Saturday, September 28, 2013

Stomping Grapes & Making Wine on San Michele, Part 2

Pausing for lunch beneath the grape arbors in the monastery of San Michele
Though we didn't know it before we attended the grape harvest and stomping last Sunday on San Michele, we discovered that this event and others like it are sponsored by La laguna nel bicchiere: le vigne ritrovate (The Lagoon in a Glass: Vineyards Rediscovered), a group headed by Professor Flavio Franceschet, which is devoted to the cultivation (quite literally), or re-cultivation of the ancient traditions of wine-making in the Venetian lagoon. 

The old cantina in the 15th-century monastery on San Michele (pictured in my previous post) has been resuscitated and serves as the wine production facility not only for grapes harvested from within its own walls, but from other traditional Venetian vineyards, such as those within the walls of San Francesco della Vigna and I Carmelitani Scalzi, and from vines on Sant' Erasmo, Mazzorbo and Giudecca.

Franceschet's group has been recognized this year for its contributions to the culture of the Veneto by the Fondazione Masi, which provides a brief overview of the aims and activities of La laguna nel bicchiere in both English:

and Italian:

An even more detailed account of the group's goals is available (in Italian) in the online cultural magazine Il ridotto di Venezia:

The group also has a closed Facebook group, to which one can apply for inclusion.

Of course, this is one of the group's busiest times of year; there's another vendemmia or harvest scheduled for Monday in an old vineyard hidden away near the Arsenale, to be followed by more stomping (or pigiare) on San Michele, which I doubt I can make because of work. But Jen and I and Sandro, too, all look forward to doing more with this group.

Flavio Franceshet, in hat at left, the director of La Laguna nel Bicchiere

The multi-talented winemaker, musician, performer and poet, Gigi Miracol (who appeared 2 years ago in this blog as the winner of a poetry slam at Ca' Tron:

Picking the stems out of the stomped grapes

Some lines inscribed on a marble slab amid the stone walkway around the monastery garden: Tomorrow the sun/ Of God will warm/ My wounds,/ "From one of his/ Poems". From one of whose poems? And why the quotation marks around that phrase?
A poem by Gianluigi Simonetti posted beside the entry to la cantina, and particularly well-suited to vineyards on a cemetery island
For Part 1 of "Stomping Grapes & Making Wine on San Michele" go here:      

For a short video of wine stomping taken on this day go here:      


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stomping Grapes & Making Wine on San Michele, Part 1

A view of the garden and vineyards behind the church of San Michele, with a bit of Murano visible in the distance
Over a year ago I'd heard that there were wine-making facilities in one corner of the cemetery island of San Michele, in an old monastery there, and I'd been wanting to see them and work in them ever since. I finally got my chance last Sunday, and Jen, Sandro, one of Sandro's friends, and I set out for the island knowing only that we'd have the chance to stomp grapes. That's all we needed to know, really--it's certainly all I cared about. A friend had briefly mentioned the event to Jen, Jen had told me, and I hadn't even bothered to ask who was putting it on or who else would be there: time and place was sufficient.

Though I didn't know about such details when we arrived Sunday morning, I should probably note here in the interest of context that the small island on which we found ourselves became the site of a Camoldolese monastery in 1212. At that time, and for some 600 years after, it was a much smaller, much more isolated island than it has been since 1829, when the Austrians filled in the expanse of water that once separated it from the neighboring island of San Cristoforo to create the large cemetery island we now know. Just how much smaller and more isolated? A detail from Jacopo de' Barbari's famous map of Venice from 1500 included on page 46 of Deborah Howard's and Laura Moretti's Sound and Space in Renaissance Venice (Yale Univ Press, 2010) shows: (, 2nd pdf page).

In fact, the above pdf pages offer an excellent account of both monastic life on the island of San Michele and the creation and form of Codussi's beautiful and influential church.

In any case, the cloisters adjoining the church of San Michele date from the 15th-century and include, I suspect, some of the rooms in which wine casks and such are stored, as well as over-sized volumes grouped very loosely by year on various bookshelves and tabletops in which are inscribed the names of the cemetery's dead. The grape arbors among which we worked were located within a cloistered garden space that, most likely, had long long functioned as such, though the vines themselves and the supports on which they grew were of no great age.

