Venice has been my favorite city for more than 50 years, since I saw it on a cold, winter night, coming in from what was then Yugoslavia.
I went there as often as I could (and stayed as long as I could afford) and it is still my favorite place to visit, read about, and remember, even though it has changed enormously in that half century. It is still the most elegant, unique community to exist anywhere, even if la Serenissima is full of foreigners these days, and almost a thousand years past her peak as the ruler of the civilized world.
Zucchero (Fornaciari) is also a personal favorite, and this song is one of his biggest hits, sadly beautiful. After I watched him and Sting sing together on Sting’s farm near Florence in a different YouTube, the next little square “suggested for you” by the algorithms at YouTube was “Il Volo,”and I could tell by the background Zucchero was in Venice.
I had no idea he was in the most famous square in Italy by himself.
This video could only have happened during the pandemic, and probably early on, when northern Italy, and especially dense little Venice, was totally closed. In Venice, in the first weeks, even the bar/caffes were closed, and that was worse than anything Venetians had ever experienced. The corner cafe with it’s chrome baskets of oranges and stand-up espresso counters survived both World Wars, serving tiny cups of stiff coffee to friend and foe.
Venetians intereact in their narrow streets, and around the public squares. They are the veins, the canals the watery arteries. The square (campos and camponiles) are the hubs. And San Marco, the biggest and grandest of all, is always filled to the brim with tourists and pigeons, on a pretty day like the one in the video. Even at sunset. Even if you got there before sunrise.
So, I knew when this was.
Because even Zucchero, who is the rock/blues equivalent of Pavarotti to Italians, could not have emptied out St. Mark’s Square like this. Not even at daybreak. And then, when the drone started with the breathtaking aerials, it was clear there was almost no boat traffic either.*
That would be like NYC without yellow cabs.
Venice hasn’t been this empty since 421. And will never be this empty again!
So, when all the musicians were doing their little private YouTube concerts in their home studios in the spring of 2020, to cheer us all up, locked in our own homes as we were — Zucchero convinced Venice to let him do his private performance in the most amazing public square in the world, surrounded by ….. nothing… except that glorious architecture, echoing marble and gold, the only onlookers, the angels and lions of St. Mark’s. (In fact, there aren’t even any pigeons, which tells you what you need to know about those little beggars!)
Here is why I love Venice and Zucchero in one nice little package.
* Donna Leon, who lived in Venice for 30 years, made passing references to the pandemic in “Give Unto Others,” casually commenting on the empty squares and waterways “…be careful what you wish for…”