Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Giudecca's Eye View

From one of the three "eyes" of Casa dei Tre Oci, the photographic gallery on Giudecca (10 August 2018)


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Summer Storm Clearing Over the Grand Canal

The brightest, hottest days of summer can turn abruptly dark and stormy in Venice. Though the storms tend to clear rather quickly, you don't want to get caught in your boat out in the lagoon with the thunder and lightning breaking just over your head--or you'll find that time seems to pass very slowly indeed. (6 August 2017)


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Dark Reflections at Dusk on Riva Dei Sette Martiri

21 June 2015

During each Biennale the line of yachts anchored along the Riva dei Sette Martiri a short distance from the traditional seat of the exhibition in the Giardini tends to represent a rogues gallery of international oligarchs: mobsters from around the world, like Russia's Roman Abramovich, who've made a killing (quite literally: see Russia's "Aluminum Wars" of the 1990s) in the kleptocratic privatization of their home country's assets, or monopolists like Microsoft co-fonder Paul Allen. 

The yacht above belongs to the billionaire Les Wexner, founder of the clothing chain The Limited, whose holdings would eventually expand to include Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Bath & Body Works. But Wexner is now most notorious as the man who in the 1980s developed a very close personal relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, becoming the "main client" of the money management firm of the college drop out, and staking him with the means that would allow the latter to forge ties with American presidents, British royals, and other prominent international power brokers in the construction of what was Epstein's real business: sex trafficking.

What Epstein was selling to men rich enough to buy whatever they wanted with impunity, was indeed the idea of life without any limits, a life lived well beyond the reach of national or international law. 

It also seemed to me at the time I took this image to be one of the primary strains of American thought: this fantasy--decidedly infantile in nature--of a world without any kind of constraints, or restraint. You know the words and the associated myth: "liberty," "freedom," so vague as to be meaningless, and often used as justification for all kinds of abuses and violence. At the very least, with a kind of sociopathic selfishness.  

In the summer of 2015 the grotesque embodiment of this infantile, sociopathological strain in American thought was running for president. He was not an anomaly then, he is not one now. Nor are his followers, nor the party which he heads, which is now overtly fascist, with its threats of violence, its openly anti-democratic aspirations, its aim to destroy all sense and reason in public discourse, its substitution of histrionic self-pitying displays of grievance for any actual policy proposals or interest in governance, its aim of destroying the state with its admittedly imperfect checks and balances with a one-party rule of limitless power... 

Limitless corruption, limitless oppression, limitless exploitation: this is the promise of those who are euphemistically called "nationalists" or "populists" (though they are inevitably in the pocket of corporate interests and promoting a ruling party whose rules are essentially written by corporations). 

There's an irony in seeing nations such as England and the US once accused of the crimes of colonialism turning the brutal practices of colonialism upon their own citizens in their home countries: for example, one no longer needs to live in the Niger Delta to be subjected to a poisoned water supply, it's common throughout the US, and one need not live in a Native American reservation to be subjected to sub-par schools, medical access, and infrastructure.

The limitless, unbounded proliferation of cells in the body is known as cancer. In the body politic the fantasy of limitlessness is no less cancerous and no less deadly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Boyfriend Duty 1

19 January 2022

When I look at random through old files that I haven't yet posted sometimes a theme or two seem to emerge: one such theme serves as the subject of this and the next couple of posts. 

Of course it's not only women who serve as the photographic subjects for their significant others (or, in the case of what's called "Instagram Boyfriends", compel their boyfriends to capture them for their social media accounts), but it seems from what I've witnessed that when males compel their female partners to capture them the situation is rarely so picturesque--not least of all, because males often like to be photographed "in action." 

Like the time my son and I had to wait to cross a small bridge in San Polo while an American male in his 20s clambered onto the small bridge's low concrete parapet and, after making sure his girlfriend was prepared with the camera, leapt down to be caught in mid-air.  

It was the kind of leap my son used to like to make off an unused outdoor stage in Lido into the sand below when he was 4 years old. It never occurred to him either at that age, or at any point afterwards, that it was something one might do in the city of Venice. (Nor did it occur to him at the age of four to ask us to photograph him in flight.) 

