Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dateline Venezia: News When You Need It!

Updated 1 May, 10 AM CEDT The latest here from MSNBC

Venezia. April 30, 2008(F&L). According to all reports (or at least the one we read during cocktail hour) the authorities are serious about the ban on pigeon feeding in St. Mark's. However, the ban is not pigeon feed--it also bans picnics and men with bare chests (mostly Germans I think). We have observed an increased police presence near St. Mark's and we were hoping it was not a repeat of our experience in Dubrovnik two years ago when a certain Darth Cheney came to call. Instead, it's war against pigeon feeders, people having picnics, and bare chested German men.

In Venezia XIII

Big plans for the day--Let's take the boat to Isola San Servolo where we've seen they have an interesting new museum about the hospital for the insane that was there for a couple centuries. Then we can hang out around the Venice International University (also on San Servolo), have a picnic lunch, some coffee, and kill a couple hours before the Gregorian Chant Vespers at 5:25 PM.

On our way to the Vaporetto ticket stand, we came across a picket line of pigeon feed vendors with signs protesting that apparently, the Mayor had banned them from St. Mark's as of today. We haven't translated all the signs yet, but the emotions ran from "You are taking away our jobs" to "The children will be disappointed" to "The pigeons will starve". Found some more details.

We bought our 72 hour Vaporetto tickets--our last three days here will be spent using the water buses to explore and observe, culminating with our departure just before they expire on Saturday.Then we hopped on the #20 to San Servolo. It's one of the smaller lagoon boats as opposed to the big mega-tubs that haul hundreds of people up and down the Canal Grande and over to Lido.

Disembarking at San Servolo, we encountered a more-or-less deserted island. It was lunch time so the university offices were closed, but there were no students in sight. We found the entrance to the museum and spent a good 5 minutes reading the 4 displays. It turns out you have to arrange a tour of the museum and it's just being developed so maybe there isn't so much to see anyway.

I was able to add to my "Floors of Venezia" series (although not technically Venezia) and also start a new series, "Blue Glass Bamboo of the Venetian Lagoon..."

We ate our sandwich and then decided to continue on to Lido and see what was cracking over there. However, the boat from San Servolo to Lido only goes at midnight, so it was back to Venezia, then board a #1 and head across the lagoon. Shortly, we arrived in Lido. We walked around there for a time, looked at some beaches and the Adriatic. The beach was pretty junky and it turns out all beaches are private except for the tiny over-used chunk we were on.

Back on the #1 to Venezia. Plans for vespers put to sleep and replaced with a plan to take an aperitif at our local campo and then, after we dine, a trip down the Canal Grande with our newly acquired keys to the waterways and a book showing the palazzi of the canale. Likely more to be added later...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Venezia XII.V

Late edition News Flash by Nancy, film at 11 by John.

Went out into the Venetian night. Reflections. Footsteps. Faster walking. No tourists taking photos. Except John. Designer stores: Fendi, Prada, La Coupole, Ferragamo, Dolce et Gabbana, Chanel, Gucci, Versace. I forget the rest. Into the Piazza. Fewer pigeons and no purveyors of pigeon food. Music at Florian's (Viennese waltz, tarantella) and Lavena (New York, New York) so dancing--waltz, polka, Rockettes in the spotlights. The gold and blue mosaics on the basilica facade still shimmery.

Fortuny lampshade reproduction at 300 € a pop are exhibit #1.

Murano glasses and cups at who knows how much each are exhibit #2.

Exhibit #3, a freaking handbag, 2,200 €? Puh-leez.

In Venezia XII

Nancy and I decided to compose together today so here is a joint blog posting. John: A showery day in Venezia changes the pace of the city completely. The tourists never make it past the €1.50 gelato una palina contour line. The Zattere is deserted, the fair-weather food establishments retreating to tiny awnings and the tourists nowhere to be seen. The few intrepid souls at this distance from St. Mark's seem to be British--the foul weather runs off their backs out of habit. Closer in, the Japanese tourists are still game for gondola rides (most other gondoliers that we've seen the past several days are M. I. A.). Within pigeon-feed distance of the duomo, one starts to pick up the Americans. I think the Germans are drinking beer somewhere.

