Wednesday, December 30, 2020

A Lunch of Fresh Fish, Noon Today (Sequence of 16 Images)


The Palasport G. Gianquinto near the Arsenale was, like most other places today (and not only today), closed, but at its loading dock in the rear lunch was not being served but caught, by the patient and efficient and handsome egret in this sequence of photos.

(The image above should actually come 9th in the sequence that beings below, but I wanted something eye-catching for cover shot.) 




Sunday, December 27, 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

Boat Dogs

A boat dog on a foggy morning, October 11, 2017

It was a cold Sunday afternoon about one month ago during our first convincing cold snap of the season, and an unspoken commiseration was in the air among residents (freshly reminded of what winter had in store for us), when I thought to ask one of the regular gondoliers on the Santa Sofia traghetto across the Grand Canal how his dog was. Both his eyes and mine (the only things visible above our Covid masks and below our wool hats) watered in the Bora wind from the north, and I imagined his dog, usually his loyal companion on the traghetto, warm and snug at home, the recipient of a well-deserved day off.

È morta, he replied. She's dead.  

I was shocked. When did it happen? I asked. 

Thursday, he said. 

Dogs die, of course, and though I had no idea of her age I knew she was no pup... And people were falling sick and dying all around the world... And maybe the latter fact was what made the former fact so jarring on this afternoon. At a time like this, when so many human lives and livelihoods were being stricken and lost, it was nice to think that some forms of companionship were immune. Out of his concern for her, I'd imagined, the gondolier had let his dog stay home that day, safely out of the cold, and she'd be waiting for him when he finished work.

How old was she? I asked.

She was old, he answered. Thirteen.

Our short trip across the canal was done. I went off on my errands in Cannaregio, realizing I was never sure of the dog's name.

It was dark, and even colder, when I arrived at the traghetto station to make the return trip back across the canal. No one was there; it was not yet closing time (5:30 pm), and the gondola still had its two oars lying in it. I waited a few minutes and the gondoliers returned from the direction of a bar on Strada Nova; I'd be their last fare of the night and they were glad of it.

Cinque euro, the rower in front of the boat joked to me as they returned--that is, this last trip would cost me five euros instead of the usual 70 centesimi. They muttered in Venetian about the cold...

What was the name of your dog? I asked the poppiere, the rower in the back.

Mia, he said.

So, here's to Mia, whom you see below, braving the cold in a blanket in November 2018.

And to another loyal boat dog whose death I just learned about, and who inspired my children's picture book, Ciao, Sandro!, which Abrams will publish in June 2021

Sandro the dog died around this time last year, about a month before he would have celebrated his 19th birthday. You can see an image of him at bottom, and him in action, in a short video, here

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A Winter Afternoon in Burano (3 Views)

Laundry day in the foreground, the basilica and campanile of Torcello's Santa Maria Assunta in background, and the Dolomites behind them

A mail boat of the Servizio Postale heads toward the monastic island of San Francesco del Deserto


Friday, December 11, 2020

Venice In Miniature: Bottega di Pre

A grouping of four different buildings and stone bridge (photographed last year)

The Bottega di Pre, located just a few yards off of Campo Santa Maria Formosa, has an array of striking hand-made objects in it, all created by its proprietor (whose name, I must admit, I've forgotten), but my personal favorite are the matchbox-sized buildings and bridges and gondolas of Venice you can see in the images above and below. Cast of solid resin and hand-painted, they have a satisfying mass to them when held in the hand, and combine two or three or more of them in a grouping and you have a 3-D Venice on your table top (or under your Christmas tree) with all of what Ruskin praised as the distinctive "Irregularity" of the actual city itself.

I last spoke to the artisan a year ago when purchasing some buildings, and have always meant to return and do a post on him and his shop. But when I stopped by recently I found that he appears to be (understandably enough, given the absence of foot traffic) keeping his shop closed during the pandemic: a sign on the shop door directs people to his online site, where you can see not just his Venetian buildings but his hot air balloons and small scale library interiors (which I think Jorge Luis Borges would have appreciated), masks, Christmas decorations, and other unique objects: 

On that site you can also inquire about purchases. I've not encountered any other hand-made objects of Venice, small-scale and affordable, that so effectively suggest something of the actual experience of the city.  


A view of the current window display in the Bottega di Pre

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

There Are Limits to What MOSE Can Do, This Evening (3 Views)


The flood barriers known as MOSE were up for 40 continuous hours this past weekend, during which time they prevented two high tides of more than 130 cm (as well as all the rest of the normal tidal movement in and out of the lagoon). The forecast for late this afternoon initially put the high tide around 125 cm, and MOSE is only raised when the forecast is for a tide of 130 cm or greater. MOSE also requires, if recall correctly, about 3 hours to rise into it full upright position and, moreover, shipping traffic that would be entering or departing the lagoon must be notified in advance that their route will be closed. All of which explains why there was nothing to be done this afternoon when Bora winds ended up pushing the high tide to 145 cm at 4:45 pm, which was about 45 minutes before these images were taken.


