Thursday, September 27, 2012

Picnic in the Calle

photo credit: Jen
The above is NOT, I repeat, NOT something any visitor to Venice should do in Piazza San Marco or any other campo or calle in the city.

Only if you are not yet five years of age, and only barely six, and you're in your own neighborhood where many people know you, can you get away with a picnic like this--and even then not everyone will be sure it's such a good idea.

But the impromptu picnic above turned into something of an impromptu party, with, first, a couple of older kids stopping by and asking if they could have some food and drinks. (The answer from the two picnickers was a unanimous "No!"--as they know how those bigger kids eat.)

Three teenagers later arrived and lingered, not asking for food or drink, but taking in the scene.

Then a couple of parents happened by with their five-year-old son, who was invited to join in, being of the proper size. Then a couple of more parents. Then someone came up with idea of making paper airplanes and launching them off the balcony from which the picture was taken.

Then another parent and child happened by and joined in. And soon the party was partly taking place on the small balcony and partly in the calle below and I knew that such a thing would never happen in Brooklyn, where people are too busy and kids' live too structured; or Asheville, NC, where my son was born, and where kids play in their own private backyards and taking a walk through a neighborhood is like a walk through a ghost-town; or in that small town somewhere in Texas, where a mother was recently arrested for letting her 6- and 9-year-old children play in the cul-de-sac just outside of their house.

But it can still happen in certain neighborhoods in Venice.

But only if you're not yet five and just barely six... Adult visitors really should not try this. Though, alas, they sometimes do. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fellini on the Grand Canal

Are you in Venice right now, or will you be before the 30th of September? Would you like to have a fine exhibition in a palazzo on the Grand Canal entirely to yourself to enjoy? Do you like Federico Fellini? How about Marcello Mastroianni or Anouk Aimée? 

Paul Ronald photo © Archivio Storico del Cinema/AFE, Roma

If you answered yes to at least two of the above questions (the first one being the most important), then the Palazzo Benzon and its exhibit Fellini: Otto e Mezzo is the place for you during the next 10 days. Featuring the color photographs of Paul Ronald taken on set, the exhibit offers a fresh perspective on Fellini's black-and-white masterpiece. Along with candid photos of the film's lead and supporting actors, it includes beautifully-printed color images of scenes that you instantly recognize from the original film and yet also seem to be seeing for the first time.

A few iPads perched on stands among the exhibition offer interactive features in a number of languages, such as interviews with the actors, and even the original movie itself.

And not the least enjoyable aspect of this utterly enjoyable exhibit is that, aside from the gallery employee who leads you up to the portego/gallery of the piano nobile and remains discreetly as your chaperone, I suspect that you are likely to find yourself taking this all in in splendid peace. In a city of crowds and crowded venues, the Palazzo Benzon (reached most quickly from the Sant' Angelo vaporetto stop) is far enough off the standard tourist routes to avoid casual or accidental detection. Which may not be ideal for the Fellini Foundation for Cinema, but is sure to be appreciated by any lover of Fellini, who gets the chance to savor these materials to the fullest.

I plan on returning for a longer viewing. 

The exhibition is open from noon until 6 pm throughout the remainder of its run, and is free of charge.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Big Ships Won't Go Away

photo credit: Elisabetta Favaretti
Aside from being busy with other things, I've been reluctant to put up a post about last Sunday's rally against the big ships. Jen and I attended it but, because of baby-sitting limitations, we had to leave before the big ships finally ventured out of their berths like timid Goliaths to brave the opposition.

I've also been reluctant to post about it because I'm sure you can find much better coverage of it elsewhere--and because I've already posted about the topic and it's one I find myself too disgusted by to go into again. All I can say at this point is that Venice has long devoted itself wholeheartedly to making money--the history of Venice is the history of such enterprise. But while the old Republic's rapaciousness could lead it to commit such reprehensible acts as the sack of Constantinople, it drew the line at money-making ventures that could lead to the literal collapse of its own beloved city, constructed against such great odds and with such great effort amid the wastes of the lagoon, preserved through waves of plagues and would-be invaders.

Perhaps too many years of fleecing tourists rather than laboring with their hands have made many Venetians forget how perilous their old city's position is amid the indifferent lagoon. Or perhaps they fatalistically see what has been called "Casino Capitalism" as the only hope their city has for survival, risking its quite literal collapse because they can imagine no other option.  

But it seems to me, and to many others, that "Casino Capitalism" has given way to "Nihilistic Capitalism," and last Sunday's protest, like so many others around the world, seemed aimed at trying to reassert a value besides reckless unsustainable methods of making money.

In any case, it succeeded in delaying the departure of the three big ships for three hours after their appointed times, imperiling the indolent passive early evening view of the once-great Republic that their passengers had been promised. I mean, after all, what better way to take in one of the world's great human wonders than lounging in your deck chair on your own private balcony while the ship's loudspeakers blare some suitably sentimental opera-lite?

When the big ships did leave their berths, they were met by an assortment of small craft, whose biggest threat (as you can see above) was simply their expression of noisy anger.

I wonder what the cruise passengers made of those small fry down below? I wonder what they were told by the ship's speakers?

Could they still hear the Broadway show tune on the loudspeakers?

In any case, the police responded aggressively. A helicopter hovered low over the boaters, a friend who was in a boat there told me, creating high winds and waves that were particularly perilous for those protesters in traditional oar-powered boats, while police boats circled around other groups of boaters also stirring up as many waves as possible. Other police boats moved among the protesters with video cameras, letting everyone know that--as could only be expected in these days of the rampant surveillance state--they were being filmed.  

