Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Chiaroscuro: Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, This Afternoon

We're back in Venice for the first time since we moved (regrettably) almost exactly 3 years ago today, after having lived here full-time for nearly 11. Operating on very little sleep, but wanted to post something. More to follow.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Camogli, Liguria

I always enjoy the 4th of July holiday best when I am far outside of the US when it occurs, as I was 9 years ago when this image was taken. (5 July 2015)

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Chiaroscuro: San Fruttuoso, Liguria

I think I've posted a slightly different version of this image years ago, but the scene continues to remind me a little of Caravaggio, a little of Rembrandt, though it's simply a family of bathers escaping the heat beneath the Abbey of San Fruttuoso. (5 July 2015)

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Two on the Fantail

I've posted this image before, but I like these two, relaxing 11 years ago today in the rear seating area of a number 1 line vaporetto down the Grand Canal. (19 June 2013)

Friday, June 14, 2024

Towed Homeward Toward a New Life

Our friend's larger heavier sanpierota tows our new boat homeward yesterday evening, with our six-year-old son (barely visible behind the 9.9 hp engine) driving. (11 July 2014)

NOTE: I came upon the above image today and didn't remember if I'd ever posted it before. It turns out that I had, almost exactly a decade ago, and I re-post below the original text I put up with it back then.

Our neighbor, a native Venetian, saw me on the street last week and greeted me with a smile and a handshake and congratulations, saying "It will change your life." From his manner he could have been responding to the news that we were expecting a second child but, in fact, he'd heard that we'd agreed to buy a boat.

Jen and I had been thinking about it for at least two years, as I've written about here before, and almost exclusively in terms of what we'd been told was the most practical and inexpensive of boats to buy: a cofano. A cofano is usually about 5 meters long, usually made of fiberglass (which requires much less maintenance than wood), and there's no shortage of used ones around for sale at reasonable prices.

And yet after all those months of envisioning our practical fiberglass cofano, it is a wood sanpierota that we ended up buying yesterday and towing from a sailing club in Mestre, where its very kind owner had used it, to Venice proper. A sanpierota is also a traditional Venetian craft, but unlike the typical contemporary fiberglass cofano, it can be rowed or used with a sail--rather than just an outboard motor. Ours measures 5.8 meters in length, and is made of compensato marino (or plywood), which means it's very light. It came with a pair of forcole (oarlocks) and remi (oars), which we do know how to use, and a sail, which we do not (yet). A 6 horsepower engine will be arriving for it next week, which is plenty large for such a light boat.

Of course there is nothing very practical in general about living in Venice--not in the opinion of many visitors, at least a couple of whom have told me outright that it strikes them as simply the most impossible inconvenient place they've ever seen. Perhaps this was an argument in favor the more practical choice of a cofano, and yet it was the possibility of rowing and sailing the boat that made it impossible for Jen and I to resist, regardless of any other considerations. For the way we hope to use the boat, only a sanpierota would do.

But I'm afraid I don't even have the time to shape this post into any final form, there's still much to do with the boat--tonight--the details of which I'll spare you. Instead I'll close with something I jotted down in a notebook in April as I watched, as I like to do, boats returning from a day out on the lagoon, something I'm sure contributed largely to my sense that the sanpierota is what we wanted:

"... a group of no fewer than ten people, of all different ages, in a beautifully-painted (red and white) large old underpowered wooden sanpierota. Looks to be about a 6 horsepower engine on it, an ancient one that sounds like a mosquito, and the boat plows slowly, uncertainly among the waves--wavers its way through the waves, you might say, so unsteady and tentative and almost plaintive its lack of power renders it, as it leaves the calm of the Canale di San Pietro and turns into the deep busy waterway of vaporetti and car carriers and big ships leading toward Piazza San Marco.

A woman onboard looks a little sheepish at the quality of their progress and waves vaguely in my direction where I sit on the bench quayside watching, a gesture motivated it seems more by embarrassment than friendliness or recognition, as it's no one I know. As if the gesture will distract my attention from how the boat lopes and loops and sidles and almost waddles its way along. But she has nothing to be embarrassed about. I stare enviously at the beautiful boat, full of family and/or friends, with its four kids sprawled across its foredeck, blissfully at home in the late warm sun, the soft breeze, the amniotic movement."