A long exposure of 10 second smooths what in reality was the deep choppy water in Piazza San Marco while the series of video screens in the window of Museo Correr, an installation by the artist Fabrizio Plessi, appear as blank white light. 



Monday, December 7, 2020

A "Ponte" Near Torcello, This Afternoon (10 Views)

That's the leaning campanile of Burano in the center of the image, with a few sprinkles of rain visible on the mirror-smooth lagoon.

The "ponte" in this post's title refers not to the literal type of span but to the metaphorical sort, as the word ponte is used in Italian to refer to a day like today, which links this past weekend to the national holiday tomorrow of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and thus, at least for many people (among them students), makes this a four-day weekend. My son and I used the day off to take our boat out north of Torcello this afternoon. 


The campanile and Basilica of Torcello

In the distance is the walled ossuary island of Sant'Ariano, which is a major setting in Philip Gwynne Jones' charmingly-written suspense novel Venetian Gothic (published 2020), as well as in Michael Dibdin's dark mystery Dead Lagoon (1994)


It was only a matter of time before a boat tearing through the barene well above the posted 5 km/hour speed limit did what the passing sprinkles could not--obliterate the mirror surface of the lagoon

A cormorant taking off from the lagoon appears no more likely to succeed in getting aloft than the most ridiculous of humanity's earliest aeroplanes captured in old film footage...

At rest though, he is regal enough

Friday, December 4, 2020

Unwelcome Quiet: Marco Polo Airport During the Pandemic

Above image and below: No buses, no taxis, no hustle or bustle: Marco Polo Airport this past Tuesday at mid-day

The philosopher Martin Heidegger famously suggested that the thingness of a hammer--the fact of it as an object made of specific materials--is typically only recognized when it has broken, and can no longer be used. Maybe something similar can be said about an airport: we can only really see it when it's not functioning as intended, as a hub of arrivals and departures, of unending circulation. Or at least that's how it struck me at the beginning of this week, when the need to renew our son's US passport made us board an empty Alilaguna airport-bound water bus, which delivered us to an almost completely empty Marco Polo Airport with time to kill before our appointment.   

There were just four departing flights listed on the electronic boards at the water transportation docks and the usual interior route to the gates through the covered elevated walkway completed in 2017 was closed. As in the old days we trekked outdoors to the terminal, and once there we found that our idea of passing time inside it was not going to work out: entrance to any part of the building was forbidden to anyone without an airline ticket. 

My wife and son returned to wait near the the American micro-consulate by the water departure docks and I stuck around to take the images you see here, realizing that I was, for the first time, seeing the airport as its architects had at some point pictured it, as empty forms--and as the thousands whose livelihoods depend upon it surely never wanted to see it. 

As human activity at the airport has dwindled wildlife, including the two creatures above long believed to be merely mythical, have reclaimed what were once the marshy banks of the lagoon--or these might simply be two people coming to greet an arriving loved one while wearing silly costumes (but I like my original explanation better).

Without barriers and gates and crowds this series of three portals in the Alilaguna and taxi departure area can finally be seen: their interior walls surfaced in a white material whose interplay with their external brick structure alludes to the combination of Istrian stone and brick typical of Venice's historic buildings, while forming a telescoping perspective of distance evocative of some of Tintoretto's compositions.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

A Light In the Dark: La Mascareta in Calle del Tentor

Since the end of the summer the calli I take through Santa Croce to pick up our son from school have been emptying out. First, the already-reduced number of tourists I passed (all from Europe) thinned and then zeroed out as the coronavirus re-surged; then the shops and businesses along my usual route (like everywhere in the city) were vacated: one of the best gelaterie in the city near San Stae, a well-established pastry shop, a respected upholsterer, restaurants and hotels... It was in this dispiriting context that the above image was taken, a dim light in the early dark of shortening days.

The shop is La Mascareta in Calle del Tentor, just around the corner from the church of Santa Maria Mater Domini as you head toward Campiello del Spezier. Its owner, Hama, is there at work each time I pass--a welcome sight.

Because of the huge number of fraudulent masks for sale online he prefers to sell directly from his shop, where the quality of his productions also distinguish them from the huge number of counterfeit masks being sold by hand in other shops around the city (he showed me today a recent news article about police discovering a stash of 42,000 such masks made abroad but labeled as being "Made in Venice"). And even the pandemic has not changed his feelings about this: he has his work to do, and will be ready for when visitors begin to return to the city.

In the mean time, if you are interested in buying an authentic mask hand-made and painted by a single artisan, you can contact him via his email:  

Like any other well-established artisan in Venice, he is experienced and adept at shipping his works securely all over the world.

Hama poses with what he told me remains (even since the pandemic) his favorite mask: the plague doctor, in its traditional form (in his right hand) and an ornate version (in left)

Hama told me it's interesting to observe that people from different countries tend to be drawn to a different range of masks: the French, for example, tend to be inclined toward masks that I'd describe as softer-tinted and romantically-illustrated, while many from Japan are first struck by masks whose ornamentation takes the form of an almost jewelry-like surface.