The always informative Living Venice blog ( provided a link to video of the big ships, which I reproduce here:
(But of course, you'll find much more at than just protest video. Such as news about what shows are going on around Venice right now, and tips on how to see the city.)

And so it went.

And so it goes.

Boy in a box: François Pinault's piece of private art is kept safe from the rabble
Bikes in Venice are actually not just illegal but a really bad idea--unless they're on the water, as you can see in the background
As Tristram Shandy makes clear, we all have our hobby horses--and in Venice they're on the water

Friday, September 14, 2012

Libreria Marco Polo Celebrates 10 Years, This Evening

The fascinating little bookstore Libreria Marco Polo, right behind the beautiful little church of San Giovanni Grisostomo, celebrated ten years in business this evening with food, drinks and live music.

Since the advent of the internet it's not easy for any bookstore anywhere to survive 10 years, but Libreria Marco Polo has managed to do so with an extensive and interesting selection of used books in English (mostly fiction), a choice selection of used books in Italian, and an equally interesting selection of front-list books in Italian, both literary and non-fiction. They also offer courses in writing, photography and--a new five week course to start soon--in playing the harmonica (for beginners).

Last week I attended a bi-lingual reading by, and interview with, the Los Angeles-based American writer Aimee Bender at the bookstore.

I've read one American blogger remark that the books are priced too high, but I don't agree. Books are generally more expensive in Europe than they are in the United States, and they'll inevitably be even more so in a small town like Venice in which the flow of used English language books is extremely limited and rents are high.

Moreover, as one who managed and acted as a consultant to independent bookstores for a number of years in New York City, I can tell you from first-hand experience that a book lover can have actual bookstores in which to browse and interact and (sometimes quite literally) stumble across books and into people she'd never see on her computer, or she or he can have the rock-bottom prices of the internet.

But you can't have both.

I remember coming across an anecdote by Jill Krementz, the wife of Kurt Vonnegut, in which she suggested that instead of him having to leave their New York apartment to go buy a large mailing envelope every time he needed one, she could simply order him a box of them online from one of the monopolistic office supply chains.

Never, he said. If she did that he'd lose the whole human experience of going out into the world, of seeing things and people, of encountering the unexpected or the familiar, of chatting with this person or that: of the utter and ultimately gratifying unpredictability that lurks in even the most mundane errand--turning it into something not so mundane after all.

I've had the misfortune of seeing cities without  bookstores like Libreria Marco Polo, which makes me value it all the more.

And soon I hope to post a review of a book I'm just beginning to read that I was lucky to come upon there--entirely unexpectedly--by Guido Ruggiero entitled The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice. Don't let the scholarly title fool you: it's a well-written, entertaining (if sometimes troubling), and very revealing examination of the sexual mores of 14th & 15th-century Venice culled from the extensive state archives.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Flower of Chivalry

Was it Proust that compared great cathedrals to novels? Or, more likely, his own great novel to great cathedrals? In any case, it's not just the churches of Venice by which one can find oneself overwhelmed with details, images and stories equal to the entire life's work of the greatest and most prolific of the world's novelists, but civic buildings as well. I know that I walk past entire libraries of material--all contained in the facades of a single building, and almost all of which I fail to notice--every time I wander around the city. Here's a character from one such "library" whom I noticed for the first time yesterday, though I'd walked past him I don't know how many times.

I have a feeling, though, that he won't have been overlooked by many attentive others who read this.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Last Burst of Summer

This weekend marks the official end of the summer season in Venice: Sunday is the last day for people to clean our their capanne, those little huts along the shore where many families spent most of their daylight summer hours during June and July.

Reluctant to quite let summer go, I thought I'd post this last burst of it, recorded one recent evening on Lido, with music by the great Nino Rota. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Little More on the Regata Storica

It must be wonderful to watch the Regata Storica from a palazzo on the Grand Canal, and among the more engaging sights of the whole event is that of the people crowded on balconies, perched in windows, or partying high up on altane. If anyone at, say, Ca' Barbaro would like to extend an invitation for next year I'd certainly be willing to consider it, though, in fact, I suspect our vantage point this year was actually much better. We were certainly closer to the action.

Regata necessities: food, drink & bubble soap
This year Sandro and I watched from aboard one of four boats that fellow members of our remiera had moored not far from the gondole station of San Tomà the night before the event. Three of the boats were stationary for the entire time, the fourth, a mascareta, was used to pick up people at the gondole point and ferry them to our mooring places, which were otherwise inaccessible. Some time before the festivities began all unofficial motor boat traffic in the Grand Canal is forbidden, but you can still ply the canal in a boat with oars as long as you don't interfere with the procession or the races.

Given our location, literally just a few feet from the racers, I have no excuse for not having gotten more or better photos. I can't even place the blame on prosecco, of which I had only a little. Luckily, there's never a shortage of excellent photographs of the festivities to be found online, and even video from RAI.

So, if you find yourself in Venice at the time of the Regata Storica, by all means angle for a place in some Grand Canal palazzo, but don't forget that on this occasion, as on so many others here, Venice is perhaps best experienced in a boat.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Regata Storica, Late This Afternoon

Winners Luisella Schiavon and Giorgia Ragazzi dominated the women's mascareta race
More images tomorrow...