A lazy day for me, Nancy that is. I did walk nearly three miles which can seen like tons back home and is a simple jaunt in this car-free wonderland. In addition to that minimal walk to a bookstore to see if there are any English books worth buying for the trip home, my day has been mostly about reading 24 -- count 'em -- canti of the Inferno section of Dante's Divine Comedy. Warning: the sentence ahead is complex. So I've been immersed in reading about the company George W. "There are no longer words sufficient to describe his crimes" Bush and Darth "Already-Dead" Cheney will be keeping when they are no longer kind of sort of not really "running" things and have been somehow, even if it's only on a cosmic level, prosecuted for their crimes and sentenced to a ring of hell. Snakes, sinners, those who lust, steal, and soothsay. Usury, graft, thievery and lying. Devils who smite you with a glance and turn you from a hellhound wraith into ash. That sort of thing. Charming, don't you think?

What else?

I, like John, did see Japanese tourists today on obligatory gondola tours, but WITH an accordionist in one of the requisite three boats.

It's dusk now and we've just finished our delicious and savory and maybe even low-calorie Tuesday night supper. We're contemplating a passegiatta -- evening walk -- (John calls them passegelatos) down the street to Calle Avogardia and out to the deserted Zattere. Or maybe we'll stick inland tonight, head for one of the many deserted gelateria and the rabbit-warren streets and alleys that make up this quieter Venice sixth. In the meantime, watching the day fade, the heads of passersby as they bob along under the crest of our living room windows is entertainment enough. Bellissimo!

John again: The fair weather format extends to St. Mark's where after I think, nine days in a row, the intrepid fiddler has a day off. Tables are propped to shed water and chairs will await the waiters' towels before tourist seats are seated again.

A high point was roaming home from St. Mark's down the San Polo side of the canal and running into a spice shop I hadn't seen before (read that I didn't really know where I was) where they had photogenic piles of spices and seeds in the window. The unfortunate thing is that I have no idea where it was so will not make it back there except by mistake.

Monday, April 28, 2008

In Venezia XI

A day of taking care of business and then seeing more of Venezia. I started to worry that I'll need an International Driver's Permit to rent a car. I didn't the last time we were here, but reports on the web were mixed enough to lead to worry. Since we can't figure out how to use the phone in the apartment (it's hooked to some sort of central metering system), I hoofed it up to Hertz at Piazzale Roma to find out. I approached the desk--"Buon giorno," --and asked.

"You need a credit card, a US driver's license, and an International Driver's Permit," she told me.
"I don't have the International Driver's Permit. Where can I get one?"
"It will be OK without it", she shrugged, wavering her hand in a maybe-so fashion.
"OK, see you Saturday." "Buon giorno." No response.
I hope she's there on Saturday. I didn't see these lights on the way back, but I like them so you get to see them here.

Then we headed out, took the traghetto to S. Samuele, and found the Fortuny Museum. Nancy explored that while I hung out down on the Canal Grande taking pictures of life floating, stroking, and motoring by. If you stand there long enough, you'll see some strange things, like dogs perched on the bows of boats, flotillas of tourists in gondolas, delivery boats, construction, trash, vaporetti, and so on. I also worked on my "Masonry of Venezia" and "Beverages of Venezia" series. Then we checked out a few churches and ended up at the Palazzo Ducale, or as we have taken to calling it, The Dog(e) House.

The Palazzo Ducale is fabulous. Beside the Doge's apartment (some apartment) it also contained the rooms of state, the Senate and Grand Counsel chambers, a courtroom, and was connected to the prison by the Bridge of Sighs. It abuts on St. Mark's and I suspect there was a Dog-e Door to provide a quick entry and exit. I added to my "Floors of Venezia" series as well with a shot of a landing in the Dog(e) House.

