YOU'VE heard of the "old woman who lived in a shoe, who had so many children she didn't know what to do." Well, there is a boot in which live not only many children but millions of children and millions of men and women too. It is called Italy. It is the largest boot in the World and yet it is not large enough to hold all its children, so a great many of them have come over to America. The very first one of them to come over was Christopher Columbus, over four hundred years ago. He sailed from Spain, but he was born in Italy and lived in a city at the top of the boot, called Genoa. A part of his house is still standing in Genoa, and there is a statue of him just outside the railroad station. Ships still sail from Genoa to America, but they know where they are going now and Columbus didn't.
On the other side of the boot top is another city. It is not near the water, nor by the water, nor on the water, but in the water. It is built on many little islands, and the streets are water with bridges across them. This city is called Venice. The water streets are called canals, and the main street, which would be a broad avenue if it were paved, is called the Grand Canal. Instead of automobiles or carriages, the people have to use boats. These boats are painted black and in the center there is a little cabin like a closed automobile. In the very front there is a queer thing with teeth which looks something like a big comb standing on end. These boats are called gondolas, and a man called a gondolier stands back of the little cabin and rows the gondola with one long oar. There are no "stop" and "go" signs at the canal crossings, so the gondoliers, as they come to a crossing, call out a funny "ooh," and if there is a gondolier coming from the cross canal he calls back so that they will not run into each other. There are no honking horns, no rumbling wheels-Venice is almost silent except for singing and music.
Long ago where Venice now is there were many little islands but no city. Some people, called Veneti, were troubled by a wild tribe from the north. So they moved to these islands to get away from these annoying tribes. The Veneti cut posts made of cedar wood, which does not easily rot, and drove them down into the water, and on top of these posts they built their houses. The Veneti lived chiefly on fish, which they caught in large numbers, because all they had to do was to drop a line or net out of the front door. In fact, they caught so many fish they could not eat them all. So they gathered salt by drying seawater and salted the fish so that they would keep.
As the Veneti lived on the water they had to be good sailors, and they were. So they sailed to all corners of the Mediterranean Sea, selling their salt fish and selling salt too, and bringing back in payment silk gowns and rugs and jewels. Then people from all over Europe came to Venice to buy these things which the Veneti had brought back in exchange for this fish and salt, and Venice became the greatest shopping-place, the greatest market, in Europe. So the Venetians, as the Veneti came to be called, kept on getting richer and richer. They built beautiful palaces along the canals, and as they believed a certain saint had brought good luck to them and their city, they built a beautiful church to him. This saint was St. Mark. They found his bones and buried them in this church underneath the altar. St. Mark's Church is different-looking from any of the churches I have told you about so far. It has five domes, one on each side and one big dome in the center, but these domes are not like those of St. Paul's or the Capitol-they are shaped like an onion.
Pictures are usually painted with paint, and you have probably never seen colored pictures made without paint. But the inside of St. Mark's, and the outside too, is covered with hundreds of pictures, not made with paint but out of bits of colored stone and gold and colored glass. Such pictures are called mosaics. They will not fade nor peel off, nor wash off, as painted pictures might do.
As you might have a dog for a pet, St. Mark was supposed to have had a lion for a companion, so on top of a column, out in front of his church, the Venetians put a bronze statue of a lion with wings. Over the door of the church there are four horses. They are not live horses, yet they have traveled far. They were made about the time of Christ, out of bronze, and they have been carried away by one ruler and another from one place to another, and finally back again to Venice.
The largest piece of land in Venice is a paved square in front of St. Mark's. In this square there are flocks of pigeons, and they are so tame they will alight on your hand or shoulder to be fed. People have pictures taken of themselves with pigeons on their head and shoulders and at their feet. Once upon a time Venice was saved from an enemy by a message brought by a carrier-pigeon, and ever since then Venetians treat pigeons as sacred, and they would arrest and punish any one who harmed a pigeon. Did you know that a pigeon discovered America? Yes, that's a fact, for in Italian "Columbus" means "pigeon." So his real name is Christopher Pigeon.
Venice is now only a city, but it used to be like a little country all by itself. It made its own money and it had its own ruler, who was called a Doge (dozhe), which means Duke. A Doge ruled like a president and lived in a palace like a king, and punished people who had done wrong, like a judge. Just across the water street from the Doge's palace was the prison, and connecting his palace with the prison was a covered bridge. When a man was sent to prison by the Doge he crossed over this bridge, sighing and groaning, so it came to be called the "Bridge of Sighs."
Theaters are sometimes named "The Rialto," but The Rialto is not a theater. It is a bridge in Venice over the Grand Canal. It has shops along its sides. Venice was the shopping-place of Europe, and the Rialto was the department store of Venice, where every kind of thing was sold. There is a play written by William Shakspere, the English author, called "The Merchant of Venice." The story is about a man who had a shop on the Rialto.
The Venetians made their living in the first place out of two commonplace things right at hand-fish and salt. That was the start of their fortune. There was also a great deal of another commonplace thing right at hand too-this was sand. Sand seems to have very little value, but the Venetians found out that they could make glass out of sand by melting it in a furnace with something else. They found out too that they could blow this melted glass as one blows soap-bubbles, and by blowing the glass in this way into different shapes they made wonderfully beautiful bottles, vases, beads, and drinking- glasses. The glass-blowers became as famous as any artist who could make beautiful paintings or beautiful music, and the glass-blowers made fortunes besides, for people everywhere sought their work and paid high prices for it. They were the most important people in Venice. A specially fine glass-blower was as important as the Doge himself-one glass-blower was made a Doge-and some of their daughters even married princes.
Venice is now no longer a country by itself. It is now only one city in Italy, but people go from all over the World to see St. Mark's and the Doge's palace, to bathe at its wonderful beach nearby called the Lido, to ride in gondolas on its canals, and listen to musicians who on warm moonlight nights sing and play on stringed instruments. Venice is one of the places in the World where every girl thinks she would like to spend her honeymoon when she is married.
An American girl once sent a postal card home: "Here I am in Venice. It is wonderfully beautiful-the golden palaces, the gorgeous sunsets, the enchanting music. I am sitting in a gondola on the Grand Canal and drinking it all in!" We speak of a person "thirsting" for knowledge or beauty, but one would have to be very thirsty to drink in the Grand Canal.
The "Boot" lies in the Mediterranean Sea, but the part of the sea that borders Venice is called The Adriatic. Venice is so beautiful it is known as the "Queen of the Adriatic." Fame and fortune made from fish and salt and ships and sand!