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It's April and the light is pale but warm, the color of Prosecco. My sister and I have been gleefully playing in the maze all morning, meandering over bridges and around beckoning corners, rolling our eyes at the rookie tourists huddled over wrinkled maps in every campo. They haven't yet reached our level of enlightenment. They don't realize that to find one's self one must lose one's self, an epiphany the Venetians accelerate by printing their giveaway maps in imperceptible scales, illegible fonts, and miniscule point sizes. Becky and I are practically natives now, having crumpled up our map just a half hour beyond breakfast on this, our very first day in Venice.
To lose the map is the most consistent advice anyone will get about visiting Venice, but every tourist begins with one anyway, afraid they'll miss the most important sights if they don't plot and plan each day's perambulations. The city, though, is like a vast, thousand-year-old castle encircled by a wide moat of seawater; it's had no room to grow anywhere but up, and its millennium of treasures are stacked and veneered one on top of the other, Greek pediments over Gothic arches over Renaissance windows edged by Byzantine mosaics. The ages rub shoulders with each other convivially, the rough and substantial mingling comfortably with the refined and delicate. It's all stunningly beautiful, and you can't walk ten meters without seeing something important, whether you know it or not -- there's scarcely an alley or a rooftop that isn't connected to some enthralling anecdote or three. Poke your head in the door of whatever edifice lures you toward it, and you're likely to find a brochure, in English, for your on-the-spot enrichment.Becky and I agree, in our nascent wisdom, that we'd rather serendipitously find a place and learn, than to learn and try to find the place. We've already descried and paid homage to the vibrant Titians and brooding Tintorettos that loom down from their ordained heights in the Scuola and the Frari, and now, skirting the massive, 600-year-old church, we emerge in its eponymous campo. On the far side, a solemn crowd sits on the broad steps of the bridge, looking past us with an air of subdued expectancy. We glance over our shoulders and see that a quartet of musicians, dazzling black-eyed men in suits, is setting up in the shadow of the ancient church behind us.
I glance at Becky, and, conscious of our unrefined American accents in this quiet tableau, ask with a tilt of my chin – Shall we stay?