Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Never the Same Bridge Twice

At sunset yesterday
The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously stated that "one can never step into the same river twice", but in Venice this might be reasonably altered to "one can never cross the same rio twice."

Nor, for that matter, as the sky and its light are changing just as ceaselessly as any river, can one ever really see the same bridge twice. Something I only just realized about the particular bridge in these two photos, though I see it (or don't really see it) pretty much every day.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tiepolo Sky This Evening

For the 7 years that I lived and worked not too far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City the paintings of Tiepolo were one of the things that I found useful in getting through the worst months of winter, of January and February, in particular. Unlike, say, the etchings of Rembrandt in that museum's print collection, which draw you into their dark web of lines, I never felt the urge to linger over the Tiepolos for too long. Rather, it was enough to pass through the room in which they hung for the blues and pinks and golds of their skies to have their effect on me, their particular tones somehow creating a sense of lightness where there was none before.

Of course in Venice one can view them in the rooms for which they were painted, or, at the very least, on ceilings above one's head (as intended), instead of on the walls of galleries. 

Or, sometimes, like this evening, one can simply walk outside and see the original inspiration for those skies and be reminded of how, for all his gift for depicting the fanciful, sometimes Tiepolo was just gloriously literal.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Snow Tonight on Sant' Elena

The falling snow tonight made Sandro break into song--"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", to be exact--sending him back to thoughts of Christmas.

It made me look forward to spring. I can admit this now that Sandro is asleep in bed. While he was awake--well, a child's enthusiasm is contagious. 

One snowfall per winter seems just right for Venice. Some years, our native Venetian neighbor told us during our first winter here, no snow falls at all. But with two snow storms, as has occurred this year, the experience threatens to become a bit mundane, even conventional--as if this is a place where snow is to be expected, rather than a place where it always arrives as a pleasant surprise.

Ah, how quickly one becomes jaded... Of course, if the snow we'd had so far this year hadn't been so wet--better for making puddles with than snowmen--I'd probably feel much more enthusiastic about it. But, at least for the short time before it begins dripping on your head like rain, it does look quite nice on the trees.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One More Favorite Carnevale Activity: Passa al Goldoni

I wanted to mention one last favorite annual event of Carnevale before leaving those festivities entirely behind: Passa al Goldoni, a series of four or five puppet shows held in the foyer of Teatro Goldoni each Carnevale season. Entry is free, but seating is limited, and if the photos I post here are all from behind the puppeteer it's because there was no space for me in front of the stage.

Sandro attended two of the shows put on by the puppeteer Mauro Pagan and loved them both, as did the rest of kids in the audiences (as you can see from the above photo). These particular photos are from Pagan's performance of San Giorgio e il drago, which happily had nothing of the ecclesiastical about it, but included real flames, some scary moments, a lot of humor, and the perfect amount of flatulence humor.

Mauro Pagan enacts St George's slaying of the dragon

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Farewell to Carnevale: Some Favorite Things

Sandro and I happened through Piazza San Marco Tuesday afternoon and, without planning on it, came upon what appeared to be the closing ceremonies of Carnevale. Or, at least, the end of the daily costume competitions that had been going on on the big stage since Carnevale's beginning. The official conclusion to the festivities would be marked by La Vogata del Silenzio (or The Silent Row) later that night--which, choosing sleep over spectacle, we missed this year.

The Piazza was packed, and as I was holding Sandro in my arms so that he could see above the crowd, I managed to take only a single photograph, which I post (much cropped) above. In it is one of my favorite costumes of Carnevale, but I can't tell you a thing about it.

Here are a few of my other favorite things from Carnevale...

The hands-on workshops (above) of this year's 4th Annual Carnevale Internazionale dei Ragazzi, put on by La Biennale di Venezia in their main exhibition space in I Giardini Pubblici, were once again, day in and day out, the single liveliest and most interesting place to be for kids and their parents. And, as you can see below, the live performances--also free--were also worth a look.  

