I used to think of Campo San Vidal as the landing zone on the other side of the Accademia Bridge in San Marco. A place to be rushed through, not savored. An artery. I never paid much attention to it, nor its deconsecrated Chiesa di San Vidal, with its nightly, tourist-targeted Vivaldi concerts hawked by girls in handing out leaflets wearing poofy period dresses with Nikes peeking out underneath.
But after spending a couple weeks there last summer, I've formed a real affection for it.
I came to love the fakey latecomer, the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, with its giant, nearly Las Vegan, over-the-top turn on gothic ornamentation, all added in the 19th century. It's got a chipper little garden, a beautiful well-head, and all in all, a kind of immodest sincerity that has won me over. Now that an insurance company moved out and the Institute of Arts and Sciences has moved in, it's going to be a proper exhibition space and a fresh cultural force, something Venice can always use more of.
We were up on the second floor (or first floor, if you're Italian), directly across from the Cavalli-Franchetti. We looked out of a wide bank of large windows that I speculate once led to a little loggia, suggesting that the apartment was situated on the piano nobile, the main and fanciest floor in Renaissance-era homes in Venice and elsewhere.
From this perch, you had a military-grade command of every square centimeter of the campo, including the foot of the bridge and the Accademia vaporetto stop across the Canal Grande. Accordingly, people-watching was first rate. You had your teams of singing drunks at 4 AM. Lovers on the steps of the garden. Streetsweepers with those gnarly fairy-tale brooms. The gondoliers, chanting for a fare as they stood at the foot of the bridge in contra posto poses. Every form of tourist minted. Street musicans. Serious looking city officials. Carabinieri duos (looking like 15 year olds in costume). The whole parade that is Venice seemed to pour into a human canale that ebbed and flowed with the moon.
In the painting by Canaletto below, you can see Campo San Vidal as it looked in the 18th century. Across the way, you can see the church of Santa Maria della Carità when it still had its campanile and before it was morphed into the Accademia di Belle Arti. The bridge would have to wait another hundred years or so. The site of the Cavalli-Franchetti, on the left, was filled by an older palace, remnants of which, I understand, are still behind today's facade. While the painting is called The Stone Mason's Yard, what you really see is the restoration of the church of San Vidal in progress (the church itself is not visible).
And on the right, I speculate, is the house we stayed in, with the missing loggia in tact. Great people-watching back then, too, no doubt, though the sound of hammers would have gotten old.