Wednesday, December 11, 2013
After an absence of two years, Titian's masterpiece The Martyrdom of St Lawrence was reinstalled in the church of I Gesuiti yesterday morning. I'll write more about this tomorrow, but I wanted to post these images tonight.
Monday, December 9, 2013
When it came time to buy our Christmas tree this past weekend we once again had to do so without the use of a boat, which Sandro, who seems to have a native Venetian's strict sense of life's essential proprieties, found to be a galling (if not humiliating) lack last December (http://veneziablog.blogspot.it/2012/12/buying-christmas-tree-in-venice.html). This year, however, he didn't complain. For while we still didn't have the (immensely over-sized) mototopo or work boat with which to carry our little tree home, we did have a brand-new bright red heavy-duty solid-framed carrello, or hand truck, which is the primary accessory of every mototopo--and at least as important as a pair of shoes for anyone determined to get things done in this car-free walkaday world of Venice.
For hardly less picturesque to most visitors than the fact that the "streets" here are canals and the "cars" and "buses" are boats, is the sight of grocery store inventory and garbage collection being delivered and picked up, respectively, with hand carts. It's something that even the 75-80% of day-tripping visitors to the city can't help but notice in their few hours here--but none with the detailed observation Sandro has devoted to such human-powered trolleys for the last year. He notes (and comments on) not just differences in size and shape and color, but variations in the size and number and positioning of wheels, between rounded tubular construction and solid steel frames, between the different lengths of "noses" (the flat projecting part the boxes rest on), their fold-down extensions, and the way they're mounted.
Visitors have long made pilgrimages to Venice as a realm of Art, looking to leave behind the ordinary and everyday and earth-bound, but most Venetians I've met are far more practical-minded. Sure, you can wax rhapsodic about Tintoretto or Monteverdi with them if that's what floats your own boat, but Sandro seems to have bonded far more genuinely with most Venetian men we know because of his profound interest in every single step in the process of getting real solid objects from one place to another.
I see a neighbor in the street, the grandfather of one of Sandro's closest friends and the owner of a trasporti (freight moving) company, and ask him how he's doing. "Bene," he replies, "sempre bene." I see him another time and remark upon the extreme weather of recent days; he replies simply that he takes things as they come. On yet another day I encounter him as I'm walking with Sandro and then, finally, we actually have a common interest to discuss: mototopi and carrelli and the like. Or, rather, he and Sandro do.
It's a marvelous life here for Sandro: physical and material in a way that no other city I know could, on a regular matter-of-fact un-fetishized basis, offer a child his age. This odd car-less city in which a 5-year-old boy can make a convincing argument that a real hand-truck is exactly what he needs, not just as a toy, but as necessity. As he did argue for the last year.
|Posing with his new hand-truck in front of SS Giovanni e Paolo|
Of course he struggled to pull it up the steps of the large-ish Ponte Cavallo in front of the church and ospedale just after we bought it, for it weighed not much less than he did. And there were some challenges getting it down the other side as well, as the weight of it threatened to get away from him and pull him flapping behind it like a flag tied to its hand grips. But once this first substantial obstacle had been bested and we paused for a rest, he leaned against his hand-truck and sighed, "This is a dream come true."
So the dreamy red heavy-duty hand-truck we used to pick up our tree and transport it the long distance home from the church of San Felice was the one he'd just gotten for his sixth birthday and it did, indeed, prove to be quite useful. I pulled the hand-truck and tree up and down the bridges we crossed, but Sandro managed it the rest of the time, pulling it behind him down Strada Nova and then through Sant' Elena after we got off the vaporetto as though he were a cart horse. A very happy cart horse.
He was happy, too, to be seen laboring in this way by the guys at our nearby fruit and vegetable stand; guys for whom, like him, hand-trucks are a daily part of their lives. Practical hard-working Venetian guys, like him. But who, unlike him, probably don't sleep with their hand-truck standing snug against the side of their bed.
Monday, December 2, 2013
|A visitor to Venice stands proudly beside her own small contribution to the city's culture|
They all looked at me, as if not quite sure I was talking to them--as I had, after all, just interrupted their conversation out of nowhere--so I basically repeated what I'd just said, with a little additional elaboration on the fact that Venetians really didn't appreciate all these locks.
The two dark-haired standing women didn't respond in any way, but the blond woman squatting beside the railing turned to look up at me and said with an expression of obvious annoyance, "You know, I'm just trying to have a nice experience here and you're really ruining it for me."
I was a bit stunned, almost pleasantly stunned, though not surprised. On the contrary, the odd sense of what I'd call something like pleasure, along with a certain disgust, came precisely because of her honesty in admitting to exactly the kind of self-absorption I always imagined motivated those who attached locks to the bridge. In that moment I was filled with a certain perverse admiration for this woman for being so forthright. In fact, I could write a post simply about the astonishing level of entitled self-absorption that characterizes the worst visitors to Venice--or any other place--but Robert C Davis and Garry R Marshall examine this tendency and its socio-historical background so well in their book The Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World's Most Touristed City that I'd only be repeating (dully) what they've already done much better and with well-documented support.
