Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Rigged Out with Canvases, But Not in the Form of Sails

A curious sight from last month, before the weather turned cooler, of a number of religious paintings being transported in  an open boat.


Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Mermaid on the Grand Canal, This Morning

In the weeks after the Covid-19 lock-down first went into effect last March, there were a series of reports about how with the abeyance of water traffic the canals of the historic center had become pellucid and still as reflecting pools. Nature had returned: you now saw schools of fish instead of herds of mass tourists; egrets and cormorants replaced mototopi and taxis; a prolific pair of Common Sheldrakes could leisurely lead their ducklings down the length of the Grand Canal, and there were even sightings of dolphins! 

Though this last claim was not intended to be taken seriously. 

(Though a native Venetian fireman told me nine years ago that he had in fact seen dolphins in the lagoon, but in each instance they were dead.)

So why not a mermaid? I thought this morning, upon seeing the sight above.

Who else would stretch out nearly nude on the cold slimy stones of Ca' D'Oro on a brisk autumn morning?

I suppose the absence of a fishtail, and the presence of stiletto heels, were clear indications this was not some rare mythical creature from the ocean deep but just a kind of person--a model--spotted far more often in the city center than the Common Sheldrake (which I'd previously only ever seen out near Torcello). 

And the appearance of mermaids and/or mermen in the Grand Canal wouldn't necessarily be all that positive a development, as they'd likely just encourage more tourists to dive from bridges and go for swims. 

So I guess I'll stick to looking out for those magical creatures once abundant in the lagoon but now rarely seen, like the sea horses John Ruskin refers to in a letter written in May of 1857 to his friend Charles Eliot Norton, recommending that Norton put "two or three cavalli di mare in a basin in your room [to] see them swim. But don't keep them more than a day, or they die, put them into the canal again." My son discovered one among the sea weed on a mooring pole at Certosa, but I've never seen one in the city. 


This model didn't have to lie down in cold water, but I doubt her draping provided much warmth  

No fewer than four different poses to choose from

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

From Blog Post to Book (And Now Available for Pre-Order!)

The final jacket proof of Ciao, Sandro!, by Steven Varni and Luciano Lozano

Every native Venetian knows there’s far more to their famously beautiful city than meets the eye, but none better than a keen-eared, sharp-scenting little dog named Sandro, who leads us all around his maze-like hometown--and even out to Murano--on a top-secret mission.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of a new children's picture book I've written and Luciano Lozano has beautifully illustrated that will be published by Abrams Books for the North America market on June 8, 2021.

The book's been a long time in the works, five years to be exact, and the eponymous protagonist on the jacket cover above may look familiar to some of you, as he's modeled on an actual gondolier's dog I first wrote about on December 21, 2015 who knew how to take the vaporetti all around the lagoon--from the Venice's historic center to Giudecca and Lido--all by himself. 

That post was entitled "Venice's Greatest Explorer Is Four-legged" (from which you can see an image below). And about a month later I salvaged what I could from some research video I shot of Sandro and combined it with the audio of an interview I did with his gondolier companion Nicola (in preparation for writing the first post) and put up a two minute video (with English subtitles) in which Nicola recounts the first time the captain of a vaporetto called him to tell him his little dog had come aboard by himself: "A Dog About Town."

These two posts were the inspiration for the book, but the book itself has a story of its own, which benefits immensely from the illustrations of the Barcelona-based artist Luciano Lozano. Luciano, as you can see from his website, has produced an impressive body of work over the years (including some freshly published books, Boys Dance and Mayhem at the Musuem, I'd highly recommend), and I was thrilled when my editor told he he'd agreed to illustrate my text of Ciao, Sandro!

I was happy to leave all questions of exactly how to illustrate the book entirely up to him. My editor at Abrams had seen the blog posts that inspired the book, but whether she in turn would show them (with their images of the real-world Sandro) to Luciano was entirely up to her. My text described the dog only as being small, beyond that he could look however Luciano thought it best for him to look. In fact, I wouldn't have minded if the male dog of my original text had become female. I was looking forward to being surprised, and based upon what I'd seen of Luciano's work and of the people at Abrams, I had no fear that the surprises would be of an unpleasant sort. 

My job was done, and I hoped that the text already contained a certain subtext I only became aware of in its writing: which was a story of how, in a world overwhelmed by visual images, and in a city famous for its celebrated sights, we make our way in the world and know our place in it with the use of all of our senses

For Venice is not just a famous collection of stage-sets for selfies--though it is that--but a city with its own distinctive sounds and smells and textures and tastes. From my observation small children in Venice, just like small dogs, are well aware of what seems like it should be quite obvious, but it's an awareness that can diminish as one grows up.