After a short stop on the Riva where I added to my "Self-portraits in Venezia" series, we headed home to rest our barking dogs--or is that barking ducales--having covered about 8 miles plus museums.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

In Venezia X

Another beautiful day in Venezia. We lazed around a bit this morning, taking advantage of the absence of our gatti, the pests, Ping and Ryman, who usually force one of us from bed by 6:30 so they can begin one of three highlights of their day--eating, sleeping, and eating again. We fought through the crowds in what Donna Leon calls The Devil's Triangle of Venezia--that area bounded by the Accademia and Rialto bridges and St. Mark's Piazza--to the Giardini Bienalle. The city park was built on drained wetlands when Napoleon ruled Venezia. I guess he wanted to see a tree and have some shade. A holiday weekend plus the normal tourist crowd (estimated at 40 million per year, that's 110,000 per day in a city of 60,000 residents--like a million a day would be in Portland, all on foot) made the going slow. It's clear that the Venetians don't know much about caring for grass. They also don't seem to care about maintaining the park that houses 30 or more permanent buildings where on odd numbered years, countries of the world exhibit the art of their nations.

The place is a wreck. Trash abounds. Buildings are in disrepair (Scandanavian countries to the left). It's overgrown and a warren of trails leading who-knows-where. The Hungarian building, featuring a very nice roof and some mosiacs, seemed the best. Built in 1957, likely as a "told-you-so" to the world, it's clearly the class act currently. The building of Great Britain is also looking pretty good. Canada, right next door, appropriately enough (though Quebec didn't seem to have their own building), features a tree growing through the roof (on purpose). The US building is about a half-scale Monticello. Germany is under construction. Russia, built in 1914, is back to being Russia. Inquiring minds want to know if the grounds look better in the odd years or if they just go with the art inside the buildings. Googled, but didn't find, pictures of the grounds. Biggest surprise? Plenty of graffiti, but none on the US building.

Hungarian mosaic (left) and Canadian tree (right, eh). But it's not a sugar maple or even a Manitoba maple. What would the lads up the line say to that eh?

On the way back, I shot some bytes of a street vendor's relaxed dog, a tireless violinist (she's been playing every day in St. Mark's since we got here), an attractive sandwich, and some masonry as part of my forthcoming "Masonry in Venezia" series.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In Venezia IX

Three windows in Dorsoduro and three San Polo doorways. After a sunny, warm day exploring Venetian museums and Looking at Life in Venezia over the last 10 Centuries, I went back out for a walk this afternoon. I wonder what's been seen out these windows and I wonder what's gone on behind these doorways in Venezia. None let on.

For a city so vibrant during the day, it's almost soundless at night, except for the occasional footsteps and the abbreviated bells on the half and hour. I guess life continues on behind the shutters and beyond the three Venetian doorways.

Friday, April 25, 2008

In Venezia VIII

April 25th is quite the day in Venezia. A national holiday celebrating liberation at the end of WWII, it's also a Venetian holiday. St. Mark's Day celebrates the founding of Venezia in 421 AD--that's 1587 years ago. For a thousand years, Venezia was governed more or less by an elected republic. Granted, the Doges came from the aristocrats, but don't our presidents for the most part? And they had a very complicated electoral process, sort of like our Electoral College on steroids. Puts the history of the US in perspective, although I'm sure the poor of old Venezia probably didn't appreciate the republican form of government. But the poor of the US probably don't either. Flower stands started appearing as one is supposed to give a rose to the one one loves on the 25th. At 5 to 7 € a pop, there were very few visibly loved people in the crowds. Maybe as more wine flows...

Even the nuns are out in force. It's pretty unusual to see a nun in a habit in Oregon, and they aren't too common here either, but there were lots enjoying the day and even some talking on their cell phones. I'll bet more than one bambina's hand gets slapped with a ruler for pulling out the telefonino in school!

We headed off to St. Mark's early so as to be able to observe the Race of the Traghetti and found ourselves in perfect position to observe the ceremonies in the Piazza--complete with dignitaries, military, the only running brass band I've ever seen (yes, running while playing a fanfare), and a flag raising.

