Pensione La Calcina is one of John Ruskin’s houses in Venice. He stayed here in 1877, after completing The Stones of Venice and going mad, and there is a plaque for him on the wall: a stone of his own. It is next to the Swiss consulate on the Zattere, but never mind them. I think the Zattere is for people who have tired of Venice. It has a view to the Giudeccacanal, and the waterbus to the airport: to the exit. You can breathe here. I am staying in San Marco, where I can’t. My son falls from a water gate into a canal, and Italian grandmothers tut at us, and we get sick, which my friend says is ‘very chic in Venice’. Before we get sick, we eat at La Calcina.
It looks like a tiny, ruddy fairy tale castle: a Scottish house yearning for fortification. (No Scottish building is too small for fortification, and I love them for it, as I feel the same way.) It is an inn, not a grand hotel – before he went mad Ruskin stayed at the Danieli – and the ground floor is a restaurant with picture windows to the Giudecca canal. It is quite understated for Venice (but I have been to Caffè Florian). It has yellow walls and grey velvet chairs; red Venetian blinds; a Murano glass chandelier with shades that look like little gold hats; sunburst mirrors; putti; some good art and some bad art, including a man’s face made of fruit.
The concierge shows me Ruskin’s bedroom, which has a view of the canal but not of Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore church, which Ruskin hated. He called Palladio ‘virtueless and despicable’ and said it was ‘impossible to conceive a design more gross, more barbarous, more childish in conception, more servile in plagiarism, more insipid in result, more contemptible under every point of rational regard’ than San Giorgio Maggiore.