But one thing I noticed in more than a decade of living full-time in Venice is that it seems that the beauty of the city, and all the signs of its long history, are simply too much for some visitors to bear. Perhaps feeling insignificant in comparison to so much culture and history--and apparently without an educational or auto-didactical history that would allow them to make any sense of it--they assert themselves through sheer physicality.   

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Sunset Behind the Cemetery Island

29 May 2015, taken from a mascareta (flat bottomed Venetian row boat), as the secca (area of very shallow water) to the east of the island is not supposed to be traversed by motor boats (though it frequently is when the tide is in); when the tide is out it's a real challenge to keep your oar from hitting bottom.


Monday, May 23, 2022

A Quartet of Eyesores

There are some things I don't miss about Venice: here are 4 of them on a rio in Canareggio, 23 May 2015

Friday, May 20, 2022

Healthcare In A Historic Setting

Perhaps one gets a different sense of one's life when even the most contemporary of processes, such as accessing a national health care system, takes place amid large dramatic architectural elements of the past. (taken 27 May 2014)

Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Grand Piano Nobile Both More and Less Than It Appears

These images from 2015 are of a piano nobile whose grand appearance was produced by an ingenious combination of authentic historical elements (such as the stucco figures) and clever, skillfully-done simulations, which upon closer inspection, readily revealed--in fact, reveled in--the modest contemporary materials of which they were constructed. 

In foregrounding their stagecraft the creators of the space remained true to John Ruskin's dictum that missing historical elements should not be replaced by modern simulations, whose aim is to fool the unsuspecting into thinking everything they see is the real, historical thing itself--as is the case of the extensively reconstructed facade of the Basilica of San Marco, for example, and in most other famous sites of Venice as well. But in this case they did so with a sense of whimsy (not really discernible in these photos) that Ruskin would never have imagined. 



Sunday, April 24, 2022

Il Sorpasso, Revisited (Plus Detail)

24 April 2017

I remember being interested in the interpersonal dynamics of the above image when I took it, and originally posted it, but somewhere along the way of the last 5 years I'd forgotten all about it. 

The above is a newly re-cropped and slightly reprocessed image, and the below is a tight crop that I haven't posted before.  

Whatever, if anything, is to be made of the image I happily leave entirely to the viewer.


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

In Pursuit of Moeche (Soft Shell Crabs) at the Arsenale

27 April 2014: With just a length of twine tied around a rock (to weight it down into the water) these fishermen were more dependent upon the misbegotten curiosity of overly-grabby crabs than the bits of fried calamari or french fries with which they tried to allure them. There weren't a lot of crustaceans who went for the bait (when it didn't simply come untethered), but just enough to keep the kids enthralled for hours, with even near misses (crabs clearly visible beneath the surface who never quite clamped onto the string, some who had the good sense to let go as soon as they were hauled into the air) eliciting thrilled exclamations. "Che gigante!" they'd yelp about one particular crab about the size of their own palms--but of course it's all relative. At such times I could imagine no better place in the world to be a kid than Venice.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Children, As Opposed to People

22 January 2018

The above sign, posted in the large courtyard/play area (called a giardino) of my son's old elementary school just a stone's throw from the Church of San Zaccaria, displays the hazards of writing in a second language, even for those who might know the language pretty well. 

Significant nuances go unnoticed, and an innocent sign intended (I guess) to remind the parents who mill about the giardino twice daily to leave off or pick up their children from school that the basketball hoops and soccer net are not there for their use (not that I ever saw any parent acting as if they thought they were) seems to suggest a darkly comic distinction between people and the creatures known as children. 

At least I think this distinction was unintended... 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Ponte Fuseri: Walking Home from School

6 April 2016, Sestiere San Marco (near the palazzo where Goethe stayed): It would be impossible to overstate how compelling were the logistical challenges of Venice to our son, and how much he admired the people who moved goods and people through the maze of a city, both with boats and hand carts. Venetian life, insofar as it is still lived, consists at least as much of such movement and labor as anything you might find in a tourist guide, and is, I dare say, just as interesting to observe.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Conversation On the Grand Canal

1 April 2017: A water colorist afloat on the Grand Canal in a sandolo makes a point to a friend in a motorboat

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Stemme, Ponte Widman

23 June 2020

The above trio of stemme (coats of arms), which I think are the most appealing and intriguing of the many to be seen on the bridges of Venice, can only be seen as you pass beneath them in a small boat in the Rio di Ca' Widman, heading in the direction of the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

They are on the Ponte Widmann, if I remember correctly (not the Ponte Pasqualigo, just a stone's throw away along the rio), but are situated on the side of the bridge not visible from the much-traveled pedestrian routes leading from Campiello Widmann gìa Biri to either Campo Santa Maria Nova or, via Calle Giacinto Gallina, to the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo. 

