Thursday, December 29, 2016

Details, Details: Here Comes the Sun at Palazzo Miani Coletti Giusti

I can tell you that the Palazzo Miani Coletti Giusti, which houses part of the art collection of Baron Giorgio Franchetti (the bulk of which is more famously situated at its illustrious next-door-neighbor Ca' D'Oro), was completed in 1766 and designed by the Venice-born architect Antonio Visentini, who, three decades earlier, had gained prominence as the engraver or Canaletto's first series of Venetian views. I can't, however, tell you who these two busts high on the facade of Palazzo Miani Coletti Giusti are supposed to be--but I suspect someone might do so in the comments below.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Calm Waters of Christmas Day: 3 Views

I can't say exactly how much Peace on Earth there actually was yesterday (much less "goodwill toward men," as the carol goes), and the calli and campi in the historic center were certainly busy enough, but there was a rare calm on the waters of Venice, especially the Grand Canal, which, combined with the sunshine, made it a wonderful day to be out in a boat. I often wonder about the wisdom of taking a gondola ride down the Grand Canal on most days, as the all the typical boat traffic must make it something less than a relaxing trip. But if you're intent on doing so I don't know that you could schedule a better day for it than Christmas day, when for long stretches of time the line of palazzi reflected in the water is only pleasantly rumpled, altering like the sheen on a piece of rumpled silk or velvet, rather than obliterated by moto ondoso.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On Practical Beauty in Venice and Christmas Trees

Today I'm linking to a seasonal post I first put up on this blog three years ago, and re-posted once before (in 2014). A lot of people seemed to enjoy it, and it still seems to me to be the best job I've done of recounting some of the unique aspects of celebrating Christmas in Venice, as well as some of the unique aspects of raising a child here. Or at least of raising one particular child here with his own particular Venetian-influenced passions.

You'll find the post here: On Practical Beauty in Venice and Christmas Trees

And if you'd like to read more about the process of buying a Christmas tree in Venice and transporting it home in a small traditional-style boat, you'll find that post here: Boating Home a Christmas Tree: Tradition or Folly?

Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Best Place to Buy a Wearable Piece of Venice

The Barena shop on Calle Minelli, between Campo Manin and Campo San Luca

A few years ago while I was walking through the Mercerie (those crowded alleys of shops running between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge) with a visiting friend he asked me, "What are you supposed to buy in Venice? Silk neck ties? Leather belts? Leather bags?" He pointed to those things in the shop windows around us.

His question threw me back to when I was a teenager, visiting Europe for the first time and diligently buying things I'd been told before leaving the States were the specialty of each locale: a gold cameo for my grandmother on Ponte Vecchio, a leather chessboard for my brother nearby; a small hand-carved alpine hiker in Brienz, Switzerland for my sister; lace for my mother in Venice.... In an era of globalization and the homogenization of so much of Europe, it was charming to be reminded of a time when I believed wholeheartedly in regional specialities--long before I moved to Venice and discovered, for example, that most lace sold in Venice is made a great distance from the lagoon (China).

I told my friend that what Venice was famous for was lace and blown glass, though much, if not most, of what we were seeing in the windows around us wasn't made here.

He had no interest lace or glass. He changed the subject.

The next day, on another walk, he asked me the same question, as though I were keeping something from him. Or perhaps simply because he really wanted a reason to buy a silk tie (which I assured him was exactly the same tie he'd find for sale in tourist shops in Florence or Rome or anywhere else) or a leather bag (ditto).

The interior of the Barena shop

Of course there are still shops here that do sell authentic Venetian lace (rule of thumb: if it ain't expensive, it ain't real Venetian lace) and authentic Venetian glass, as well as other authentic goods created by local artisans. But in this post I wanted to tell you about a shop that sells authentic Venetian clothes inspired by the styles and fabrics of traditional lagoon clothing, which are made on the mainland just a short distance from the lagoon in Mirano, and available in only a limited number of locations outside of Venice.

The name of the shop, located in a short alley that runs alongside the large modern Intesa San Polo bank between Campo Manin and Campo San Luca, is Barena, which is also the name of the clothing line it features.

"Barena" is the Venetian word for mud flat--of the sort that used to occupy a large part of the lagoon, and which are still vital to the ecological health of it--and aptly suggests the clothing line's roots in this unique environment.

