Friday, November 27, 2020

Not Your Granny's Tableware: The Ceramics of Alessandro Merlin

Just about 50 meters from the church of San Martino, after you've crossed the iron Ponte Storto and followed Calle Pestrin as it curves away from Rio de la Ca' en Duo and heads in the direction of Piazza San Marco, you arrive at the bottega of ceramicist Alessandro Merlin. At the sight of a poor wretch with no protection from the harsh elements, San Martino famously cut his cloak in half to share it with him. But when it comes to uncloaking themselves the human figures in Merlin's work don't settle for half measures--and, boy, do the fellas look happy to see you! (or to be seen, as the case may be).
The assured yet whimsical line with which his figures are rendered might remind you of some of Picasso's menagerie and of his erotic works, but Merlin's animals tend to the aquatic, in keeping with Venice, and the mythology animating his erotica is of a much more recent vintage than Picasso's ancient minotaurs and goddesses: it's the classic beefcake and cheesecake pin-ups of the second half of the 20th century. 
Born in Piemonte, raised in Belluno, Merlin opened his bottega in Venice 25 years ago. Like nearly everyone in Venice (and not only in Venice) the pandemic has impacted both his life and livelihood. In the latter case, the more adventurous visitors who used to venture beyond Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, and the afficianados of contemporary art who walked to and from the Biennale, have disappeared. And as Merlin admits to having little expertise and equally little interest in website construction he does not have an online store.

But that doesn't mean his one-of-a-kind pieces can't be ordered even now. He's experienced in shipping his pieces all over the world, so you need only contact him via his email address about purchasing something. He does not ship the large plates, but all of his cups and saucers, the mugs, serving trays and so forth can be (and have been) securely packed and shipped.
To inquire about ordering contact him at

Alessandro Merlin in his studio behind the display floor; at the right of the photo is his ceramic oven in which he fires his cups, saucers, smaller plates and trays

Surprises of a prickly sort sometimes await the drinker of coffee from one of Merlin's cups
In Merlin's shop window you can find an array of cups of which the great 16th-century writer (and Venetian resident) Pietro Aretino would certainly have approved

An example of one of Merlin's larger plates (which brings to mind the opening stanza of Yeats's "Sailing to Byzanium" about "The young in one another's arms... / The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, / Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long /Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.")

Merlin's shop window on Calle del Pestrin

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Festa della Madonna della Salute, Today

Police stationed at all approaches to the church are tasked with keeping the crowds gathered outside the church small enough to allow for proper distancing
Access to the church of the Madonna della Salute is being regulated so that no more than 60 people are inside the church at any given time, and the celebration of the festa is being held in churches around the city so as to lessen the crowd at the main site, but the Festa della Madonna della Salute is taking place this year--though without the traditional temporary footbridge across the Grand Canal.  


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A Nearly Impossible Mission Is Completed

On location beside the Rialto Pescaria, 17 October 2020

Mission Impossible is the name of the film franchise (none of which I've seen, I should admit up front), but obviously the challenges faced can't be literally insurmountable or they wouldn't have managed to get six pictures in the can since 1996. The seventh, however, or at least the filming of it, was anything but lucky. 

Their shoot in Venice began last winter and was ultimately shut down in late February, along with the rest of the city, by the coronavirus.

In the middle of October, after a summer of declining virus cases, production returned to the city--only to be shut down again after one week because of new coronavirus concerns.

But even as the caseload grew in the Veneto (and Europe) and Venice emptied out of its greatly-reduced wash of summer visitors, filming resumed last week with more attention to preventive measures against the virus.

Just a couple of evenings ago I passed by a tent set up in Campiello del Sol: through a gap in its flaps I caught sight of a lab coat; outside it stood a few dark clad people, each with a document in hand. Though I couldn't actually see inside the tent, it appeared to be a Covid testing station, and at first I was surprised that a temporary public health venture would be tucked away in such an obscure little campo.

But it wasn't for the public, I realized a few minutes later. The tent was a short distance from Calle dei Boteri, which was being prepped as a location for later that night, and the tests were being administered to everyone who'd be working on or around the set.

