tourists reach the pier to return to Venice and silence finally falls on Torcello, the few remaining inhabitants leave their homes to regain possession of the island. At the foot of the Devil’s Bridge, the Giuliana, equipped with a rod, fishes for gò, gobies, for her cats that surround her slyly, all in a row lined up waiting for the prey. pink and violet colors of the sandbanks and drowns the sky on the water, makes it one, and an aura of powder envelops the island and separates it from the rest of the world.

Herons fly in flocks to go to sleep beyond the Burgundian canal. On the canals the water boils even more, it is the sirens who return to their shelters to rest. And suddenly it seems that ancient souls wake up and come back to hover over the places where they have always lived and never abandoned, together with the dancers of the sea and the lost lovers of the Devil’s Bridge. night, you can smell the strong smell of the brackish canals, the cool breeze that rises and takes away the heat of the day. It is then there that one must repeat as in a mantra: Torcello Beata, Torcello Created, Torcello Stupenda, Torcello Magnifica, Torcello Mother of Venice. Torcello la Bella. Torcello my love.

Lieta Zanatta