Saturday, June 8, 2024

The Less Serene Side of "La Serenissima"

Five years ago today the police and carabinieri were out in full force (and riot gear) to keep a huge protest against cruise ships in the Venetian lagoon from taking place in Piazza San Marco. At some point after this it would be declared that cruise ships would no longer pass through the basin of San Marco (right past the Doge's Palace and Piazza San Marco). But, of course, this had been declared years earlier, to international acclaim, and yet the cruise ships had continued on the same route. As of spring 2023, however, it seems the largest ships have been forbidden from making this passage--but not from entering the lagoon. The damage that massive ships cause to the lagoon, both in themselves and because of the deep water channels which have been (and will be) dredged to allow their passage, is well-documented. But a real and complete ban of them has consistently been resisted, and protests against them subjected to sometimes perilous degrees of intimidation (as when police boats and helicopters intentionally menaced protesters rowing small traditional flat-bottomed Venetian boats, threatening to overturn them). (photos: 8 June 2019)


Thursday, June 6, 2024

A Small Place Apart

I no longer remember where in the historical center I came upon this little seat and table behind a wrought iron gate, but I remember it as being a scene that nothing in its surroundings had prepared me to find. (24 June 2013)

Monday, June 3, 2024

Upon the Second Bridge of Sighs

This is the time of year when the Ponte della Paglia--the bridge from which one views the Bridge of Sighs--is likely to provoke as many expressive exhalations of distress from those crossing it as the famous landmark bridge was said to have elicited from condemned prisoners crossing it. But in the case of the Ponte della Paglia, the sighs are of the frustrated rather than mournful variety, as one tries to find a path across the crowded span. But in the above image, taken on 16 June 2013, traffic is moving nicely and shutterbugs are only one deep along the balustrade.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Reflections of Ca' Fornoni in 3 Crops

An old Murano vase in a color I haven't seen much of before: black (but with an almost purplish tinge in person). If I remember correctly I found it in the nice little shop Ambrus Antichità Venezia on Calle dei Cristi off of Campo San Cassian and paid, at most, 40 euro. But that shop also has, among other things, some very fine vintage pieces of Murano glass. It's worth stopping in.


Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Il Maestro

One of the great photographers of the 20th (and 21st) century on his way home after buying produce at the Rialto Market. I was too intimidated to get any closer than this, though one of the owners of the fruttivendolo where we were both shopping quietly pointed him out to me as the photographer stood a few yards away at the other end of the stall. He is now well along in years and I hope he is still in good health, whether or not he is still photographing. (The bag in his left hand is from the Libreria Marco Polo, one of which you'll find at the end of Campo Santa Margherita and another on Giudecca, and either of which is worth a visit if you have any interest in bookshops.) 13 May 2021.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Hauling Up a Net from the Sea of Lost Time

6 May 2016

Venice occupied a special place in both the lived and the imaginary world of Marcel Proust, and he's one of the great writers on Venice: though the actual number of words he devoted specifically to the city is far less than, say, John Ruskin or Jan Morris, and, alas, they only fully resonate within the context of his famous--and famously long--novel In Search of Lost Time. Walter Benjamin was a great writer on any number of subjects, but his essay on Proust stands out in my mind for the way he apprehends and describes the slippery subject of Proustian memory, a complex, mysterious, and vital conception of memory both perfectly suited to and profoundly influenced by Venice, a city in which evocations of the past present themselves almost unceasingly to one's senses. Which is a long way of leading to a quotation involuntarily recalled to my own mind by the image above.

Anyone who wishes to surrender knowingly to the innermost overtones in Proust's In Search of Lost Time must place himself in a special stratum--the bottom-most--of involuntary memory [that is, that realm of memory whose recollections come back to one without any conscious effort, accidentally, recalled to mind, for example, by an incidental taste or smell--as opposed to "voluntary memory": those memories which we consciously seek out and retrieve], one in which the materials of memory no longer appear singly, as images, but tell us about a whole, amorphously and formlessly, indefinitely and weightily, in the same way as the weight of his net tells a fisherman about his catch. Smell--that is the sense of weight of someone who casts his nets into the sea of the temps perdu [lost time]. And his [Proust's[ sentences are the entire muscular activity of the intelligible body; they contain the whole enormous effort to raise this catch.

--from "The Image of Proust," in the volume of Benjamin's writing entitled Illuminations


Friday, April 26, 2024

Under The Bridge (Ponte della Libertà)

Though countless people travel over this bridge every day on wheels or rails, few of them suspect how many people travel beneath it in boats: among them, in this image, my son, piloting with an oar a racing row boat being towed back from a regatta on the north side of the city to its cantiere on Giudecca. (15 June 2019) 

Friday, April 5, 2024

Rainy Day Tourist #1

When it rains non-stop through the few hours you've set aside to visit Venice (5 April 2019)

Sunday, March 31, 2024

A Mototopo in the Bedroom

29 March 2014
 Some children want to fight fires or go to outerspace or become a teacher or doctor or professional athlete; from an early age our son was determined to become a delivery person on one of Venice's many work boats or mototopi. Actually, in his earliest years he wanted to drive a vaporetto, and would practice tossing ropes onto door handles, or around the back of a wooden chair, and then tying the door handle or chair to some other object in the room, as if tying a vaporetto up to its dock. On some days he would string so many ropes across our living room--tying a variety of objects to other objects that weren't necessarily in close proximity to one another--that it became nearly imposible to walk across it.