The company (as you can read on the "Brand" link of the website above) was started in 1961 by Sandro Zara, and Mr Zara still heads it, along with his long-time collaborator Massimo Pigozzo and his daughter, Francesca Zara. 

There are just two Barena stores: the one in Venice, and another in the town of Mirano where the clothes are made; and one showroom each in New York, London, Milan, and Erenbach, Switzerland. Barneys Department store in New York City also carries the menswear line, for example, but at considerably higher prices than you'll find in Venice.

In other words, while Venice's exclusive shopping street of Calle Larga Marzo XXII is lined with big-name designer boutiques selling exactly what you can buy in any one of their countless boutiques around the world, the best place to buy Barena is here in Venice.

The owner of the Barena shop, Nicola Grillo

The Barena shop here is owned by Nicola Grillo, whose knowledge of both the history of Venetian clothing and the manufacture of its typical fabrics I think must rival that of Signor Zara himself, who's considered an authority on these subjects. In the course of our recent conversation Grillo told me that the production of high quality wool cloth, of the sort we were looking at in the Barena line, has a very long tradition in Venice. The first regulations governing its manufacture here were issued in 1253, and the zone of its production used to stretch from San Giacomo dall'Orio to what is now Piazzale Roma.

He showed me promotional material for the very first Barena menswear collection from the late 1980s (the womens' line was begun only a few years ago), pointing out the features of each item--its cut, its fabric, etc--which revealed its original use by the lagoon's hunters or fisherman or marinai (something usually represented by Barena's name for the item as well).

In addition to the Barena line, Sandro Zara's company now also includes the line of Tabarrificio (which produces the traditional cloaks whose revival Zara is credited with beginning) and Cini, an old Venetian lanificio, or wool producer, started in the late 1700s, whose extensive archive of historical fabrics and production "recipes" Zara also acquired with his recent purchase of the company from the family's last surviving heir. Grillo's Barena store carries all of these lines and a few select others whose materials and style is in keeping with Barena's.

But Grillo also offers items produced by Barena specifically for his store alone. He showed me, for example, a jacket made from a particular shetland tweed he'd discovered. He'd found a 10 meter bolt of the cloth, from which five jackets were made only for his store. 

The Barena, Tabarrificio and Cini lines are not inexpensive, but in contrast to some clothing that costs even more, the pieces are made to wear well and long. Not surprisingly in a company so inspired by a love of durable high-quality cloth, and by extensive research into clothing worn by working Venetians (rather than the much better-documented styles of the nobility), the seams of these clothes (in my experience of them) don't unravel, buttons don't fall off, the wool doesn't "pill" or lose its shape. For all of their evocations of another time and all the historical study that inspired them, the clothes aren't simply "show pieces" or costumes, and they hold up well over long use--as they're intended to do.

There's a great deal of the lagoon and its history represented in Nicola Grillo's little Barena shop. And for anyone looking for something distinctly of this area I'd recommend they pay it a visit.  

A sample of some of this season's wool vests

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

For Those Who Dream of Venice, A Gift Idea

An image from Dream of Venice Architecture (used with the permission of Bella Figura Publications)

I went to a book signing last week at Libreria Studium, a very good bookstore with an interesting selection of books in English and other languages (in addition to Italian), and one that's often overlooked (not least of all by me in this blog), it seems, in spite of the fact that it's just a few hundred meters from the Basilica San Marco and just down the canal from the Bridge of Sighs.

It's an excellent centrally-located resource for those looking for books in English about Venice and Italy, as well as contemporary and classic literature by American and English writers.

The book signing was for the second in a series of books about Venice that I've also overlooked, probably due to the fact that the last thing I want to do lately is write a book review (the recent one I did on Lucy Hughes-Hallett's lively biography of D'Annunzio began as something else and only accidentally turned into a review of a book I'd read some time before).

But Dream of Venice Architecture, featuring the photography of Riccardo de Cal and a broad selection of original texts written specifically for the volume by acclaimed architects, such as Tadao Ando, Mario Botta and Louise Braverman, and acclaimed writers on architecture such as Witold Rybczynski, merits the attention of anyone interested in the both the long-enduring masterpieces of this city and the more recent ones: in Carlo Scarpa as well as Palladio.

