Friday, June 29, 2012

Bridge Diving & Festa de San Piero de Casteo

A scene from last year's Festa de San Piero de Casteo: a link to this year's full schedule is at bottom
I'm afraid I've been remiss this month in my posts and, alas, I'm also afraid that I'm not exactly making up for it with this post, as it lacks a photo that I so much would have liked to have.

That photo would have captured a particularly Venetian response to the Italian National Soccer Team's stirring victory against the heavily favored Germany team in last night's European Cup semi-final.

Actually, it's a response I've seen before, on my first ever visit to Venice as a teenager 30 years ago. Almost exactly three decades ago (11 July), the Italian national team soundly defeated Germany in the 1982 World Cup Final and young Venetians took to the bridges--then off the bridges--to celebrate.

Thanks to a classic American education short on both geography and history, one of the only things I clearly knew about Venice back then--and which I'd learned only upon arrival--was that its foul-smelling canals in the swelter of summer were the very last places I'd ever want to find myself swimming.

Yet much to my amazement--and disgust--Venetians were leaping from the Rialto without a second thought. I remember one especially unfortunate gondolier and his terrified passengers who happened to find themselves very much in the wrong place at the wrong time: with human cannonballs exploding in the water all around them.

I wasn't anywhere near the Rialto last night, but in Sant' Elena after Mario Balotelli's marvelous first goal a group of at least a dozen teenage boys leapt from their chairs in front of the large screen tv outside the Bar Vincent and tore in a riotous mass across the small dark soccer field of the Parco delle Rimembranze to the short bridge connecting the island to the rest of Castello. There, they stripped to their underwear and, in a variety of idiosyncratic manners inspired by ecstasy (dives, cannonballs, even somersults), leapt into the canal.

They did this again after Balotelli's fantastic second goal.

And again, as you can imagine, in a slightly less hurried but no less ecstatic way--and with singing this time!--after the game's conclusion.

Somehow it didn't seem quite so repulsive to me to leap off the Sant' Elena bridge into the fairly broad deep canal of San Pietro di Castello as it did to me 30 years ago to leap from the Rialto into the even broader and deeper Grand Canal in the center of the city. Located at the eastern edge of the city, and just a short distance from where the San Pietro canal opens out to the wide lagoon, the water beneath the Sant' Elena bridge seems much fresher--relatively speaking--than that of the Grand Canal beneath the Rialto.

But don't get me wrong, I wasn't one of the divers.

If I can manage to be a better reporter on Sunday night, I'll have my camera with me for the Final against Spain. But I may be too much of a fan to bother with that.

Just not enough of a fan to throw myself into the canals.

Also going on right now is the Festa de San Piero de Casteo (or of San Pietro di Castello, in Italian). A complete schedule events may be found here:

photo credit: Federico Roiter
If you're in town and have kids--or even if you don't have kids--I'd call particular attention to the traditional puppet show on Saturday, 30 June, at 16:45, put on by La Compagnia Teatrale L'Attimo. It was one of the best pieces of live--and lively--performance I saw all of last year, as the reaction of the audience at left may suggest.

You can find more pictures of last year's performance here:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Art Night Venezia 2012

The courtyard of the Ex-Ospedale degli Incurabili, now L'Accademia di Belle Arti, last night
Judging from the crowds at the few venues we managed to visit, the second edition of Art Night Venezia (or l'arte libera la notte) was a huge success.

From 6 pm until midnight last night, museums, private and public institutions, bookstores, and theaters all over the city hosted performances and exhibitions--all free to the public.

The impossible list of venues we wanted to visit totaled 13--just a fraction of what was on offer--and ranged from an exhibition at La Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista in San Polo to another at Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Castello.

Having gotten a very late start, and in the company of a 4 1/2-year-old, we managed a total of just three.

 First among them was a visit to The Palazzo Cini Gallery at San Vio. Jen and I had tried to visit a couple of months ago, only to learn how very out-of-date our trusty Venetian guidebook was: it was closed--and not just for the part of the year designated in our guidebook, but year-round. So last night was our only chance.

How I'd like to post a photo here of Botticelli's Judgement of Paris, of Pontormo's Double Portrait of Two Friends, or of a particularly beautiful 14th-century Sienese painting of Christ the Redeemer, all gold and pale rose, but photo-taking was not allowed, the guard told me, except with a cell phone. The image at right, of Sassetta's Madonna dell'umilità, is from, but is worth a visit to the Palazzo Cini all by itself--if you ever find it open again.

For the guard confirmed that the Palazzo's gallery is now closed year-round, except for special events. He vaguely alluded to the possibility of it re-opening for part of the year again some time in the future--but more in a tone of amiability than conviction. 

Two Guggenheim favorites: Marini & Brancusi
Our next stop was to an institution you'll have no trouble finding open: the Guggenheim Museum. It was, as always, marvelous--and packed with people. Sandro's favorite things there were a very large contemporary outdoor mechanical piece--like a faceless and hence purposeless clock--and a 4 euro can of Fanta from the museum cafe served in a tall glass of ice with a straw nearly as long as his arm by a very nice pair of baristi.

Like many others, he also could not help but remark upon the pipoto (Venetian term for penis) of Marino Marini's enthusiastic Angel of the City, at right.

By the time we finally finished with the Guggenheim, the concerts at our next destination--Ca' Artom, right next door on the Grand Canal--had concluded, so I can't tell you a thing about the inside of that palazzo, now used by Wake Forest University for their study-abroad program.

All indications at our final venue were that the open studios at the Accademia di Belle Arti in the Ex-Ospedale degli Incurabili on Zattere would be happening well beyond the scheduled midnight closing time. But it was already too late for Sandro, asleep in his stroller despite an early evening nap, and we could only devote a little time to works that merited much more.

