Friday, May 19, 2023

Getting Away From It All...

12 October 2014

...isn't so easy in Venice, where even what one thought to be a secluded fishing spot near the monastery island of San Francesco del'Deserto can become another picturesque view to be taken in by visitors (not to mention someone with a camera).

Sunday, April 30, 2023

All Quiet on the Grand Canal

It was remarkable to see the Grand Canal so still on a Friday night in May at 8:15 pm, but this was taken during the Covid lock down, when even those most weary of tourists would have preferred them--and in huge numbers--to the virus. One source of hope during this very bad time was that it might inspire a new commitment to diversifying the city's tourism monoculture: even Venice's then and current non-resident mayor mouthed such sentiments. But he has turned out to be as committed to such aims as he was to the promise he made during his first campaign to increase the resident population--which is to say, not at all. Napoleon threatened that he would be Venice's Attila, but two centuries later Luigi Brugnaro has actually proven to be just that. (8 May 2020)


Thursday, April 27, 2023

The View Over the Basin of the Arsenale

27 April 2014: If you look closely at the upper left corner of the image you'll see that one of the largest objects in the city--larger than the church of Santa Maria della Salute--is a cruise ship

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Via Garibaldi, Compressed

A telephoto lens compresses the length of Via Garibaldi and makes the church of Santa Maria della Salute, though far off in the bacino, appear almost as if it's at the end of the street (19 April 2014) Even larger telephoto lenses are sometimes used in Venice to create the illusion that the Dolomites loom over the historic city.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Clock Watchers

A tourist group directs its attention to the clock tower of San Marco (4 June 2019)

Sunday, March 26, 2023

One of Proust's Tulips

10 May 2019

I had plunged into a network of little alleys, or calli. In the evening, with their high bell-mouthed chimneys on which the sun throws the brightest pinks, the clearest reds, it is a whole garden blossoming above the houses, its shades so various that you would have said it was the garden of some tulip lover of Delft or Haarlem, planted on top of the town.

                                         Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, p. 881 (vol V, In Search of Lost Time   

I actually think this is one of Proust's weakest descriptions of Venice, but I happened upon it the other day and it was a reason to use (finally) the image above. It's also a chimney which Henry James would certainly have noticed while lodging in the library on the highest floor of Ca' Barbaro almost directly across the Grand Canal (Ca' Barbaro consisting of the two palazzi directly to the right of the chimney's base).

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Early Morning on the 4.1 Line

The vaporetto line on which I used to take my son to preschool was also the one taken by Venice's substantial number of seniors citizens (they made up over 25% of the city's population) to their early morning appointments at the ospedale near the church of SS Paolo e Giovanni. Both young and old appear in this image (the former as a reflection). It was a significant achievement a few years ago when residents resisted efforts to close the hospital. (19 March 2013) 

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Don't Touch the Rialto

A banner inspired by a proposed relocation of fish wholesaling activities which likely would have wiped out the remaining fish stalls in the Rialto market. The proposal was scrapped, but the stalls continue to be threatened by the depletion of the city's population. (8 March 2017)

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Chiaroscuro: Piazza Trevisan Cappello

I don't know if this ever became the exclusive luxury condo building for rich foreigners of which the building's developer fantasized at the time I took this photo exactly ten years ago. Located a short distance from the church of San Marco on one of the busiest tourist thoroughfares in the city I had my doubts about how pleasant it would be to live there.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

On Coriandoli and Carnevale

An officer of the law pursues a fleeing criminal through a hail of coriandoli (8 February 2015)

[The following is an edited version of blog entry first posted on 16 February 2015]

Childhood is in the details.

Perhaps this is obvious, I don't know. But it occurred to me recently that as much as we adults might, in depicting childhood, get caught up in the sweep and swoon and sentiment and swim of it all, the thrills of childhood for the child herself often reside in the most concrete things--whose appeal often eludes full adult comprehension.

The thing that occasioned these thoughts is coriandoli, or confetti.

I don't think I'm the only adult--or at least not the only American adult--who might be surprised by how important a role this stuff plays in Venetian kids' sense of carnevale. Based upon my own seven-year-old son, I've been tempted to think at times this year that confetti ranks almost as high as costumes in the festivities for kids.

An adult visiting Venice during carnevale could easily miss confetti's centrality completely. Though once your attention is called to it you'll notice bags of coriandoli displayed for sale in every window of every tabaccheria selling the variety of cheap plastic disguises--fake eyeglasses with bulging eyeballs or a huge nose, over-sized plastic ears--aimed at local kids, not tourists in search of stereotypical "Venetian" masks (even if made in China).