I'm also pretty sure I saw Guido Brunetti, the hero Commisario of Donna Leon's crime series set in Venezia. Nancy keeps reminding me that it's fiction, but I'm sure this guy is Brunetti. He looks a little like Lt. Colombo and was moving around inside the fenced area like a cop on the lookout for someone wanting to do something bad. What do you think?

It was also a great day for sightseeing, people watching and window shopping. The streets were jammed with Venetians and tourists alike. Lots of kids playing in Campi. Lots of tourists taking pictures of other tourists taking pictures of them. People from the ceremonies dressed in period and riding in gondolas. Lots of caffe, caffe latte, caffe correto, vino bianco, vino rosso, and aqua minerale being drunk. Lots of dolce, panini, gelatio, and cicchetti being eaten. Lots of miles being walked and steps being climbed.

Oh, here's what the bells sound like several times a day at our casa San Barnaba

Thursday, April 24, 2008

In Venezia VII

Ok, we went to Murano today--the Island of Glass. Unfortunately, the island has been taken over by this race of creature, in both blue and orange colors, that causes almost everything produced on the island to be really really ugly and/or tacky. I will refrain from posting the little guys with the anatomically correct features...

Back to observations on Murano. It's a pretty little place--sort of like a tiny Venezia. We took the #42 vaporetto from San Zaccaria and stopped first at the cemetery. It's loaded with fornaci, the furnaces and glass making shops. There are even more shops selling all sorts of wares from some very fabulous glass to some really hideous stuff. I'm betting more hideous than fabulous goes out the door. Dolphins in various colors seem to be a favorite.

The cemetery is an interesting place with a zillion graves. A great quiet spot to have a picnic. It looks like maybe you get 20 years or so of a regular kind of plot (see left if you call that regular) and then get moved to a stack (see below). Some of the current plots are, shall we say, impressive. The stacks appeal to me. Watering cans and ladders for servicing the flowers on the stack are provided.

All in all, not a bad place to rest. Ezra Pound, Joesph Brodsky, the Stravinskys picked it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In Venezia VI

After the thrill of St. Anthony's tongue (see posting In Padova I if you haven't already) it was time to spend the day taking care of business. I hoofed it up to the Rialto market for a morning of photography followed by marketing. The market was just as photogenic as the last time with myriad vegetable stands and fish, eel, bivalve, and crustacean mongers. After a hundred or so pictures, I put the camera away and started shopping in Italian 0.101 (that's like one-one hundredth of Italian 101). I managed to buy 2 trout for dinner, but I didn't know how to ask him to clean them. Rather than lapse into sign, I brought them home and cleaned them myself. I think the last time I cleaned fish was just before Zack, Molly, and I left on our grand adventure in 1991--they caught a couple bass at the Ormondroyd's and wanted to eat them. Seventeen years later cleaning a fish hasn't changed much although I suspect these are farm-raised genetically improved rainbow-trout...Onward. I found a meat market--rejecting the first where the butcher shared a storefront with a horse-meat dealer. Figuring they were related businesses, and out of respect for my brother and sister-in-law, my four neigh-phews, and North American horseflesh in general, I passed them by. Another shop seemed to have plenty of flesh that we don't consider companion animals so I went in there and proceeded to buy a small round of veal--no horse, just baby cow...There was a long wait; the butchers provide custom service, back and forth to the cooler, slicing, trimming, displaying, talking, wrapping. A sprig of rosmarino when appropriate for the cut. A quick trip to the veg market for lemons, beans, some fruit and I was on my way back to Fondamenta Gherardini and our casa. One more trip for wine (the wine shop was closed as it's Wednesday afternoon--just like Berea in the 1950s) and then some potatoes from our local vendor.

In between market trips, Nancy and I went to Scuola Grande de S. Roch. My o' my, what a display of early 1500s Italian art. The rooms were huge and the paintings by Tintoretto depicting both Old and New Testament stories were full of veiled imagery that I remember my friend, Luke Colavito from Ithaca, used to tell my freshman composition class about when we went to the Johnson Museum. The Scuola was great for me as they provided mirrors for observing the ceiling art--solved my vertigo problem and let me enjoy Moses Drawing Water From The Rock!