Monday, May 23, 2016

San Marco Between Storms, This Evening

Fifteen minutes passed between the image above and the last one below. At the time I took the one above I thought I was capturing the clearing skies, just around 6 pm, after a prior late afternoon storm. But as the third image below indicates, it was just an intermission between storms: the next one--at least the third of the day--rolled in so emphatically with such a black sky and heavy rain and thunder that it seemed sure to last well into the night. But it, too, was gone in well less than an hour, and now the day is drawing to a close with tranquil blue skies. 

Hurrying toward port, and not a minute too soon

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Rainfall in the Sunshine, Late This Afternoon

The dogs seem to know what's on its way, even if the people are too busy talking to notice

It's marzo that's supposed to be pazzo here, but this year March was really quite restrained, while it's been April and May that have been rather erratic, bounding in a single day from deep showery gloom to sunny high spirits and then back to black skies and hard rain; from temperate placidity to gales to dead calm.

Today looked sure to be a long gray washout this morning, but the sun mounted an attack, was overrun by clouds, re-emerged convincingly, was once more outflanked on all sides, battled free of the darkness once more, looking to have established a stronghold at last, only to be utterly routed by a lightning brigade and chased from the field.

The image above was taken at the start of the final battle, when it seemed that sunshine had won the day, in spite of the rain beginning to fall.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Colors, and Some Curiosities, of the 42nd Vogalonga

This being Italy, it's not surprising that more than a few participants in the Vogolonga should concern themselves with making an impression, or cutting a bella figura--or, often enough, in truth, a gaudy or intentionally humorous one. But this year no one pulled it off quite so well as the crew of six rowers from the Canottieri Treporti (seen above and below), with their all white outfits, pale yellow scarves, beautiful flower-laden boat, and onboard pianist.

If you look closely at the image above, though, you'll see that their boat also carried fresh strawberries and artichokes just behind its prow, and on the upright above them, a bunch of radishes (all representative, I suspect, of Treporti's agricultural abundance).

But one of my favorite details of this boat overflowing with panache can be seen in the image below: that cigar in the mouth of the rower just in front of the piano.  

Otherwise, this year's Vogalonga featured its usual variety of oar-powered watercraft of both Venetian and foreign origins, as you can see in the three images below.

Though you don't often see the large old work boat--half the size of a contemporary mototopo--being rowed in the third image below by the Associazione Culturale Galleggiante "Il Caicio" (a local group devoted to promoting and reinvigorating water-borne local traditions, as well as restoring the boats traditionally used in them:

Along with never having seen a piano and its player in a traditional Venetian-style boat setting out on the 32-km-long route, I'd also never seen a participants' boat without oars, like the one below. The Vogalonga is often described as a "celebration of the oar"--and, in fact, the regulations state that "rowing crafts of any weight and size can take part in the race." But the two guys in the peddle boat seem not to have gotten that message.

Nor had I ever before seen a--well, whatever it is that appears in the images below. But there were three of them in the Vogalonga this year so it must be great fun if you know how to do it.

It did not, however, look like great fun. It looked about as pleasant as going for a hike in the Sahara wearing snow skis. Or trying to escape from an expanse of quicksand with each of your feet stuck in a large plastic bucket. It was as if all the pleasant, graceful rhythmic glide of nordic skiing and kayaking, all the deft, swift sweep of water- and snow-skiing were utterly removed, and you were left--for 32 very long km--to the clumsy ineffectual effort common to the rank beginner in any one of those four sports, but all rolled into one cruel form of mockery.

And, finally, a few more images of some boats not native to the lagoon but, in at least a couple of cases, common enough here year round.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

And So It Begins: Preparing to Take to the Lagoon for the 42nd Vogalonga, This Morning

I'll post images of the festive start of this year's Vogalonga tomorrow. Among them, at least a couple of things I've never seen before: like the local crew of rowers whose tempo was set not by the shouts of a coxswain or the beat of a drum, but by the upright piano and its player situated among them on board.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Often Forgotten Oasis, and Picnic Site, Just Behind Piazza San Marco

If you're a visitor to Venice who really wants to be featured in the local papers all you need to do is spread out a picnic blanket in Piazza San Marco--either in the shade of a colonnade or the open sunlight--and settle down to enjoy a meal.

You won't be getting good press, as this really infuriates locals, but perhaps like certain celebrities you're one of those people who roll beneath the banner of "there's no such thing as bad publicity." If you really want to distinguish yourself as the ugliest of tourists you can even bring along a portable barbecue and grill up one of your favorite hometown dishes.

You won't be the first to do this kind of thing, but the locals react with fresh indignation to each new instance. 

