Rome may be the ‘eternal city’ but for La Serenissima – Venice – time also stands still, or at least it has for me over four decades of visiting the city, with various familiar walks reviving favourite memories at each corner turned.
Something I have noticed for the last thirty years or so is a series of public clocks in the campos and calles – not galley slaves, but alley slaves. These are minute-impulse devices, mostly with a single dial, but a few double-dialled versions on street corners. They have a fairly classic or traditional feel to them, with opalescent dials that are back-lit at night, and cast cherubic and heraldic detailing to the metal cases. I have never succeeded in tracking down anyone I could ask about their origins or date – if anyone can help, please do let me know. There might be twenty or thirty dotted across the city, and while some are in obvious positions, a few present themselves in seemingly quiet and untravelled quarters, perhaps reflecting changing patterns of street usage.
The cases, dials and hands are survivors of an original installation – on asking among expert friends one commented the pattern is one that could have been used by any one of many different electric clock firms – we would only know which if we could see inside, and I didn’t have a ladder on me this time. No doubt the original central master-clock and city-wide wiring has all long disappeared. On a visual inspection I would judge each clock now to be independently driven by a local, radio-controlled, electronic master clock, thus giving precise time, corrected automatically for daylight saving. The Venetian authorities have therefore understood (unusually among their peers) that the impulse-clocks themselves can easily be made to last for generations – it is the network that supplies the impulses which may need updating – a message I bang on about frequently, as friends will know. Venice – a timeless city – moving with the times.