So, really, Ciao, Sandro! is not just about the Venice of the five senses, but perhaps might serve as a reminder in this image-driven age of ours that all of our hometowns, no matter how celebrated or obscure, have their own distinctive sensory experiences.  

Or, more simply put, I'm fairly confident that of all the thousand of books published on Venice Ciao, Sandro! is probably the only one that features an espurgopozzineri boat and driver. (What's that, you may ask? Well, it has something to do with a topic of some interest to most kids: poop.)
CIAO, SANDRO! can be pre-ordered now on the Abrams Books website (the "PRE-ORDER" button will give you a selection of stores to place the order with online).  

Perhaps in a future post I'll write a bit about the days in early October 2019 when Luciano came to Venice to research his illustrations for the book, and the walks around the city we took, and maybe, with his permission, post some of his first sketches.
It was actually only on the day that Luciano arrived here in Venice, before we'd even met in person for the first time, that he sent me an image of his first sketch of what the character of Sandro would look like, which he'd just taken in a Venetian setting. You can see it below:
photo credit: Luciano Lozano

Friday, October 9, 2020

Ca' D'Oro: Then and Now (A Renewed Emphasis on Masks)

Days of wine and poses: Biennale party at Ca' D'Oro, May 7, 2019

With Covid-19 infections starting to rise, the Italian government has issued a nation-wide mask mandate, saying they must be worn whenever a person is out and about. Here in Venice, after turning something of a blind eye to violations of social distancing regulations for the city's nightlife during the summer, authorities have declared their enforcement will once again become a priority.

I've observed none of the cynically-politicized backlash against the requirement that one must wear a mask when entering a store here in Venice--which has been in effect without interruption since late last February--that I've read and heard about in my native country of America. Aping the demagogic and fatal buffoonery of the current occupant of the White House, Italy's own right-wingnuts have, at least in Venice, had little success in whipping up the dimwitted and sociopathic to violent and sometimes deadly demonstrations of their "freedom."

But the less I say about my native land, currently struggling beneath a ruling party which is not only malicious, corrupt and incompetent but also overtly authoritarian, the better. The image at the bottom of this page showing the Coronavirus status in that country as of October 7, 2020 sadly speaks for itself.

Really, no matter where you live, wear a mask when you go out and do practice social distancing.

The scene at Ca' D'Oro on August 26, 2020 is markedly more sober

These signs have been up in every store for months, and are followed.

Meanwhile, my native country--alone among all the developed nations of the world--has ingeniously (and disastrously) avoided falling victim to a second wave of the virus by remaining mired in the first one. A recent order from the once-respected Center for Disease Control that would have required that masks be worn on planes, trains, buses, and in airports was blocked by the White House.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Most Romantic City In the World? Sometimes, Yes! (With 5 Images As Proof)

I don't pay much attention to claims that Venice or any other city is the most romantic of all the world. Any city, or town, can be romantic (even, as I can attest, that forlorn series of gravel mounds in the desert known as Needles, California). Romance is where you find it--or make it, as the case may be.

But this past Sunday I happened upon a scene that convinced me that, for at least a few minutes, Venice was indeed the most romantic spot in all the world. 

Enrico and Giulia, whom I'd meet after taking these images, live in the Veneto region about 60 kilometers outside Venice. Enrico had planned to propose in Piazza San Marco, only to discover that one day after the MOSE flood barrier had been raised to protect the famous site from what was forecast to be "extraordinary" acqua alta of 135 cm above mean, the piazza was left to fill with water from the less hazardous tide of 110 cm. 

So, instead, it was on the Grand Canal, just across from the beautiful facade of Ca' D'Oro, that Enrico carried out his plan--with the happiest of results. 
A big thanks to Giulia and Enrico for allowing me to share these images--a cheerful, beautiful, and welcome sight during troubled times. Congratulations, auguri, Glückwünsche, mazel tov!


Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Sunday Family Outing, This Afternoon


The big news this weekend was that yesterday, October 3, Venice's system of flood barriers (known as MOSE) were successfully raised to prevent a high tide of 130 cm from inundating Piazza San Marco as it normally would have. (Another report on it here: https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-10-03/venice-deploys-flood-barrier-for-first-time-as-storm-drives-up-tide.)

Long overdue and hugely over-budget, this was a day that many people--myself among them--thought they'd never see. It is a good sign--it is at least something after so many years of delays and ongoing problems, and it will be interesting to see what comes next. 

But I'll leave it to others to go into all of that, and for today keep the focus more narrow.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

The End of the Outing, Giudecca, Late This Afternoon

Burano's not the only island in the lagoon with some color to it (made the more strange at the captured moment by late afternoon sunlight filtered through stormy-looking clouds )