Thursday, November 23, 2017

Details, Details... Palazzo Grassi

Gaudy as the handles to the French doors of the piano nobile of Palazzo Grassi are (see an example of one above), I recently turned to them--and really noticed them for the first time--as a respite from the massive display of kitsch filling the center of the palazzo's exhibition space: Damian Hirst's Andromeda and the Sea Monster (detail below), which is a comically overwrought combination in bronze of, among other things, woman-in-peril pulp fiction and comic book covers of a half-century ago with the unconvincing rubber sharks that surfaced in popular films of around the same era (and then, most famously and profitably, in Spielberg's Jaws).

So much has been written about the Hirst show that I've never felt any need to bother with it myself. You can still catch it until December 3. There is no time limit on when you can have a look at the flashy door handles, about which, I must admit, I know nothing. 

Sometimes a piece of art, no matter how spectacular it aims to be, only becomes interesting in the presence of viewers.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

7 Views of the Festa della Madonna della Salute, Today

Candles, balloons, castradina, and sweets, thanks for one's good health and prayers for good health in the year to come: these are the key elements (sacred and profane) of the Festa della Madonna della Salute.

For more on this major Venetian holiday, please see:

For information on the three-day process of preparing the feast's ritual dish of castradina, see:

One can't help but have candles on one's mind when it comes to this festa

For those concerned about the health of their soul, as well as their body, the sacrament of confession was available

The speed with which balloon vendors locate and disentangle a specific balloon from the massive cluster of them they sell strikes me as one the day's minor miracles

Friday, November 17, 2017

Unseen Venice: A Cantiere in Cannaregio

Every two years the city of Venice is supposed to hold a lottery for its resident boat owners to assign any new mooring places (ormeggi) around the city that have opened up since the prior lottery (something I've written about both here: "Adrift in Venice" and here: "Moorings Found and Lost"). The latest statistics show no less than 180 ormeggi are now free. However, it's been a full five years since the last lottery and the calls of local politicians, such as Monica Sambo, and resident activists for another lottery have fallen on deaf ears.

Embroiled in the corruption charges that would ultimately lead to his removal from office, perhaps it's understandable that ormeggi were the last thing on the mind of the city's previous mayor, Giorgio Orsoni. But what about the current one, the one who likes to present himself as Mayor Can-Do?

Some harbored the suspicion that as Mayor Brugnaro was born and raised on the mainland, and continues to live on the mainland, near Treviso, he was unfamiliar with the boat culture of Venice, and the importance of ormeggi to residents. These people tried to alert him to the fact that this was not just a matter of leisure boats--as a terraferma-dweller (the less-polite term would be campagnolo) such as himself might imagine--but that having access to one's own boat, for work and for other everyday needs, was a defining feature of Venetian life.

Once again, this fell on deaf ears. It seems difficult to get the attention of Venice's "First Citizen" when it comes to issues affecting the lives of those residents who might very well be his neighbors if he deigned to actually live in Venice. Brugnaro's focus is almost invariably on developments (in all senses of that term) related to tourism: whether he's very publicly insulting four British tourists who wrote to him with their concerns that they'd been ripped off by a Venice restaurant or supporting the continued sell-off of public properties to be turned into hotels.

Which means that more than a few Venice residents, my family among them, find themselves renting space to keep their boat in one of the private marinas at the edges of the city or in a cantiere (or boat workshop and warehouse) of the sort you see pictured in this post--and of which most visitors are completely unaware, concealed as they are behind walls and stretching through neighborhoods that appear simply residential.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wild in the Streets (or Calli), Five Years On

During our first couple of years living here, to pick up our son from school was to be reminded how in car-free Venice pre-schoolers and kindergartners are the kings and queens of the calli, frolicking through them with complete (and sometimes operatic) abandon, as I recounted in this post:

This begins to change as they move toward the end of first grade, and by the time they hit their fourth year of elementary school, as our son has, they've mostly abdicated what was once their realm, bowing, on the one hand, to a creeping sense of what it means to be "cool" and, on the other, to the unmistakable fact that in many parts of the historic center the streets really belong to the tourist masses, who greatly outnumber them.

But sometimes, as in the instance pictured above, as a chain of boys make their way to an after-school birthday party, they reassert their old dominion and for a short time there's some life--rather than just foot traffic--in the city again.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Another Foreigner in Venice--Who's Become Quite Popular

Though not native to the city, Jack O'Lantern (above), and the festivities with which he's associated, have become rather popular in Venice.

