Venice… never been before and probably will never go again but it was indeed extraordinary… all that the plethora of images promise but much more….
Not all the images and reading really prepared me for the reality….less the grand sights like Grande Canal, Rialto, St Mark’s square etc but for us the hundreds of tiny canals, leaning houses, washing across the streets in the working class areas (where we stayed), mixes of architecture from about 11thC on, particularity the Venetian Gothic was highly distinctive, wandering into a working class church and there is a Tintoretto on the ceiling and Cannaregio on the wall with a Mantegna altarpiece…
We went for the end of the Biennale but after a while found ourselves seeking out the earlier works that hang, as they have always done, in the churches and chapels, as couldn’t help wondering, viewing the many contemporary works of varying qualities, how many will be still around in 500 years time like those Bellinis
Of all the acres and acres of ‘stuff’ in the Arsenale and the Giardidni the most enjoyable was a USA ‘unofficial’ display all about time. In real time and over 24 hours the artist spliced film clips from many countries and cultures and eras into one monumental beautifully edited film that was in the ‘real’ time we were watching it in! We stayed for several hours and could have done more, much more…just hope it gets to one of our arts festivals as it is brilliant, not genius but simply brilliant, and thoroughly enjoyable.
The biennale is mainly centred in two locations…an old ship-building yard and buildings = The Arsenale, and a large garden = The Giardini where many countries have their national pavillions – certainly the greatest concentration of top quality work was here. Elsewhere, scattered around the city were various rented buildings (gorgeous and elaborate usually) where those countries without a national pavilion at the Giardini had to place their exhibit and the numerous ‘unofficial’ shows that are curated in to occur at the same time – including some big international names. The off-site official shows included New Zealand which was very well marked as otherwise it would have been missed, so tortuous was the route to get there. We stumbled upon a number that were not so well marked and doubtless missed a number of others.
This is of course a walking city and the Venetians give you nowhere to sit (sitting expressly forbidden in many places) and no seats anywhere to grab a sandwich while enjoying a canal view so you are forced into outrageously expensive ‘turistica’ trattorias that serve bad pizza. Boat travel (vaporetto) is also somewhat expensive and usually crowded and eating aboard not encouraged. So, walking, walking…. all day with little rest… but what a fabulous place.
We could, of course, have caught a gondola but they cost E80 a pop! ($nz150) and were mostly full of Chinese tourists clutching Louis Vuitton bags. Best discovery of the whole week or so… fresh sardines. truly , after a lifetime of eating tinned ones, to have them served cold, cooked that day with oils, vinegars and herbs, in a tiny local working class trattoria was a discovery matched by little else! As the local was closed the next night I ordered the same at a turistica place… not the same by a long chalk, but it cost more.
We also found the area with all the old craftsmen … no not the Murano glass workers (tourist schmutter) but gondola builders, leatherworkers making slippers and gondoliers special shoes, bookbinders, paper-makers, (and marbling and binding…) picture frame carvers, bronze casters making doorknobs and knockers taking moulds from the old ones still on old doors in the working class areas…. this is far more interesting, genuine and engaging than yet another interpretation/illustration from some passage from Baudelaire. Too earnest. For me anyway!
One of the best treats was hot chocolate at Florian Caffe…billed as the world’s earliest cafe and situated on St Marks Square. It was a series of small rooms elaborately decorated with ormolu mirrors and spelt statuary, with just three or four tables in each. The hot chocolate cost E10 and then another E6 for the music playing outside – very expertly – by a group of piano, violas, accordians and guitars which was an odd mix but it sounded just fine! The hot chocolate was exactly that…liquid chocolate (not cocoa!) served in a silver, side handled pot with cream on the side in porcelain and ratafia biscuits by a crisply jacketed snooty waiter (most in Venice seemed fed up with tourists…end of season and all that) who poured it into my porcelain cup from a great height – such fun, and absolutely outrageous, and worth it if only just the once!
Shopping was also outrageously expensive, only Armani could survive there…fabulous puppets, shoes and bags for example made from rich brocades and velvets, much totally handcrafted – this has not been transferred to China I was happy to see. Venice’s other important tourist event (far more than the art Biennale), is Carnivale. It would be hard to guess which shops were most numerous, those carrying Murano glass or those with Carnivale masks and costumes…
And finally a reminder that this is a city that exists solely on the touristica dollar … and it dwarfs everything….
Next posting…some of the art including ceramics….