French mime Jo Bulitt performs with the Ensemble L'Arsenale
The ice skating rink that goes up annually in December in Campo San Polo is not, officially, a part of Carnevale, but as it comes down about the same time as the Carnevale does, I'm cheating and including it. It's a marvelous experience to ice skate in the largest campo in Venice (San Marco is, of course, a piazza), and remembering that it was once the site of rather less wholesome entertainments--such as bull baiting--gives it a bit of historical spice. For the most part you'll find yourself surrounded by more actual Venetians than most other places in the city, and as Venetians generally have little experience on ice, it's a fun, low-pressure atmosphere, perfect for beginners (such as myself).

Sandro discovers what hard work gallantry can be while skating in Camp San Polo
Le Giostre, or the little carnival that also goes up in December each year on Riva dei Sette Martiri near Via Garibaldi, is also not officially part of Carnevale, but as it also closes with Carnevale I include it here as well. Older Venetians remember when it used to be on Riva degli Schiavoni, a short distance from Piazza San Marco, and I wonder if tourists used to frequent it back then, because they almost never seem to do so now. Of course, 50 years ago there existed a long off-season in Venice, so the carnival even then, and even in such proximity to the tourist center of the city, may well have been locals only. 

In any case, it's almost exclusively locals now; I've yet to hear anything other than Italian spoken there, and the kids and parents I see there are the same ones I see on Via Garibaldi and in Sant' Elena. 

In sharp contrast to the free educational activities at the Biennale, a single round of head-on collisions for your kid on the bumper cars will set you back 2 euro. But, then, as your child will almost certainly find him- or herself in the thick of locals, the ride will probably be educational anyway. Trash-talking on any of the rides that are vaguely competitive--such as the bumper cars or the "Baby Moto"--is quite common, even among kindergarteners. Last night, for example, Sandro--who has only just stopped taunting others on such rides by calling them "piccolino/a" (little one) or "bebe"--was treated to a steady stream of adult-level curses by a neighborhood boy who was no more then seven.

Considering Venetians have a certain reputation for their foul language, it would be hard to find a more "authentic" Venetian experience for your child than that.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow, Scirocco, Rain, Acqua Alta: All Tonight

At 8:30 you could still enjoy the snow on Salizzada di Pignater--if you could find shelter from the wind
Campo Bandiera e Moro looked nice under snow, but the wind and wet blowing snow were even worse here
By the time I reached Ponte dei Greci, the snow had entirely given way to rain
By 9 pm the tide, driven by the scirocco, was washing over Riva degli Schiavoni, heading toward--the comune warns--a height of 160 cm above its mean just after midnight. If it reaches it, it will be the highest since 1986, and nearly 70% of the city will be flooded. I felt lucky to have kept my camera dry--it was not easy--but I was wet enough already without waiting for the water to get any higher, so I headed home.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ladies (& Lords) in Waiting: Fancy Dress Ball in Dorsoduro

Everyone knows that now is the time to come to Venice if you're interested in seeing costumes, but I'd like to add that it's also the time to come if you're interested in seeing cameras. Of course there are always people with cameras in Venice--is there any place in the world so photographed?--but during Carnevale you can hardly walk 100 yards without bumping into somebody's telephoto lens. It's like a convention of photographers, or a trade show of digital single lens reflex cameras.

In fact, there are far far more people wearing cameras around Venice these days than there are people wearing costumes. I've even seen some people wearing two cameras at once--whereas I've yet to spot anyone wearing two costumes at once.

I've enjoyed looking at the cameras, and the people who wear them and use them, almost as much as I've enjoyed looking at the costumes. And with so many photographers of every sort--professionals, semi-professionals, skilled enthusiasts--shooting the people in costumes, I've felt no need to do so myself.

But last night I had no choice. I walked out the door of a friend's apartment building and smack into a mass of elaborately-costumed revelers in a small not especially picturesque courtyard off Calle de L'Avogaria (not far from the church of San Sebastiano) that is usually quite deserted. In fact, so modest is the courtyard that it doesn't even appear on cheaper maps of the city. But the back entrance to the garden of Ca' Zenobio is here, and these folks were lined up waiting to get into what looked like a private fancy-dress ball.

It was an entirely different scene than what I'd witnessed in Piazza San Marco: for one thing, I heard only Italian and some French being spoken. When I stepped out the door of my friend's place there were three or four people with cameras fretting around the edges of the party-goers like sparrows around an extravagant picnic, including one guy with a large tripod who'd perhaps been hired by whoever was throwing the party to photograph it. But as there was nothing like the usual number of photographers, and as I had my camera with me and few of the party-goers seemed to notice, I took some photos.