On foot, one might be able to capture an image of them with a fully-extended selfie-stick held down in the direction of the water below--though doing so would risk the loss of your smart phone, if it slipped from its bracket and dropped into the rio. But I'm not sure it's worth that risk, as for every detail of Venice that's impossible to see there are at least 100 more hidden in plain sight, obscured by their sheer overwhelming abundance.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Lord Of All That He Surveys

25 January 2015: a cormorant enjoys a winter breeze (with the snow-covered Dolomites in the distant background)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Ruga Dei Oresi, Morning

25 January 2019 (and I'd recommend the little cheese and meat stall visible at the end of the arcade directly behind the man in the white coat)


Saturday, March 5, 2022

Lagoon Life

above and below: 4 March 2016

I must admit that after living full-time in Venice for a number of years there came a time when the last thing I wanted to hear was that another event of any sort was approaching. Of course the city relies upon events such as Carnevale to draw tourists, and upon even bigger events such as the Biennales of Art and Architecture, and the film festival on Lido, not only to draw tourists but to assert that, in spite of what some have longed claimed, the city is not a backwater, nor in any way "dead," but a thriving cultural hub.

I understood (and understand) this, and yet at times this seemingly endless series of more or less significant events in a city so severely circumscribed in both area and population as Venice seemed only like so many alien impositions upon the slender current of actual daily life that subsisted among its shrinking population. 

In a preface to one of the re-issues of her classic book on Venice--an edition from the 1990s if I recall correctly, as I don't have it at hand at the moment--Jan Morris acknowledges that the vibrant, populous, and insular little city she knew in the 1950s was long gone. But she writes that she's resigned herself to Venice's depopulated state, no longer expecting to find the local life she once enjoyed, and now (ie, in the 1990s) appreciates those times when the city manages to put on a show in something like the old grand style for the sake of tourists.

I take her point, but that's not how it seemed to me, as in my opinion the truly remarkable thing about Venice is the manner of life there--and I mean daily, even dull, run-of-the-mill life. 

For centuries, and until very recently, this life was hard for many residents, without the creature comforts that were common in other western cities. All those countless "quaint" and "quirky" little 2-guest AirBnB flats, indistinguishable from each other and from every other AirBnB flat in their Ikea furnishings, weren't so charming when they housed a family--and before the modern kitchen and bathroom were installed. 

The history of living in Venice is a complicated one, and the way it has benefitted and suffered because of tourism even more complicated. A book on that would be a difficult undertaking, and of interest, alas, only to a university press, as there'd be hardly any audience for it.

But, then, I'm really talking only about my own very circumscribed experience of living there, and of watching our son grow up there: it was the particularities of those experiences at which I marveled, knowing that they couldn't be replicated anywhere else in the world. And I'd wish that more people could live them--which is to say live there (not merely visit)--while finding it hard to believe that such experiences could be had anywhere. 

I think we luck into our most striking experiences: we don't plot and prepare and go in search of them, they come upon us unbidden and unexpectedly. We can only try to be open to them, to go out enough to put ourselves, potentially, in the way of them. But in a world in which every last experience has been commodified and is up for sale, a visit to a place like Venice often leaves little to chance. Looking to make the most of our time there, we may in fact come away with very little of our own. Our "bucket lists" of things we must do before our death are deadening in themselves, killing every experience before we can have them, leaving us with so many funereal plots. 

Which is a long way of saying that during and after Carnevale what I most wanted to do was get out into the lagoon, even if only to come upon rowers, doing what, admittedly, was once a part of their forebears' labors and was now merely a sport, a form of exercise, but still contained something more than that alone in its very Venetian-ness, in its interaction with the lagoon and its still living, changing (even if changed) tides.