In the weeks leading up to carnevale Sandro talked much more excitedly about the coriandoli and the neon-colored goopy string-stuff sprayed out of a can than costumes. Of course this is one of the great benefits of living in a place where certain things are rigorously, and by common agreement, limited to certain constricted periods of the year: scarcity and narrow associations greatly enhance their appeal. I suppose a child could toss handfuls of confetti on Via Garibaldi in December, but he'd generally be considered to be littering by most passing adults, who'd direct a suitably damning look at his parents. (Just as in non-touristy areas of Italy, such as the small Piemonte village we lived outside of for three months, the prohibition against a gelateria/pasticceria beginning to make gelato too early in April--when the weather is "troppo freddo"--has the weight of a moral absolute.)

Perhaps it's only because confetti played no role at all in my own California childhood that I've been so surprised by its importance here. (Would it have been just too hard to clean up in a place with lawns rather than paving stones?) But it seems to have been a central element of Italian carnevale for a long time. Indeed, the great American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne explicitly equates the one with the other when he writes about his 1858 experience of carnevale in Rome (in Passages from the French and Italian Notebooks): “Soon I had my first experience of the Carnival in a handful of confetti, right slap in my face...”

In fact it really does seem in Hawthorne's account that the throwing of confetti and other supposedly harmless materials is the main point of the carnevale festivities in Rome. So much so that costumes are valued only so far as they provide protection from assault, like armor at a medieval jousting tournament. And he points out that “wire masks over the face were [worn as] a protection by both sexes—not a needless one, for I received a shot in my right eye which cost me many tears.”

Along with confetti Hawthorne notes that revelers in Rome threw flowers and bouquets (to ladies), sugar-plums, "winged seeds" (blown from a straw), "something that looked more like a cabbage than a flower" (by which Hawthorne was hit on another day), and lime.

Considering this last material is traditionally thrown upon the corpses in mass graves, it seems to be an appropriately morbid harbinger of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season that carnevale precedes and prepares for. But throwing it at people during carnevale was liable to result in a police summons for those who did so, Hawthorne writes.

According to a native Venetian friend of mine, there was a similar problem with the kinds of things being thrown at people during the first couple years after carnevale's official re-introduction here in Venice in 1980. It seems that in those rowdy first years roving gangs of youths would pelt costumed revelers with flour and rotten eggs. While certainly in keeping with the anarchic origins of carnival, this wasn't at all appreciated, and by the third year local authorities had cracked down on such aggression.

But aggression, I've learned firsthand, remains an elemental part of carnival. Not that you'd know it, fortunately, on any given afternoon these days in Piazza San Marco, when perhaps as many as two dozen elaborately costumed folks (or more) are posing for hoards of happy shutterbugs.

No, you need to happen upon a kids' celebration of carnevale in one of the lesser campi, or within the confines of a patronato (parish hall), or on Via Garibaldi, where the coriandoli still flies, and is flung fiercely--as often as merrily--as part of helter-skelter games of chase.

Note how thrilled the kids are to launch volleys of coriandoli at adults--either their own or the parents of others. As masks traditionally subverted the established social hierarchy by concealing identity and one's "proper" or usual place, so coriandoli still gives kids the chance to upend their usual power relationship with adults, becoming physically aggressive toward them with impunity (for the most part).

And as carnevale was traditionally a period of excess immediately preceding the sober privations of Lent, so a chief pleasure of coriandoli seems to be the extravagant squandering of it. For any parent in the habit of forecasting how long a given toy is likely to engage a child it comes as quite a shock to find that the large bag of coriandoli you've bought for a party--as directed by the invitation--is basically emptied as soon as you've opened it.

The cookies or beverages one usually brings to a kids' party last much longer.

For before I'd even finished greeting the host of a party last weekend in Campo San Giacomo dall'Orio Sandro was returning the large empty bag to me. "I didn't even get to see you throw it!" I said to him, imagining, in my naivete, that the whole point of coriandoli was the spectacle of its bright abundant drift through the air, the children capering quaintly beneath it.

But I soon learned two things. First, that a chief pleasure of coriandoli seems to be in the recycling of it. Of gathering up handfuls of it from the paving stones and setting off in pursuit of your target.

And, second, that coriandoli, really, is the carnevale version of those old cream pies in silent film, each finding its proper comical end in its delivery to some victim's face or head. Even--or especially!--my own.

In any case, what I've come to like about coriandoli is the fact that these days a few stray colored dots of paper still turn up everywhere. I don't mean the dusting of them in calli or campi--though I like seeing them there, too--but in the more intimate places of one's life. On the floor of our apartment, or clinging to our furniture. Two or three of them under the covers of our bed. A good dozen of them in one pocket of my coat, a couple more in the other. One in the chest pocket of my shirt, a few more in my bag. 

I like how they turn up unexpectedly even after you think you've made a good thorough cleaning of your place or person. Dots of pleasant recent memories, bits of experiences. Reminders of small things which, if I'm lucky, I'll never forget.