A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work in Venice for several days. Whilst out there I met the architect and historian Francesco da Mosto, a charismatic Venetian aristocrat who, while just happening to be married to the sister of a friend of mine, is perhaps best known in the UK for his passionately delivered travel documentaries about Venice and Italy for the BBC. By a happy coincidence, he was giving a presentation at our event and my friend had kindly texted his wife to say I'd be there so we were able to have a chat afterwards.
Our conversation revolved around life in London and Venice; as an architect, what did he think of London’s changing skyline? I asked. How did he compare the pace of life in these two historic trading cities? Would he live elsewhere? The response to my questions, delivered in his generous Italian accent, summed up his affection for the city: “I love Venice”, he said. “I love that it doesn’t change. The Venice of today is largely the Venice of hundreds of years ago. The geography and geology don’t allow change and I love this constancy in Venice.”
The following evening I had a chance to slip away for an hour, to explore the back streets and seek out one of my favourite vistas, looking east past the Baroque masterpiece of Santa Maria della Salute, toward the entrance to the Grand Canal and the campanile of St. Mark’s Square. I had taken some photographs here just the year before and by another happy coincidence had then stumbled upon a painting of the very same view whilst working at an event in Scotland. It was by Francesco Guardi, a contemporary of Canaletto. What is striking in this 250 year old work of art is not just the similarity of the view to that of the present day but the similarity of the details right down to the paving stones; only the people that occupy the scene have changed. Here was Francesco da Mosto’s “constancy” that he so savoured about his home city.
There is a reassurance about things that don’t change. Venice is a rare example where development is constrained by its lagoon setting and extraordinary history; cities are organic, diverse and constantly evolving, so we often turn to the countryside landscape for a more solid sense of place, even if it’s for a week or two each year. How many of us make an annual family trek to somewhere familiar?
In our case it is the north Cornish coast; the view across the beach at Polzeath to Pentire Head and opposite, over the Camel Estuary and beyond to Gulland Rock is ingrained in our collective family memory - fifty years and more of the same scene, as over time we have huddled over rock pools in the wind, built sandcastles or charged the Atlantic surf. We may be on holiday, but it feels like home.
The stories in our holiday photographs unfold similarly; there in the background is the familiar topography of beach, rock and cliff, standing steadfast over time, while in the foreground friends come and go and children grow. As with the pictures of Venice, the view remains the same, it’s the people who eventually change.