But what kind of grapes did we find ourselves picking as soon as we arrived, and what were the next steps in the wine-making process, and when would the wine be ready? It didn't occur to me to ask a single one of these questions, so happy was I to find myself working beneath grape arbors in a spectacularly dappled light which seemed somehow, and much to my surprise, to strike me as almost paradiasical. The dappled light was such that it made me careless of questions and answers, of the contemporary curse of information, accurately or erroneously or indifferently recorded and endlessly passed along, the epidemic of our age.

Which is probably a good place to stop writing for now, and leave the rest (or at least more) for the next post, and to the many photos below.

Grappa will be made from the juice of these freshly-pressed grape skins, still retaining the shape of their tub

Part 2 of "Stomping Grapes & Making Wine on San Michele" may be found here:

And  a short wine stomping video from this day is here:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Winemaking on Isola di San Michele (teaser trailer)

We spent all of last Sunday, from 10:30 until 6 pm, on what is now known as the cemetery island of San Michele picking and stomping grapes in the old monastery behind Mauro Codussi's fine little church (began in 1469, it's credited with being the first Renaissance church in the city). I have much more to say and show about the day, and the place, and the activity, but for now this brief video will have to suffice for what's to come in the next posts.

For Part 1 and 2 of the posts on winemaking on San Michele go here:

and here, respectively:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Equinox Celebration in San Giovanni in Bragora, Tonight

The official title of this event was Sogno di una notte di fine estate: Equinozio in Bragora (or An End-of-Summer Night's Dream: Equinox in Bragora), and the weather cooperated completely, supplying a singularly beautiful evening poised perfectly between summer and fall, with the warm clear stillness of the former and just a hint of cool humidity settling upon the proceedings gently as a benediction as the night wore on in one of the city's most appealing campi.

There were events throughout the day, beginning with the construction of a meridian for kids at noon, live music, more activities for kids, then the construction of a maze made out of votive lights, which turned out, as one followed it, to be far more involved than it appeared at first glance. We arrived for the open-air dinner--cibi dalla via della seta (food from the silk road)--and Hindustani classical music by Angelo Sorato and Fabio Lazzarin, with the dancer Marianna Biadene (pictured above and below).

Sando turned out to be completely mesmerized by the latter, and only returned to the votive light maze when Ms Biadene finished her performance. By that time a lot of other people, of all ages, were winding their way along its path--and, sometimes, running, which was distinctly discouraged. Though, as you can see in the photo at the bottom of the page, the urge was often too great for some people to resist.

The votive light maze being laid out in early evening
Events in the Campo of San Giovanni in Bragora marking the changing of the seasons have become regular occurrences now, and I've greatly enjoyed each one I've attended--and would whole-heartedly recommend them. Only today, however, did I find out from the organizer of the events themselves the logic behind them, which is, after all, rather obvious (though it had never occurred to me).

For as you can see in the photo at the top of this page, there is a plaque upon the front of the church of San Giovanni in Bragora noting the fact that this was the church in which Antonio Vivaldi, composer of The Four Seasons, was baptized. The inspiration to mark the changing of each season in this particular campo is as simple as that.

People wait in line at the food tent at right, while others enjoy live entertainment
There was much more to come after the Hindustani music concluded--Tango from Argentina, artisans from India, and African dance--but the program was running behind schedule and we didn't stay for it. We dragged Sandro out of the maze--in which he seemed quite ready to stay, like the Minotaur of Greek myth, for the rest of his days--and headed home to bed. We had plans for the next day and had to get up early.

But that will be the subject of my next post.