It was perhaps the perfect venue to end at, however, this hive of energy and creativity and, yes, even hope, along one edge of this city that some people are all-too-ready to write off as merely a museum. Art is still being made in this city, as you can see below, and it was reassuring to see this at the end of the evening, to find that this essential urge does seem to be incurable.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Festa di San Giovanni in Bragora 2012 & Schedule

Photo credit for all images: Jen
A Fellini-esque awakening of aesthetic appreciation
This year's edition of la festa di San Giovanni in Bragora started Wednesday evening with belly-dancing, Bollywood-style dance, and a summer solstice celebration. It continues through Sunday with events I hope you'll be able to read on the official locandina at bottom. Or  a click on either of the following links will take you to a page in either Italian or English with information and a link to the full schedule (click "locandina.pdf"): (in Italian) (in English)

Juggling fire is just one of Gigi's many talents. He handles words pretty well, too, as proven by his victory last September at a poetry slam at Ca' Tron:

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Scent of Paradise, or Days of Dead Saints

You can't photograph a fragrance, but I hope this suggests the proportion of scent to sight in Venice these days
The problem with stealing the body of a saint, the legends tell us, is the smell. For the body of a saint reeks of flowers, of sanctified springtime, of paradise.

Which makes me wonder if, during those centuries when the market in relics flourished throughout Europe, a few vain wealthy irreverent folks didn't use a spare finger bone or toe from a minor saint as a sachet in their lingerie drawer.

In any case, along with all the other challenges faced by the two intrepid Venetian thieves of the body of St Mark from Alexandria, the problem of how to transport their fragrant prize to their waiting boat must have been one of the more vexing.

I find myself thinking of this all the time these days when the entire eastern end of Venice, from Via Garibaldi to the church of Sant' Elena is like--well,  like one vast cemetery of saints.

There have been flowers everywhere you look around here since at least April: blazing on window ledges and concealing entire balconies behind their blooms as behind cascades of silk damask; altane and terraze draped in the regal purple of wisteria; and various trees and bushes and flowerbeds (acacia, camelia, tulips, respectively) and I don't know what else. All of which were predominantly visual experiences.

In June, even in this most visually captivating of cities, the sense of smell comes into its own. If the sights of the city ever prove too much for you, you can always close your eyes. Short of becoming a mouth breather--and how unpleasant that can be--there's no escape from the floral barrage of June: of lindens (dozens of them lining Via 4 Novembre in Sant' Elena alone) and the long fence of what my Italian neighbor calls "false jasmine" (and I have no name for) running the full length of the Giardini Pubblici.

It really is what we are told paradise must be like: an unchanging all-pervasive atmosphere of sweetness. The rarest and most precious of enduring otherworldly atmospheres: the very atmosphere, in fact, that the old Byzantine artists sought to evoke with vast fields of gold in the great mosaics of Torcello, San Marco, and Murano's Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato.

The greenery of eastern Castello seems to bring this otherworldiness into being without the least effort, and not even the flowering almond orchards of my boyhood spread so much scent over so vast an area so unrelentingly.

Ever since last June when I first experienced the eastern end of Venice in full olfactory bloom, I've looked forward to experiencing it again. And now that it's here again, and I've lived in it for two weeks, I'm reminded by my allergies that we pay for our paradises in one way or another. At least in this world.

There's only so much uninterrupted sensation--however glorious--we can bear.

Then it's time for the next thing in our turning world.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tornado in Sant' Elena This Morning

                                                                                                             photo credit: Alessandro Niccoletti                                    The funnel cloud as seen from Fondamente Nove          
This morning we received a fierce reminder that the shutters on Venetian houses are not there merely to be picturesque or to keep out early morning sunlight.

The morning had alternated between clouds, a little soft rain, and sun--nothing unusual--and when a storm suddenly kicked up, with high winds and hard rain that sent the kids rushing from the soccer field of Sant' Elena in search of shelter, that wasn't all that unusual either. I'd just finished reading a passage of Jan Morris' Venice in which she remarks upon the abrupt unexpected way that storms can arise in the lagoon (and the hazards this poses to the casual boater).

But this wasn't just a storm, and by the time we realized it might be a very good idea to close our shutters the extraordinarily strong winds made it almost impossible to do so.

In fact, by the time we'd finally succeeded in getting all of them secured it was all over. But, as you can see, not without leaving behind a good deal of damage. (I've also heard it touched down and caused damage on Sant' Erasmo, but have no details.)

I've been told that the beautiful pini marittimi in the park of Sant' Elena, when seen from a bird-eye's view, form il nodo di Savoia--or the Knot of the House of Savoy: a looping symbol of the ruling family at the time this park (and almost all of what we now know as the island of Sant' Elena) was constructed in the 1920s.

That knot, alas, has been left rather ragged today.
While looking at the above I overheard an American ask a carabinieri" "What happened?" With infinite patience, the carabinieri answered, "Wind." I would have said, "Gophers"--and probably been believed.
What now appears to be a superfluous over-sized 5th wall was until very recently this building's roof

It's sad to lose so many beautiful trees, but this is a reminder that it could have been--and, sadly, has been--much worse

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Love in Bloom on the Grand Canal

A wedding reception, this past Sunday evening, as seen (a little fuzzily) from a moving vaporetto

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Crab Fisherman in the North Lagoon, This Evening

A fisherman tends to his soft-shell crab traps in a canal of the north lagoon

Crab traps stacked up on the far bank; others hoisted above the canal between their stakes at left