As they write on the first pages of their book:
"...it is enough to remember that for most of the world Venice is not a real city, with a real city's inhabitants and contraints, but a backdrop and a stage for one's gaze, emotions, and passions. Moreover, it is a place seemingly made for intrigue and romance, a labyrinth of narrow streets and waterways that positively invites transgression on the assumption that nobody is watching, or at least nobody that matters."Indeed, whether I "mattered" or not was the next topic that came up in this little discussion between the blond woman with the lock and myself. For after I said something along the lines that while I might be "ruining her experience" she was ruining the bridge for Venetians, she asked, "Are you a Venetian?"
Now, if someone had asked me this question after I'd lived for 3 years in New York City I would have had no trouble simply replying "Yes." But it's different here, and so I said, "I'm an Italian citizen and I've lived in Venice for three years but, no, my grandparents came from other parts of Italy."
She looked like she'd just proved an important point, so I added, "But what does that matter? What you're doing is against the law, it's ugly, not to mention tacky and unoriginal, and it's something that everyone who lives here hates. It's a stupid act of vandalism. It costs money to remove all these locks, which the city doesn't have, so private individuals have to come along and cut them off. Which they will do, you know, probably in about a month. Your lock will be gone in a month."
"That's okay," she said, "I don't care if it's cut off. But I might have listened to you if you were really a Venetian, but since you're not..."
"I've lived here for three years," I replied. "What difference does that make?" But she, still squatting with the open lock in her hand, still itching to have her marvelous "Venetian experience" documented by her friend with the camera, had hit upon what she considered irrefutable justification for doing what she would have done anyway.
"Okay," I said, "next time I'll be sure to bring a Count along with me."
"Yes," she replied, "you do that."
I walked off, but I'd barely started my descent down the Campo San Vio side of the bridge when I realized I had to take photograph of this woman, if she'd allow me.
I returned and said, "Sorry to interrupt again, but I have blog and I've done a couple of posts about the problem of all the locks on this bridge, and wondered about what kind of person does it, so I'd love to take a photo of you for my blog, as an example of a person who commits this kind of vandalism."
She agreed readily, heartily. Part of me wondered if she didn't dare do otherwise, so as not to ruin the effect she was trying to make upon her two observing and (ideally) admiring friends, who hadn't opened their mouths during the whole discussion. Perhaps it was her role to be the "wild one" of the trio, to wow her two silent dark-haired friends with her verve and brashness. But I was probably over-psychologizing, and it wasn't my business to figure her out anyway. I just wanted to be sure she knew that I would post this photo online as an illustration of someone who did something that no Venetian, nor most lovers of Venice, admired. I repeated this to her.
"Fine," she replied, "go ahead," and struck the pose you see above, making the V sign with her fingers, not as a sign of peace (certainly not that), but to signify--as she laughed with her friends--"vandal."
I took the photo, then displayed it on the camera's screen to show her. "Look at it," I told her, "make sure you like it, 'cause I really am going to use it. Is it acceptable?"
Yes, yes, it was just fine, she said, laughing, seemingly happy with the prospect of potentially broader exposure--or amused by the ridiculousness of being hassled in Venice by, as Davis and Marshall write above, "nobody that matters."
"Great," I said. "You should be very proud. You make a great vandal. Next time don't forget your can of spray paint."
"I won't!" she cheerily replied, that flower of tourism.
For other posts on this same topic:
Saturday, November 30, 2013
|The proprietor of Libreria Marco Polo, Claudio, speaks with a customer|
To a bookstore--like all independent bookstores--already surviving on a narrow margin, this blow was heavy enough to almost knock it out of business. But the owners of the store decided to keep their doors open and file an appeal to the multa as unmerited and excessive.
Recently the bookstore received a response to this appeal from the city: the fine was reduced to 680 euros.
|Places to sit aren't unusual in US bookstores, but this bench is the only such accommodation to readers that I've seen in a Venice bookstore; this room is almost entirely devoted to used titles in English|
I went to the store late the next afternoon intending to contribute and then return home to post a blog about the situation, providing the store's Paypal address to which donations could be sent anytime before December 8.
|A partial view of the used and new section of Italian titles|
Claudio still seemed a little surprised, maybe even a bit awed, by such a rapid and generous response, and I found myself thinking of the last scene of the Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life. The last scene of that movie has often struck me as a little over the top, rather hokey--but in the bookstore, in real life, that is, the outpouring of support wasn't hokey at all, but authentically impressive.