Last night night the filming of the nearly-impossible, or at least long-delayed, mission was finished. And tonight the restaurants around the location set that had been hired out to serve as food service hubs, or provide access to restrooms, are once again dark and shuttered. And the score of drivers who waited all night in their mototopi moored along Fondamenta Riva Olio, watching videos on their smartphones, along with the dozens of sentries hired to control all routes of access to the set, are probably at home--which is surely much warmer and more comfortable, but is unlikely to pay as well.

Ca' D'Oro lit by film lighting, 17 November 2020 (above and below)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Sighing Over Venice Is Nothing New, But Buying Is More Useful Right Now: Declare Leather Goods and Newstand

The Declare boutique on Calle Seconda dei Saoneri 2671 (photographed before the start of an event on 24 November 2019)

For over 200 years the troubles and ruination of the defunct Venetian Republic have put visitors in a philosophical mood (or at least a complacently, sweetly melancholic one), and with a new "plague" upon us it's little surprise that this old vein, overworked and exhausted though it's long been, would again become a destination for literistic pick-axers, as it is for Colm Toibin in the new issue of the London Review of Books

Deathly quiet calli, a sprinkling of rather unsatisfactory locals, untrafficked canals: all the usual elements are evoked once more to serve as a ground for the celebrated names and works of the distant past. You know the ones: Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese, Thomas Mann, Henry James....

Ah, inhale deeply of the autumnal air...

I have little patience for this kind of stuff.

To walk through Venice now is to walk past shop after shuttered shop, empty hotel and restaurant after empty hotel and restaurant--and not to reflect with a dulcet sigh on the aged Titian's last days in the plague-stricken Republic of 1576 but to wonder how all the people familiar to you by sight if not name from all these establishments are managing to support themselves and their families without a job.

Of course such hardships are, alas, not unique to Venice these days. But if Venice is on your mind and you find yourself in need of a gift--either for yourself or others--or in some instances, a necessity, I thought I'd put up some posts about Venetian shops that might interest you.

I'm not one to push consumerism, but the posts that follow are simply shops that I like and frequent, and whose proprietors in each case have impressed me with their knowledge of and, yes, even devotion to what they do, and the detailed attention they pay to what they produce. 

In the case of the shop Declare, just a short distance from the church of I Frari heading toward Campo San Polo, it was the colors and obvious quality of the leather of their bags and wallets that caught my eye as I passed by. But as I wasn't in need of either it was their magazine and journal wall that made me walk in.

In fact, the first two images of this post were taken in November 2019, when I was planning to do a post on the series of events being hosted in the shop, each of them featuring the editor(s) of a different art or cultural or intellectual journal carried on the wall. 

But then the holidays arrived, and then Covid arrived, and the event series had to be canceled and has not yet been able to be revived. 

The well-curated array of reading material on its wall continues to be worthy of a visit all its own if you are in the city. But if you are not, Declare's original line of bags, available for purchase online, is worth a look no matter where you live. 

The shop's owner, and the designer not only of the bags but now of a new line of original jewelry, Omar Pavanello, is a man who is as passionately knowledgeable about the materials and methods with which his lines are produced as he is about their form. The bags are hand-produced by artisans nearby on terraferma, and so committed is he to the quality of their production that you can easily find yourself in a detailed discussion of different dying and tanning methods of the leather itself. In fact, reminded by one of his bags of the feel an old Coach bag I bought back in the days (1980s) when that (now mass-marketed) line of leather goods was still produced in limited numbers in Manhattan, I found that Omar was such a fan of the quality of leather they used back then that he'd sought out and bought a couple of old examples as inspiration.

As the photo at the bottom of this post indicates, the newest line includes more colors than are depicted in the online store. If you are in the market for leather goods actually produced in Italy, just outside Venice, of the highest quality, please take a look at their online store, and contact them (by email or phone--English is spoken) to find out about new colors not yet shown on the site. 

And if you are in Venice--or the next time you are--by all means stop in the store.  

 (For more on Declare's partners, Omar and Anna, see the following 2018 article in the local paper La Nuova.)

Anna Tonti, partner of Omar Pavanello in Declare (left), interviews Michaela Büsse, editor of Migrant journal on 24 November 2019 (The six issue run of the Migrant journal is itself very much worth checking out--focusing on a different theme in each of its limited run of issues, this cross-disciplinary and always thought provoking publication defies easy categorization.)

Omar Pavanello (photographed 5 November 2020)


Handbags from the new Autumn 2020 line (5 November 2020)