Though some few people (and institutions) are no happier about this than they were when I wrote the following post 6 years ago:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Beauty, Coming and Going: Sotoportego del Filatoio

It's the glimpse of the water entrance at one end of the Sotoportego del Filatoio that stops you as you pass by it along the Fondamenta de le Grue. You venture into the sotoportego's depths, drawn by the canal view bracketed by twin columns, then turn and find that the view in the other direction is just as appealing. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

City of Falling (and Leaping, Climbing, and Swimming) Tourists

The beings falling earthward around Venice these days bear little resemblance to this fellow high up on the facade of the church of Santa Maria della Salute

The other day, on one of the less-frequented calli leading from the Rialto Bridge area toward Campo San Cassiano, my son and I were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a large young man standing on the parapet of a small stone bridge and giving every indication he was about to jump.

It was a bridge we had to cross to get home and as he looked about to jump into the center of the bridge, rather than into the canal below, we had no choice but to stop. The young man's girlfriend was poised with a smart phone on the crown of the bridge, waiting.

After checking that she was ready, the young man leapt with a yowl, landed heavily, then bounced up to see if his girlfriend had captured his heroic leap in all its glory, demanding "Did you get it?" As this digital-age American Narcissus gazed at the little screen, Sandro and I seized on our chance to pass, before they could set up to do another take.

It's not easy being a tourist these days.

In the old pre-internet days you might have anticipated showing the images you took on a trip to friends (and/or victims) when you returned home, envisioning their favorable response.

Now, you can make yourself subject to those responses immediately, by posting images online as soon as you capture them and receiving instant real-time feedback on how well they're going over. 

This, in my shamefully outmoded way of thinking about things, seems awful. For it has the potential to make all of us obsessed with our "ratings." Not so long ago, this would have been considered a terrible thing. In movies from the 1970s such as Network, or even from the 1980s, such as Broadcast News, an obsession with ratings was presented as the defining (and corrosive) feature of a soulless, intellectually vacant corporate culture, and depicted as being antithetical to creativity, freedom, justice, and truth.

In the 1960s such quantifiable responses were the sole concern of advertising firms on Madison Avenue.

But I suppose we are all Mad Men now.  

We accept such an obsession as a matter of course, as unavoidable, and replicate it even in our own personal lives. The basic human need for social acceptance has been quantified, and turned into a mother lode of information to be mined by the likes of Google, Facebook, et al.

How it actually profits us, as human beings (rather than brands), is open to debate. 

What makes all of this worse, though, is that the same social media that quantifies responses to what we post, also makes us continually aware of the infinite competition we have for anyone's (even our closest family members') attention.

To some of us this may not matter. It's enough to know that Uncle Anselm or Aunt Latifa, no matter how far way they may be from where we are, has seen our travel image.

For others, however, it means that only an image of yourself flying through the air--rather than merely standing--before a picturesque Venetian backdrop will do. Or climbing up the facade of the Palazzo Ducale. Or shimmying up an old lamp post in Campo San Pantalon. Or any of the many other simian (or aquatic) tourist feats you're likely to encounter when you live in Venice.

In other words, you can't live in an international destination like Venice and not be reminded of how technology and social media have profoundly altered how we view and experience the world--and what we value.*

And even when the ostensible aim of our travel is to "get away from it all," or at least from our regular workaday life, we carry the cultural ideals of the workplace with us: self-advancement, competition, and the inclination to judge our efforts by how we profit from them. Thanks to smart phones and social media, even our "free time" seems like work, as we (consciously or unconsciously) construct and disseminate the brand of ourselves. 

The most venerable and fragile of historical, cultural and/or religious sites become merely location shoots, or sound stages, for the show that is our self.

And what won't some people do for ratings? As television series are said to "jump the shark" to increase their audience share, so tourists jump all kinds of other things. Sometimes even each other.

As John Berendt recounts in his 2005 book on Venice, the heavenly host of statuary adorning the facade of the church of Santa Maria della Salute was in such bad repair in the 1970s that a sign beneath it warned "Beware of falling angels."

These days in Venice, as Sandro and I were recently reminded, the beings likely to crash down upon you from out of the sky are of a purely terrestrial sort.


For an interesting article on "museums" specifically oriented toward being the perfect backdrop for social media selfies see:  But this trend is evident in traditional museums and art galleries as well.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dante and Virgil in Venice

I've never felt the least inclination to form any kind of aesthetic opinion on this sculpture of Dante and Virgil situated in the lagoon between Fondamenta Nove and the cemetery island of San Michele, but I can tell you that its creator was a Russian sculptor named Georgi Frangulyan, that it was placed in its present spot in 2007, and that, considering it weighs 2 tons, any decision to remove it won't be undertaken lightly.

