[Illustration: THE GRAND CANAL, SHOWING S. MARIA DELLA SALUTE]
The shops of Venice, I may say at once, are not good. They satisfy the Venetians, no doubt, but the Venetians are not hard to please; there is no Bond Street or Rue de la Paix. But a busy shopping centre always being amusing, the Merceria and Frezzeria become attractive haunts of the stranger; the Merceria particularly so. To gain this happy hunting ground one must melt away with the crowd through the gateway under the famous blue clock, which is worth a visit on account of its two bronze giants: one punctual and one late, for that one on the left of the bell, as we face the tower from the Piazza, is always a minute or two after his brother in striking the hours. The right hand giant strikes first, swinging all his upper part as he does so; and then the other. From their attitude much of Venice is revealed, but only the thin can enjoy this view, such being the narrowness of the winding stairs and doorway by which it is gained. At Easter a procession of mechanical figures below the clock-face delights the spectators.
It was while Coryat was in Venice that one of these giants, I know not which, performed a deed of fatal savagery. The traveller thus describes it: “A certaine fellow that had the charge to looke to the clocke, was very busie about the bell, according to his usuall custome every day, to the end to amend something in it that was amisse. But in the meane time one of those wilde men that at the quarters of the howers doe use to strike the bell, strooke the man in the head with his brazen hammer, giving him such a violent blow, that therewith he fell down dead presently in his place, and never spake more.”
At the third turning to the right out of the Merceria is the church of S. Giuliano, or S. Zulian, which the great Sansovino built. One evening, hearing singing as I passed, I entered, but found standing-room only, and that only with the greatest discomfort. Yet the congregation was so happy and the scene was so animated that I stayed on and on—long enough at any rate for the offertory box to reach me three separate times. Every one present was either poor or on the borders of poverty; and the fervour was almost that of a salvation army meeting. And why not, since the religion both of the Pope and of General Booth was pre-eminently designed for the poor? I came away with a tiny coloured picture of the Virgin and more fleas than I ever before entertained at the same time.
At the end of the Merceria is S. Salvatore, a big quiet church in the Renaissance style, containing the ashes of S. Theodore, the tombs of various Doges, and a good Bellini: a warm, rich, and very human scene of a wayside inn at Emmaus and Christ appearing there. An “Annunciation” by Titian is in the church proper, painted when he was getting very old, and framed by Sansovino; a “Transfiguration” by Titian is in the pretty sacristy, which, like many of the Venetian churches, is presided over by a dwarf. A procession of Venetian sacristans would, by the way, be a strange and grotesque spectacle.