Studmarsh to Venice

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy pictures

Just over two weeks ago I was sitting in a restaurant in the heart of Venice.  This is no delusion; I really did go to Venice for three days.  After last year’s bleak December it seemed an ideal antidote. 

I thought I would share my Venetian tale on the blog, as I know those involved with the Past in Mind project would feel the same appreciation and wonder as I did, walking round this ancient city. 

The first thing I would say about Venice is that getting lost is a prerequisite.  If you accept that getting lost is part of the Venetian experience, then the myriad alley ways and squares will be jewels rather than millstones.  Even when the maize is never-ending and there really seems no way out, the quirky narrow streets and tall buildings expel a wave of magic that draws you in ever deeper.  All the while I was in Venice I felt enchanted by its spell. 


Understanding the transport system was taxing to say the least.  We’d been warned not to fork out the price of water taxis, so our first challenge was to find the right vaporetto (water bus) to get us to the island of Lido, where the hotel was.  This was our first taste of being lost in Venice.  Travel weary and overwhelmed by our surroundings we became entangled in the spider legs of the city.  It was now dark and the small bakeries and antique shops were dangerously alluring.  Intoxicating though it was, we were hungry and desperate to shed our rucksacks.  When we were on the point of expiring my friend was brave enough to ask for directions in Italian, which got us on that first vaporetto to Lido.  Crossing the water on the Venetian equivalent of the London Underground was where the adventure really began.


To say we were relieved when we reached the hotel is an understatement.  I felt as if I’d crossed a whole dimension in time and space.   But we’d barely set foot in the sumptuous foyer when the smartly dressed Italian behind the desk told us that unfortunately the hotel was closed because of a broken down boiler.  It was back to mainland Venice for us.  Back on the vaporetto across the dark lagoon and into the city’s maize.  This is where you need some healthy reserves of stamina and a good sense of humour.  If you can’t laugh in Venice, it’s a tough call.

Our replacement hotel was more basic but adjacent to the Grand Canal which made it an ideal location for future exploring.  The room was right on the top floor so it meant climbing flights and flights of narrow stairs.  I’ve never been so glad to sit on a bed and kick off my boots! 


Weariness aside, I was totally overawed.  Just treading the ground of Venice made the place come alive for me.  I could picture artists and musicians thriving with inspiration century after century.  There was music in the air, and it was blissfully peaceful.  The fact that there are no cars in Venice allowed my ears to tune into the atmosphere.  I could stand still and absorb the vibrations which rumbled through time and back.

Apart from a visit to Murano, we did not have an agenda for our holiday and that was a wise decision.  It allowed us to wander through the backstreets peeling off the layers of the city until we had reached its deepest core.  Each narrow street (or “Calle”) was lit with quirky shops selling items ranging from vintage curios to cakes to Designer clothes.   The deeper we penetrated, the more obscure it all became.  It was Venice with bed hair and no make-up.  We walked for hours, often ending up at the same point of obscurity with no one in sight.  Climbing back to the surface of the city was no easy task, for we kept being sucked back into its underbelly.  At times it was like being in a whirlpool, going round and round in an endless spiral.  Despite a couple of despairing moments when we feared we’d never find our way back to a familiar landmark, to me this was the essence of Venice and I loved it.   I’d thoroughly recommend setting a whole day aside for wanderlust.


Visiting Venice in winter has untold advantages.  There are relatively few tourists, prices are lower and there is no need to cover your mouth with a handkerchief.  But more importantly, it allows you to breathe in the beauty of the city almost unheeded. 

A tourist in winter gets a glimpse of Venice mending itself before the onset of the busy season.  We walked along the waterway of the Piazzetta (adjoining St. Mark’s Square) and were treated to a feast of Venetian industry with its backdrop of lapping water, gulls and rushing wind.  The sound of hammering, chopping, banging and lively chatter had a hypnotic rhythm.  The lagoon was alive.  Personally I would never choose to visit in summer.  The thought of fighting through throngs of tourists on every street makes me shudder.  I enjoyed having Venice to myself, or so it seemed. 


 On our final night we went for our last walk across the Rialto Bridge and into St. Mark’s Square.  St. Mark’s Square was almost deserted.  The Basilica was laid bare in all its glory, and I felt utterly insignificant yet filled with tremendous strength.  Touching the stones and pillars was like drawing energy from an invisible source of power. 