So it was something of a relief when he switched his career plans to mototopi. Ropes were no longer an issue, boxes were. He collected every empty box he could get his hands on, the bigger the better, as these served as the packages he had to deliver in the course of his play, while either his bed (as above) or the living room couch (unfolded into a double bed), served as a mototopo. In the image above our son stands in the steering position of his imaginary mototopo loaded with boxes, and with a real hand truck to one side. (The folded out double bed in the living room was large enough to accomodate the hand truck onboard, and was therefore more realistic, and was his delivery boat of choice.)

This was play that would keep him busy for extended periods of time, and the real hand truck he got for his 6th birthday actually came in handy in the real world. But his collection of boxes eventually got so large as to take up about half the space of his small bedroom and had to be thinned. 

I suspect that growing up in Venice is like growing up in no other place in the world. I wish more children had the chance to do so. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

Sant'Erasmo Reflections

22 March 2016

In the central distance of this image glows an open water gate in the protective flood wall erected around the agricultural island of Sant'Erasmo after the catastrophic flooding of 1966 inundated its fields with salt water, rendering the land sterile for a number of years afterwards. I've written a brief account of this before, but came upon this image again and wanted to do away with the crop I used before, and lighten the image to better show the canal's stillness and reflections. This was part of our regular boat route to the family farm where we bought our produce whenever we could, and a reminder of all the life in the lagoon that subsists still beyond the ruin visited upon Venice by Mayor Luigi Brugnaro and an administration (the latest in a long line of them) addicted to the supposedly easy money of tourism. It still amazes me that New York City has been able to implement strict regulations on AirBnB, while Brugnaro and his ilk pretend that nothing can be done in Venice to remedy the conversion of property that once housed residents into tourist accommodations, a great many of which are owned by just a few speculators. For all of its indifferent power, Nature is nowhere near as destructive as conscienceless men like Brugnaro.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

3 Scenes of A Short Sweet Life on the Grand Canal (Snow in Venice)

28 February 2018: These are shots of what I believe was the last snowfall we had in Venice until the time we left in August of 2021. When we first moved to the city in 2010 we tended to get one snowfall with some accumulation each winter, but I think we had none for the last 3 years after this day pictured--and you can see the accumulation was minimal at that. (Gee, if only there were some hypothesis about why temperatures have risen and extreme weather events are becoming ever more common, then humankind would certainly do something about it.) In any case, the small snow man above perished not from warming temperatures but from a fall into the Grand Canal from his perch when the wind came up: ashes to ashes, dust to dust, water to water, in this case. But he seemed to enjoy the view for as long as he had it.


Saturday, February 24, 2024

Fortuna In the Pink Light of Morning

24 February 2014 (I posted this 10 years ago when I took the photo, but in a version that was too dark)


Monday, February 12, 2024

Through A (Plexi)Glass, Darkly

12 February 2014

I'd forgotten entirely about the above image, taken from the twin pontile of the one you see in the right corner of the image, while I waited for the #1 line vaporetto to take me in the direction of the Lido. (You can see a bit of a reflection from the glass through which I took it on the center of the bridge and other places.)

I never seem to have the time to describe the sense of, for lack of a better word, domesticity, that one eventually comes to feel after living in Venice for a long time. Constructed as it has been over many centuries, with not an inch that was not formed by human hands, everywhere one goes in the city eventually begins to feel lived-in, like a home. But a home with an infinite number of details to discover, tones and traces of innumerable lives not one's own, and nothing like one's own, as well as those still managing somehow to make their lives there, in spite of a mayor and a broader social and economic context that can see Venice and its lagoon only in terms of quick profits and resources to be exploited unto literal collapse.

But this image brings that all back to me, and some time in the future I might get around to writing more about that, and how it extends even out into the lagoon, if one has one's own boat. 

Contrary to the age-old banalities spewed by foreign visitors about Venice being a city of melancholy and death, to live in Venice, and to raise a child there, is to be struck by the unique kind of life possible in the city and the lagoon--life like no place else on earth. I wish more people, and more children, could experience it, before it is obliterated. Only if more people were actually resident there might it stand a chance to avoid obliteration.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Remembrance of Carnevale Past, Ca' Giustinian

Interior of Ca' Giustinian decorated for children's activities held there during the Carnevale season of 2013. Now the site of Venice Biennale administrative offices, it was formerly the Hotel Europa, whose guests included Marcel Proust, Verdi, Chateaubriand, Wagner, and George Eliot, whose new husband threw himself from one of its windows and into the Grand Canal during their honeymoon there. He survived this suicide attempt and would live for another 40 years but, sadly, Eliot did not fare so well; she died a few months later in England in December 1880. (7 February 2013)