Of course the point of that last raucous scene of communal generosity in the Capra film is to offer concrete evidence of what an important role the protagonist (portrayed by Jimmy Stewart) has played in the life of his small town, and so, too, the show of support for Libreria Marco Polo--no less marvelous, and hardly less magical (even without the films' angel character)--is a testament to the vital and inspiring role that a small independent bookstore can continue to play in the life of a city.
And I'm pleased to pass along the information that the bookstore is poised to potentially play an even bigger part in the Friday night life of this generally pretty sleepy and early-to-bed city by extending its hours on that particular evening to 11 pm. It's the only bookstore in the city to offer a late night of this sort, and it also remains the only bookstore in the city with a place for browsers to sit down and look over potential purchases or to relax and read what they've just bought. I know of no other bookstore in the city so welcoming--it even has free tea available--and if you aren't already familiar with its fine selection of used books in English, its always-interesting and provocative selection of new books in Italian, along with smaller sections of used books in Italian, French and German, I'd suggest it's worth seeking out, tucked away behind the beautiful little parish church of San Giovanni Gristostomo, a short walk from the Rialto Bridge.
|Now open until 11pm every Friday night|
Thursday, November 28, 2013
|A view of the Sala Capitolare, looking south, in the direction of the scuola's famous facade|
The ground floor grande andito, or entrance hall, of the old scuola and the present-day hospital has always been open to visitors who usually stop in for a look after visiting the nearby church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. But the space has been cleaned up, and the large wood and glass concierge's office that used to run along part of one side wall has been removed. The concierge now resides in a sleek all-glass fish-tank-like office that spans the width of the front entrance just inside the door, and leaves the entire grande andito free of anything that might impede one's appreciation of its fine dimensions and array of lovely columns.
Of course, Sandro and I were already familiar with the ground floor; it was the upstairs that blew us away.
|L'altare maggiore, designed by Sansovino, at the north end of the Sala Capitolare|
In any case, its reopening was considered significant enough to merit a special civic presentation on the day of the Festa della Madonna della Salute, complete with the deputy mayor, free guided tours and live music. I missed it, but I was happy to just find complete coverage of the festivities, with photos, on the French language blog of Olia i Klod: http://oliaklodvenitiens.wordpress.com/2013/11/23/visite-de-la-scuola-grande-di-san-marco/
One thing I know is that it had to have been closed long enough, or its displays altered greatly enough, to have aroused considerable interest among Venetians, whom for the glorious present seem to be its primary visitors. "Beo!" said the retired man in Venetian while looking at the ceiling, after we'd been speaking in Italian.
|The center of the Sala Capitolare's ornate ceiling|
|Domenico and Jacopo Tintoretto's San Marco che benedice le isole di Venezia, flanked by an annunciation by Nicolò Renieri|
One of the works that is known to have originally hung in the scuola is the above work San Marco che benedice le isole di Venezia by Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto. This is one of three pieces by Domenico and his famous father now in the scuola in which, according to the informative nicely-produced small guide available onsite (in Italian only), the hand of the son is mostly evident. Now, while being the son of the great Tintoretto could not have been as bad as being his daughters (two of whom were cloistered, as you can read about here: http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/annienc/2010/08/santanna.html), looking at the doughy modeling in the some of the three paintings here I couldn't help but feel a bit for poor Domenico who had no prayer of measuring up to his progenitor.
|Domenico and Jacopo Tintoretto's Trasporto del corpo di San Marco sulla nave beside the high altar|
But Sandro and I kept our eyes focused on more pleasing prospects, of which there are many; some of which you can see below, more of which I'll probably inevitably post in the future, and all of which I'd suggest are worth seeing for oneself.
|An anonymous life-sized 15th-century crucifixion in wood in front of the high altar|
|A detail from Le nozze di Cana, 1622, by Alessandro Varotari, called Padovanino|
|Another detail from Le nozze di Cana|
|An illustration from Cirurgia universale, published in Venice in 1605|
|A 17th-century medical text in Latin on the treatment of hemorrhoids, with some of the required instruments in foreground|
|Detail of an undated folio page of what appears to be a picnic gone very wrong|
|Among the few non-medical items on display is this 1929 model of the planned development of the island of Sacca Fisola by one U. Fantucci. Note the extensive free-standing arcades connecting the different areas.|
|A view of one of the three ground floor doors designed by Mauro Codussi, along with two of the 10 columns of the grande andito, or entrance hall|
|A view of Codussi's second entrance to his stairway up to the Sala Capitolare|
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Especially for those piloting a mototopo without so much as a wind screen, much less a cabin.
I notice such things often these days, as Sandro not only persists in his plans to buy a mototopo when he turns 18 in a dozen years, but has even decided upon a name for the trasporti business he plans to start, as well as the color scheme for his fleet of boats. His play now centers around the creation of elaborate transportation networks--not only on water, but on land as well.
Well, there are certainly much worse ways to make a living than plying the lagoon like the grandfather and uncle of one of Sandro's closest friends--though, of course, such work too is largely tied into the city's tourist industry.