All of a sudden, the Campanile San Marco began pounding out eleven peels to mark eleven o’clock.  I was momentarily disorientated, for each toll seemed to be sounding from all corners of the Piazza.  With every mighty peel the intensity of the sound increased.   I felt totally engulfed and found myself holding my breath.  The relentless booming seemed to be tearing through the heart of Venice yet at the same time pumping life into its veins.  It was urgent and deeply melancholy.  After the eleventh toll there was a crushing silence, which made me gasp.  The reverberations held me still.  And then came the melody of the five bells, rocking backwards and forwards between raw sorrow and joy.  As each bell called out to another I stood there with red hot tears in my eyes.  I was caught in time, curled up right inside those magnificent bells and roaring to the world that I was alive.


I could write so much more about my introduction to Venice.  Its mystery, its haunting passageways which kindle the imagination , its shadows and shards of light, its famous inhabitants inspired to peaks of creativity, its rippling canals and magnificent buildings, its hundreds and hundreds of bridges.   Venice has left a lasting impression on me which I can still feel.   Three days was not enough, and I am determined to go back for more.


PIMhd20                                                                                                                                         Happy New Year everyone!  I’m very pleased to be back in the blogosphere after what seems like a decade of lying low. 

New Year always brings a wave of optimism for me, and I like turning the corner at the end of December ready to face a new leg of the journey – where anything is possible.  There is something cathartic for me in placing 2012 in the archives box.  The Past in Mind project which took off in 2012 continues to be a real treasure, and it will be featured on display later this year at the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate.

But the latter part of 2012 became a personal struggle and there were times when I honestly thought I would never find a way out of the darkness.  During this period I lost the ability to write.  I literally shut down and became lost in a very frightening world.  But the pit I fell into wasn’t bottomless, for with help from friends and professionals I managed to cling on to a ledge and prevent myself from sinking out of reach.  I am now slowly climbing out into the open again, and glad to be alive.  January 2013 has brought me some clarity and some hope.  It has been therapeutic surveying the bleak despairing weeks of late 2012 and sending many aspects to the archives.  Having regained possession of trowel and spade, I am ready to discover what lies ahead.  I have been given another chance, which is why I genuinely mean; “Happy New Year everyone”. 

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the Symposium on December 8th 2012.  This was an important moment for the Past in Mind project.  The Symposium is an annual day-long event in Hereford where all the County’s archaeological projects are shared with the public.  Archaeological finds, progress and academic interpretations are all aired with lively question and answer sessions throughout the day. 

Past in Mind was given a platform during the Symposium.  Obviously our project aims to make an academic contribution particularly in relation to (so-called) Deserted Medieval Villages, of which there is comparatively little knowledge nationally.  But Past in Mind also has a historical research strand, so the project brings together the two disciplines of history and archaeology.  Pushing further boundaries, Past in Mind is interwoven with mental health recovery and the individual odysseys of all the Community volunteers whatever their background or experience.  At times it has been challenging finding the right balance between the many strands linking the Past in Mind project, but it has always been our aim to promote inclusion and reduce some of the stigma that people with mental health troubles face in everyday Society.  This has been the underlying current running through our project and it is what makes this project very special to us.

From what I understand the Past in Mind Project caught the attention of the audience, many of whom were amateur or professional archaeologists.  The presentation was given by Jenny, Ian, Kate and the volunteers – all of whom were on the stage.  This clear demonstration of inclusion is the essence of the Past in Mind project, and it also makes it evident how archaeology, history and mental health are entwined.  It is heartening to know that many people would have gone away and given some thought to the concept of archaeology/history and mental health recovery linking together in a really positive way. 

One other significant event in December 2012 was the broadcasting of live conversations recorded during the excavation last Summer, on Radio 4’s “All in the Mind” programme hosted by Claudia Hammond.  This audio snapshot really captures the magic of Past in Mind:

The Past in Mind project has funding for a few more months.  As mentioned earlier, we will be working towards creating a display which will be housed in the Brockhampton Estate later this year.  We also have more historical research to do so that we can increase our understanding of some of the people who once lived in Studmarsh.

Please check the blog for updates as our programme of Events will be posted on here shortly.


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