Saturday, June 20, 2015

Michelle Obama Visits the Venice Biennale, Today

The Obama water taxi surrounded by just some of its security forces (which did not, however, include among them the vaporetto at right)
Michelle Obama, her two daughters, and her mother are visiting Venice this weekend and though, according to press reports, they're hitting sights like the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica of San Marco that are on the top of every visitor's itinerary, they're doing so with a lot less company and infinitely more security than the average tourist--or even Hollywood celebrity. No waiting in tickets lines or tourist crushes for America's First Family. But of course no privacy or freedom of movement either, and I don't think I'd like to give up the latter just to avoid the former (not that anyone's giving me the choice).

And unlike George Clooney and Amal who during their wedding weekend waved to crowds lining the canals as if they were heads of states (or the freshly-elected Doge and Dogaressa), the Obama women have been pretty hard to get a glimpse of, traveling in a water taxi surrounded by a small fleet of security, including a good half dozen police bouncing over the waves in advance, on the flanks, and behind on jet skis.

Today the Obamas stopped in at the Venice Biennale for just over an hour, arriving via the San Pietro Canal, visiting the American Pavilion where they met with artist Joan Jonas whose work is on display there, then visiting some of the pavilions located on the island of Sant' Elena, on the other bank of the San Pietro Canal, which include Brazil, Egypt, and Venice. The western end of the Biennale's grounds in the Giardini Pubblici were closed off to other Biennale visitors during the Obamas's visit, while, of course, the rest of the grounds were off limits to the Obamas themselves because of security concerns.

I saw the Obamas pass by on their way to the Biennale beneath what's called the "Fireman's Bridge" that connects Sant' Elena to the rest of Castello. Then a little while later, I walked to the other of Sant' Elena's two bridges to see if I might not get a photo of them leaving the Biennale. A few other photographers were already stationed there--pros with their telephoto lenses--and I sat down beside them and waited. I realized that to get from the American Pavilion to the rest of the pavilions at the western edge of the grounds they would have to cross an iron bridge clearly visible from where we all now sat. Alas, the photographers told me they'd already crossed it.

Now it was just a matter of waiting for them to get into the water taxi to leave. We all had a clear view of that, too, so the prospects for me, in my role as would-be paparazzi, seemed fairly good.

One paparazzo announced that the Obama's water taxi had started its engine and they all aimed their cameras.

Then one of the photographers, almost as if he was talking to himself, quietly identified each person who entered the water taxi leading up to the appearance of the First Lady: una figlia [a burst of shutter activity]... altra figlia [another cluster of shutter bursts]... Then Eccola! and a frenzy of shutter activity. Then la nonna...[a respectful if half-hearted bit of shutter noise]. Then un' amica... [just a click or two, out of habit]. And that was that.

I kept watching the water taxi in the distance, watched it pull away from the bank, then heard a photographer beside me curse once quietly. I wouldn't know why until I got home and looked at the photos and discovered--as you'll see below--that because Michelle Obama was wearing her shoulder-length hair down today, during every moment of her graceful descent into the waiting taxi it covered her face as completely as a curtain.

But I didn't know this at the time, didn't review the images I shot. 

Instead, the paparazzi all departed together. The Obamas, surrounded by their extensive, heavily-armed security detail, were (according to rumor) on their way to their lunch at Ciprianni on Torcello. And I went home to my own, walking in the warm sun of anonymity.  

A closer view of the taxi, with Michelle Obama in the shadows, her two daughters seated at rear
Some of the heavily armed escort
One of the Obama daughters enters the water taxi after a visit to the Biennale
Michelle Obama is helped into the water taxi


  1. '..the warm sun of anonymity' for me too, thankfully!

  2. What a shame not to be able to experience Venice like the rest of us
    wandering around in the late evening and getting lost.

    1. And not only in Venice, but everywhere you go! Imagine being the child of a president: what your teen years and young adulthood would be like!