If you're not that kind of visitor, however--and as that kind of visitor is not the sort to do much research into a place before visiting you almost certainly are not if you're reading this or any similar site--then the only option you really have if you want to eat in Piazza San Marco is to plump for a seat at one of the various cafes there.

Indeed, the number of spots in which you can simply sit down gratis are extremely few--on the benches and ledges at the base of the campanile, for instance--and if the city has come up with any funds to pay the guardians of the Piazza you'll be shooed like pigeons from the low stairs surrounding the Piazza if you try to sit down on them.

However, a very, very short distance from the Piazza is a green, sometimes flowering space with no lack of actual benches, where you can sit down to a picnic without being bothered in the least. I mention it here because in a historic center almost entirely lacking in just benches--much less greenery--I'm always a bit surprised by how few people take advantage of this space, I Giardini Reali, or the Royal Gardens, created during Napoleon's rule over the city.

In those days it was the private garden for the foreign rulers of the city--first French, then Austrian:  inaccessible except across a drawbridge from the palace (now the Mueso Correr) that borders it, and cut off from the populace by water on every other side.

Everyone can now reach it easily by foot from two directions, but it's still rather little used.*

Perhaps it's the long row of small stalls generally selling the gaudiest of trinkets and Chinese-made masks that stretch on either side of its entrance that put people off. Rolling your eyes at the crush of so much of what you've probably already seen elsewhere in the city center you could very well miss that there's a park behind those stalls.  

To reach the park's entrance from the Piazza, you simply walk to the two massive columns looking out over the Bacino di San Marco, then turn and walk along the water front in the direction of the mouth of the Grand Canal. You cross a hardly-noticeable bridge and a short distance on your right is the entrance. If you come to the vaporetto stop for the number 2 line, you've missed it and gone too far.

Now, this is hardly a secret destination, and I hope all those who know it well already will forgive me for belaboring it, but I'm surprised by how little used it typically is. On the one hand, this is a pleasant thing for anyone who lives here and is looking for a break from the crowds of the centro storico. But on the other, it seems a real shame that those visitors looking only for a place to sit down and eat seem to know nothing about it and so, instead, try to settle down somewhere in Piazza San Marco and find themselves chased off--or the objects of local scorn.

The grounds aren't always kept as nicely as they could be--there's a dense arbor in its center whose entrances are blocked off as if it's a construction site--but whether you've been to Venice a number of times, or are here for the first time, it can provide a welcome respite.

*Though I can't recall at the moment the book from which I learned this fact--perhaps Jan Morris?--at one time in the 20th century it was a popular cruising site. I don't think it still is. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Tiepolo, Father and Son, at Villa Valmarana ai Nani, Vicenza

It will cost you just 6 euro (if you take the regionale veloce, or fast local train), a pleasant 45 minute rail trip, and either a short bus ride or walk up Monte Bèrico south of Vicenza to find yourself surrounded by Tiepolos. There are lot of other things to see in Vicenza, as well--for one thing, Palladio's famous and influential Villa La Rotonda is just a five minute walk away from Villa Valmarana--but on a pleasant spring day the latter, with its paintings and the view from its garden, can seem all by itself to be worth the trip.

There is no photography allowed in the main house, frescoed with scenes from myth and romance entirely by Giambattista Tiepolo, but the Foresteria, or guest house, is nearly as interesting, and an excellent chance to see more of the work of his son Giandomenico Tiepolo, whose cinemascope-ish Il Mondo Nuovo is a highlight of Ca' Rezzonico on the Grand Canal.

The first three images of this post are from the one room in the guest house painted by Giambattista, the last four images from another room, painted by Giandomenico. As you can see, one of Giandomencio's images is a much smaller prefiguration of Il Nuovo Mondo in which--as is the case with the latter--we viewers can see both less and more than the figures in the painting. Whatever it is within the small structure that the crowd finds so diverting is entirely lost to us, but, unlike the captivated crowd, we see the larger horizon beyond.

These three small genre scenes by Giandomenico are set in trompe l'oeil frames within a larger trompe l'oeil architectural context, complete with its own richly-arrayed tray-bearer on the illusory stairs. That figure himself, and the Blackamoor tradition he represents--and which is still popular in Venice (you can see a wood carver still producing them just off Campo San Tomà--is worth a post all himself, but at present I'll refer anyone interested to the following piece on a recent New York University exhibition and conference in Florence: (One of the interesting facts in this piece: The United States is the number one importer in the world of Blackamoors, with Texas and Connecticut having the greatest appetite for them.)

For an excellent virtual tour of the main house (in which you can virtually move from one room to the next), and for all the information needed to plan a visit, go to:

The Foresteria at right, the main house in the distance