Photographer Riccardo de Cal, left, with editor and publisher JoAnn Loktov at last week's book signing in Libreria Studium
In fact, the enthusiasm with which a number of contributors write about Scarpa and how he inspired them serves as an excellent introduction to the work of Venice's own 20th-century master for those whose attention has been, understandably enough, largely monopolized by past masters like Palladio, Longhena, Sansovino, Codussi, et al.

And the photos of Riccardo de Cal manage, without straining for effect, to present compelling perspectives on this most photographed of cities. Even his images of, say, Piazza San Marco represent that area in the way it strikes me as someone who lives here--rather than with the alienated and alienating sheen of the tourist-oriented image.  

Dream of Venice Architecture, in short, is worth a look.

You can also find out about the first book in the series, entitled simply Dream of Venice, with photos by Charles Christopher and a Foreward by Frances Mayes, here.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Venice Christmas Charity Festival at the Rialto Fish Market, This Evening

A full range of Christmas story characters arrived at the Rialto fish market from a procession of boats on the Grand Canal
As Venice does not have a civic band of its own, the one from Molignano came to provide music...
though it wasn't the only source of live music at the event

There were also displays of karate and dance by local youth groups
Egypt by way of Vegas
Santa takes a well-deserved break

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


I suppose one of the things I like most about Venice, and about most cities, really, are the infinite juxtapositions they offer. In Venice, as above, you find textures and colors and shapes, laundry and saints, roof tiles and shutters.

Nature offers its own juxtapositions, of course, as in a forest, but it's in the cramped environment of Venice (and other cities) that I'm most reminded of the essentially interdependent nature of human life--no matter how vigorously American fabulists of "rugged individualism" and latter-day Thatcherites (she who famously declared "there is no such thing as society, there are individual men and women, and there are families") insist otherwise.

Our process of moving in is progressing slowly but fairly steadily. The 200-year-old table contained in this apartment, which I'd looked forward to using as my desk, had to be treated for termites and will require some time to air out. In the long scale of time we've now entered into in our new-to-us but very old apartment, this delay--no matter how long it extends--will figure as but a blink of the eye.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Traversing Four Centuries in a 6 Horsepower Outboard Boat

This image from two years ago gives some idea of the limitations of our makeshift mototopo

I'm afraid I haven't been able to keep up with blogging in recent days because we've been in the process of moving, from the apartment we've lived in at the eastern edge of Venice for all of our 6 years here to a larger apartment not far from the Rialto Market. It's a move from an area of few tourists to an area of many more, yet in the minds of most people we have finally moved to the "real" Venice. The Venice people picture when they think of Venice.

Is it the "real" Venice? It certainly looks like it, and I suppose some people might claim that in Venice of all places looks are really all that matters. But just how "real" it is, and what that curious and usually unreliable (if not outright fraudulent) term might mean is something we'll have to find out.

Our move is actually ongoing, as our contract in our old apartment is also, alas, ongoing for a time, so there was no great single moving day. And as we're moving from one furnished apartment to another we haven't had to worry about all the big items often involved in a move. So we haven't rented or hired a mototopo or large work boat to make our move--as is typical here--but relied so far on our small sandolo sanpierota and its 6 horsepower outboard motor.

Our son, Sandro, needless to say, was disappointed that we didn't at least rent a patana--a medium-sized work boat almost exclusively made of fiberglass these days. But moving is moving, and as he still dreams of founding his own traslochi (moving, transportation) company one day, any disappointment was soon displaced by logistical considerations (pondered in great detail) and action. There was work to be done, and work that required the use of his own personal hand truck or trolley. His birthday present of 3 years ago that he's used so much that one of its rubber tires is disintegrating and needs replacing.

In any case, on a cold first day of December Sandro and I slowly motored a boatload of large, heavy suitcases and boxes from the edge of Venice to its historic center. A journey which, on land and in an automobile, or even in a boat with a decent-sized motor, is of truly negligible distance. But which here in Venice ended up being one of no less than 400 years: from the 20th-century apartment house we'd been living in for the last 6 years to a 16th-century palazzo, one of whose apartments we're now trying to make into our home. Suffice it to say for now that the 20th century is generally warmer....