The votive light maze might have made a pleasant place to practice walking meditation--but not with a couple of speed demons like the above around

Thursday, September 19, 2013

La Donna Partigiana Memorial Gets Scrubbed Up

They've been cleaning the memorial to the women partisans of Venice located off the Viale dei Giardini Pubblici the last couple of afternoons. Sculpted by Augusto Murer in 1961 and set upon what was intended by its designer Carlo Scarpa to be a floating base beside a grouping of istrian stone viewing platforms fixed at varying heights, the joint venture has never quite worked, nor been seen, as intended. Or at least not for very long, as corrosion caused by the lagoon's salt water essentially sunk the floating base and the city council opted to make it as stationary as the istrian cubes alongside it rather than sink funds into repairing and maintaining the base in lagoon-worthy ship-shape. The council also decided, probably wisely, that allowing tourists to clamber upon the istrian stone cubes-- many of them slippery with algae--along the edge of the lagoon presented the prospect of unending lawsuits, in addition to whatever views Scarpa may have envisioned. To this day visitors are kept at a good distance from the work by barriers and warnings.

Not having seen anyone clean the work before, I asked the project supervisor how often they did this: "Ogni anno?" I ventured.

The smile he responded with conveyed both a certain embarrassment and a certain fatalism; he leaned toward me a bit, confidentially, tilting one hand back and forth in a gesture of very loose (and futile) estimate, and said, "Eh, no, due--o tre..."

Or maybe even longer, I understood.

"There's no money," he said simply in Italian. "We use only water in the pressure sprayer," he added, "no chemicals, nothing else, but..." He trailed off into a tilt of the head with which most discussions of the way public funds are managed in Venice conclude: a slight disgusted nod toward how things stand--or lie--and the suspicion that those responsible for running the city aren't exactly partial to its actual residents, nor their monuments.  

And you think you've had some rough pedicures!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Sunset Season Begins (4 Views, 2 Evenings)

In what seemed to be a pretty transparent ploy to delay his bedtime, Sandro suggested after dinner tonight that we go outside to see the sunset. I wasn't sure that I should give in too easily, as I wouldn't want to stifle his creativity when it comes to delaying bedtime and the old sunset strategy seemed a bit too easy; I was sure he could come up with something better. But he seemed like perhaps he really was interested in seeing the sunset, so downstairs we went and had taken just a couple of steps out the door of our apartment building when the portion of sky we could see--just a bit of it, not the sunset itself--was so impressive that we decided we'd better run, so as not to miss any of it. 

One of the curses of the digital age is the ease with which images can now be absurdly over-processed, whether done in camera--with the ever-dangerous "Vivid" setting that many cameras offer--or with editing software. I assure you, Dear Reader, that the above image has no such heavy-handed processing, no "Vivid" setting was used, no ready-made image filter called something like "Orange Crush" was applied. The sky was something very much like that--as a likeness is all we can truly ever get through any means of reproduction. Only better. And it reminded me tonight of something I'll pass along to you (though many of you probably not have forgotten it, as I did): that the best season for sunsets in Venice has now begun.

Yes, the days are growing rapidly shorter, but the consolation here throughout the winter months is that even the most meager and reduced of them can go out, against all expectations, symphonically. With a full range of color and drama that would bring smiles--if not (new) noses to replace those hacked off by vandals--to the busts of Verdi and Wagner overlooking the lagoon not far from where the above picture was taken.

ADDITION to original post:

The sunset of the next evening, that is, last night (19 September), offered its own more tempered drama and beauty. I attach 3 images below as further evidence that the season really is underway.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sustainability Fair on Zattere This Weekend

Attendees of the 2nd annual Fiera per la Decrescita talk on the Zattere, with Palladio's church of Redentore in background
The full name of the open air fair taking place this weekend on the Zattere in the sestiere of Dorsoduro is Il Fiera per la Decrescita e la Città Sostenibile, or what might be translated as the Degrowth and Sustainable City Fair. Degrowth of course is an odd-sounding word in English, and flies in the face of that most cherished of terms in contemporary Capitalism, growth, which the corporate world and the puppet governments they own pursue with all the blindly fanatical self-interest of cancer cells. Indeed, as far as I know cancer cells are the only entities in nature in which infinite uninterrupted growth serves as a guiding principle.

In any case, this weekend's fair on the Zattere is committed to alternative visions of economic and social life based on something other than the fantasy of ever-increasing production and consumption. There are workshops for adults and for children, meetings and talks, live performances, and booths selling food and goods produced in a manner consistent with the fair's ideals.