We were not too far from Campo San Barnaba, which, toward the end of the Venetian Republic lent its name to i barnabotti: those impoverished Venetian nobles who had nothing left but their title, could not afford to live in the manner expected of patricians, and lived as cheaply as possible in that particular area. But, as you may be able to tell from the photos, there was nothing impoverished about the "nobles" waiting to get into the party last night.


Though photographed in Campo San Barnaba, these are clearly not barnabotti

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Some Notes on Carnevale on a Quiet Night

The first of two views from Ponte Santa Ana in Castello, taken at 11 pm last night
"Carnevale Boom: 130,000" was the headline on Il Gazzetino the other day. I'm afraid I didn't buy the paper or read the article; I'd had enough of those boomers just walking around the city.

However, last night at 11 pm on Via Garibaldi there were almost none to be seen. Just four young men speaking English. A couple of them wore tri-corner hats, and I suspect all of them may have been wondering where everyone was, as Via Garibaldi was deserted and dark.

If they were expecting an enticing array of available women, I'm afraid they were over 200 years too late. If they were expecting festive locals ready to party, they were most certainly in the wrong hemisphere. They should have booked their flight to Rio.

Most Venetian adults are none-too-excited by Carnevale. Some are downright annoyed by it; like the elderly Venetian man Jen reported seeing on a bridge near San Marco who, tired of being jostled by oblivious tourists in cheap masks, launched an extended volley of maledictions upon everyone around him.

A second view from Ponte Santa Ana, Castello
Except for the fun, educational and free Carnevale dei Ragazzi at the Biennale--now in its 4th year--most Carnevale events organized by the for-profit private enterprise that now oversees it have all the spontaneity and "local color" of cruise ship entertainment.

It wasn't always like this. Our neighbor, who's lived in the city for all of his 70 years, said that for the first couple of years after Carnevale was reborn in 1980, gangs of youths resembling Malcolm McDowell's anti-social posse in A Clockwork Orange roamed the centro storico and pelted revelers with rotten eggs and flour.

But by the third year the authorities had gotten such anarchic elements under control, and our neighbor and his wife still recall with great fondness certain costumes they saw over 25 years ago. At that time it was the norm for entire families to dress in a common theme. They remembered one family whose members came dressed elaborately as pharaohs, and another as pencils. Some families from the mainland came dressed as campagnoli, or peasants. All of the costumes were made by hand.

Now, with the exception of those Venetians who are paid to dress in 18th-century costume--like a friend of ours who gives lessons in traditional dances at private parties--you'd be hard-pressed to find an adult native here who thinks of Carnevale as anything more than something for kids. And with few exceptions, most of those kids are wearing Spiderman or Fairy Princess costumes purchased at the Disney store.

You can sometimes still find families in costume, but they probably won't be Venetians. Monday, on our way home from his school, Sandro and I stopped in Piazza San Marco to watch the late afternoon costume competition held there daily during this week. There were in fact two families in the running that day onstage: one from America, one from France. Having seen them up close, I was especially impressed by how well-made the French family's Louis XIII-era costumes were; obviously all done by hand.

Alas, though they made it out of the first round of audience voting, they didn't come close to the finals, which were won by a couple in the kind of costume I must admit I find least appealing: the shimmery, glittery, robed and veiled and porcelain-faced full-mask type. The kind that makes me think less of the Venetian Republic than of some horrific 1970s highway collision between the wardrobe tour buses of Kiss, Spiders-from-Mars-era David Bowie, and early Roxy Music. Of course, I know I'm firmly in the minority in this opinion, as this look has become synonymous, on calenders and in newspapers, with Venetian Carnevale.  

In any case, Sandro had a great time. We sat at one of the cafe tables in front of the stage and the wait staff gave him a large placard with which to cast his vote while he sat sipping his 5 euro glass of Fanta (twice the usual cost).

When I asked him if he'd be interested in going up there in costume next year, though, the Venetian in him came out and he shook his head emphatically NO.