It's inspired by the two poets' crossing of the river Styx in Canto 8 of L'Inferno toward the flaming city of Dis.

Friday, October 13, 2017

3 Views of the Rialto Bridge in This Morning's Fog

It's not just that Venice looks different in the fog, it's that the fog, by blunting the city's visual assault upon a spectator, diminishing its usually staggering array of details, allows the viewer to look differently at Venice. You see more in less.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Two Venices

As a Venetian friend told me soon after we moved here, "There are two Venices, one you see on foot, and the other you know only from a boat."

In Venice: The Tourist Maze, Robert C. Davis and Garry R. Marvin put it this way:
Enclosed and walled in rather than scooped out, canals have primacy in Venice, even when they have been whittled down to the narrowness of alleys by competing palace builders: the waterscape of the city is, paradoxically, its bedrock. Even with a good many of them now filled in [a favorite activity of the Austrians in the 19th century], they still represent the most direct way to reach most parts of Venice; unlike the contorted maze of calli, campi, and bridges just above them, they generally make sense, at least to those who have a boat handy to take advantage of them. Which is... to say that they make sense to Venetians, and indeed the canals of the city, or more precisely, getting around on those canals, could reasonably be called the last backstage left in Venice, the final spatial possession of the Venetians.
It should probably be noted, though, that this book was published in 2004, and since that time even this "final spatial possession of the Venetians" has become less exclusively their own. One spends years learning about the city's waterways and observing others in their boats before making one's own timid first ventures into the narrow rii, and you shout out the traditional warning as you approach a tight blind right-angle, receive no reply, idle into the turn and--encounter a pod of kayakers in town for the day. My hope is that the number of kayak tours and kayakers won't--like every other tourist venture in Venice--be allowed to get completely out of control.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Rio de Ca' Granzoni

When the water in the rii is still you're reminded that Venice is its own "sister city": the city and its reflection are twins joined at the waterline.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Worth the Wait: A Titian Returns to I Frari

Titian's Ca' Pesaro Madonna newly re-installed in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Here's looking at you, kid.

After five years of intensive analysis and restoration funded by the American non-profit Save Venice organization, Titian's great Madonna di Ca' Pesaro is now back in its familiar spot in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

For a very interesting account of the particular challenges that the painting presented to restorers, and of the methods used to discover the factors (both recent and long past) that contributed to its deterioration, as well as the strategies to address and prevent future degradation, visit Save Venice's page on the work:

And then visit the work itself as soon as you have the chance. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Six Views of Sunday's Regata Storica

It's the colorful pageantry of the corteo or boat parade before the races that draws most of the tourists, who then tend to disperse....
...and miss the excitement of races like the 6-man caorline (above), whose first 3 boats were tightly packed from start to finish.

On their way to their tenth Regata Storica victory, however, Anna Mao and Romina Ardit dominated from the get-go, leaving the rest of the field to compete for second place

The gondolier above appears to be the only one capable of besting the indomitable duo of Rudi and Igor Vignotto on their way to their record 15th Regata Storica victory. But in actuality, having inexplicably lost track of the race's progress, he's rowing as fast as he can to get out of the course. His passengers, however, as one can't help but often notice of tourists, have absolutely no clue as to what's going on just behind them.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Too Close for Comfort at Today's Regata Storica

One agonista reacts angrily as the gondolino of two competitors interferes with his oar as they approach the Rialto Bridge
More images tomorrow.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Day For Night

A huge lightning flash (out of the frame at left) lights up the Grand Canal during a tumultuous storm in the wee hours of this morning.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Dog Days of Summer, This Afternoon

Though the days of the Dog Star, Sirius, actually stretch only from July 3 to August 11, the star's influence on certain people seems to extend beyond this period, judging from the two pictured above.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Nourishing Local Life: Disnar per la storica 2017

Preparations for next weekend's Regata Storica kicked off last night with Disnar per la storica, a wide-ranging event consisting of free community dinners (what are called "pot lucks" in America) in fourteen different locations around Venice, including Lido, Sant'Erasmo, and the mainland. (Disnar is a Venetian word for "to eat").

The dinner for our neighborhood was held in the Rialto Pescheria and it was pleasant to see so many residents gathered to enjoy an extended meal, with live entertainment and a film of Venetian rowing, in a place so often over-run by mordi e fuggi (bite and run) tourism.

Any song about living in Venice, as the one being sung above, can't help but include among its frustrations (as you can see in the projected lyrics) the waves, litter, human waste and diving that spoil the canals and the dog crap in the calli.