At the very least, if you happen to be the neighborhood I suggest picking up a package of the pasta di semola di grano duro biologica--a high-protein pasta made from organic durum wheat--that is native to the Puglia region. I used it last night to make Pasta alla Norma and it was delicious.

A full schedule of this weekend's events in Venice, as well as next weekend's fair in Mestre, may be found below (for some reason, the earlier-scheduled Venice fair appears on the 2nd page of the pdf):

Some of the fair's many tents lined up along the Fondamenta delle Zattere yesterday evening
A discussion in the tent of the Venetian community garden group Spiazzi Verdi (
A discussion takes place in the left half of the Libreria Marco Polo tent, independent publishers' books are for sale at right (
Fair-goers look over various products made from organic almonds

Monday, September 9, 2013

Castaway Style on the Beach at Lido, or DIY Capanne

A hint of Robinson Crusoe, and perhaps Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away, on Lido
The summer season on Lido officially ended yesterday: le capanne, which people had rented from the end of May, had to be cleaned out and their keys returned. There were, however, still plenty of people on the beach late this afternoon when I visited and, well south of Hotel Excelsior where the jetties begin, a fair number of capanne, too--though of the DIY kind.

These appear regularly every June, made by many anonymous hands of driftwood and vegetation that grows along i murazzi (or sea walls) and other found objects, and occupied by whomever claims them first on any given summer day. I asked (in Italian) an older man I encountered if there was any particular name for these huts.

No, no, he replied in Italian, those structures are not native to Venice--as if I thought there might be a particular Venetian term for them. I actually would have settled for an Italian one, but he said there was none that he knew of. Then he emphasized again that they had nothing to do with Venetian tradition: they didn't originate from the huts of fishermen or anything like that.

"The kids make them each summer," he told me.

"Have they made them for a long time?" I asked.

He shrugged, then reminded me that the jetties themselves had not been there for all that long: only 20 or 30 years. And even the particular sea wall we stood beside had only gone up in the 1960s or '70s.

He thought that there were more huts built in recent years (I saw at least a dozen today, though got nowhere close to most of them because they were occupied and I didn't want to be the kind of guy who lurks around sunbathers with a camera). Then he added that if I wanted to see some really well-constructed ones I should visit Malamoco.

Having grown up in California where huts of this sort wouldn't be allowed to stand for more than a day on one of that state's beaches, much less the entire summer--and well aware of all the regulations on ordinary construction in Venice--I struggled to figure out how to ask in Italian if there were authorities of any sort that objected to these temporary structures. Is there anyone who tears them down at the end of the season? I asked. The police, for example?

No, he said with a slight smile, the sea and winter weather usually take care of that.   

A reservation for the above capanna is perhaps optimistically written on the long plank at the right foreground of the photo: "Capanna prenotata x merc 11 Sett dalle 11 a 21:30 (grigliata)"
This young couple were kind enough to let me photograph the small hut they occupied at the end of a jetty, but not so kind as to vacate it for a couple of minutes while I did so
In addition to sea air and a great view of the Adriatic, this capanna also includes a swing
The plastic ties that bind

Friday, September 6, 2013

How Do I Look? On Via Garibaldi This Evening

I usually think of the street stalls around town as being oriented toward tourists, but this evening I was reminded by the scene above that this is not always the case; at least not on Via Garibaldi.

The woman above is trying on a dress from the stall over her own clothing. In an inversion of the Greek myth of poor Paris who was burdened with the sole responsibility of judging whom among three goddesses was the most beautiful, our protagonist in this scene has the benefit of three judges. Which doesn't mean it won't also lead to conflict--but probably not on the scale of the Trojan War (I hope).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Don't Look Now...

Three visitors to the British Pavilion at the ongoing Venice Biennale ponder the program notes to the artist Jeremy Deller's work--one of which appears ready to catch them all unawares
...but starting tomorrow--jet-lag, internet connection, and other things willing--this Venezia Blog will return to something like its usual frequency of posts. After nearly four weeks of traveling, I'm finally back in Venice.