Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Bossy's most recent blog post is funny. She writes humorous stuff about daily life, mostly, and it's really enjoyable. She wrote about her adventures painting a friend's house with her brother. At the end of the day, they both fell soundly asleep, he spread-eagled on an air mattress with no pillow, no blanket and his shoes on. She made a comfy little nest with blankets and pillows and a sleeping bag.
One of the commenters claimed that as an example of "Men are from Mars, women are from Venice." Hang on.....that's not quite right! I hate that Mars/Venus crap, but what if we're all wrong and it really is Venice? I'll claim that one gladly!
Speaking of Venice (which we weren't really, but whatev), I decided to post a really long email that I sent to some friends and family after I went to Venice almost 2 years ago. I was in grad school at the time, in London, and had a random week off from school. It seemed that that's all we did at the Academy: vacation. It really made me feel like my $23,000 was worth it....oh wait, NOT! Once I determined that a cheap flight to Venice was actually cheaper than my Zones 1-4 London transit pass, off I went.
(End of February, 2006)
Warning: if you told me to be sure to see something and it was several somethings, chances are, I ignored at least one of those conseils (what's that word in English, again?)...don't take it personally, please.
Anyway, I arrived on Sunday evening at Treviso airport, which is about 15 miles north of Venice. By the time I got the bus and then a cab to my hostel, which was on the mainland (Mestre), it was midnight. The other people in the room with me were Italian girls. The hostel faces directly onto a highway that is quite noisy, so I didn't really sleep that night. I was relieved when my alarm went off (early!!), because it meant that I could dispense with the pretense of sleeping. This hostel is actually quite conveniently located, though, despite the highway. It is right next to the last bus stop before the causeway on to the actual island of Venice, and buses go by every 15 minutes or so. It also provides breakfast, so Monday morning I went down to the restaurant area for food and caffeine. The lady asked me if I wanted coffee, and when I said yes (I've been warned about the sorry state of tea in Italy), she followed with "Caffe latte?" Again yes. So, as I eat my "tartines" (Italian sweet rolls with liberal coatings of butter and jam), along comes a rather enormous jug of coffee, and an equally large jug of steamed milk. I then proceeded to drink the equivalent of my body weight in coffee, remembering instantly how weird European milk tastes....
Then off on the big Venetian adventure!!!
I decided on a plan, then forgot about it when I stepped off the bus and crossed into Venice. The part of the plan that I did keep was the "walk everywhere to get the full experience" bit, so I just set off in a direction that I thought might get me to Piazza San Marco (get the big obvious stuff out of the way first, right?).
Now, the weather wasn't brilliant, with grey skies and a light drizzle on and off, but I was immediately struck by the place. You see images of Venice in films and pictures all the time and think to yourself "Yeah, that's pretty, but its just a set. The real place can't possibly look like that." Then, you go and it really does look that way. The destruction and level of decay seem almost too perfectly charming. The opacity of the water in the canals is too perfectly green. There is the very strange effect of something being more picturesque in reality than it is in fictional representations. The especially disturbing moments were when the sky cleared a bit and became the exact twin of the color of the fake sky at the Venetian hotel in Vegas!!!
(Here, we have one of my first views of the city, then the facade of the Santa Maria dei Frari.....I can't figure out how to rotate the images...)
So, As I was meandering in amazement, I happened across a very large building. A church. A brick, Gothic church. So, I thought I'd walk around it to the front and figure out what it was. It turned out to be Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which just gets shortened to "The Frari." What is very funny is that I had really wanted to see this place, and had it marked in the guidebook, but wasn't planning to get to it until later. But, like Dr. Hohmann, who told me of his experience tripping over this huge church by accident, I went inside. There is a great collection of Titian paintings on the walls. These are paintings that we have seen, and know about, of which we've seen slides in Art History class (or WesCiv for us Conservatory kids), and here they are in front of you. The experience is really strange, though. There's something very different about looking at a painting in a museum, where its meant to be studied and thought about and contemplated, rather than looking at it in a church, where it is not (at least, I guess not...am I wrong?) supposed to be the main focus in the building. What I mean is, churches are places of worship and prayer. One's focus is supposed to be on those things. How do these masterful paintings figure into that? The painter depicts biblical/religious scenes, but also infuses them with symbolism and meaning in more than just the image portrayed. Are worshippers supposed to notice those other aspects, or just see the image as an illustrated story? How much more aware of visual symbolism would the worshipper in Titian's time have been?
The other really big reason (for geeks like me, anyway) to see the Frari is that this is the site of the grave of Monteverdi. In a chapel on the left side of the transept there is a plaque on the floor marking the grave. Next to it, there is a stand with a facsimile of the manuscript for the 1610 Vespers, and across the chapel, a carved bust of the master himself. Someone had left a pink rose on the grave several days before, and it was at the perfect stage of wilting. I stood there for a while, and was really touched by that one flower. I decided that such a great master needed more than just one.
*now, I must pause to report that there was very little in the way of pirate activity on this trip, but I hope the following counts for something (unless you count hopping the turnstile at a pay public toilet, I think this is the only pirate activity, sadly)*
My guidebook warned me about it, and it was right. People selling junk to tourists, who pan around with their video cameras but don't actually see anything, fat pidgeons trying to eat children, insanely over-priced and low-quality cafes and restaurants.....yep, it was miserable. An incredible queue that wrapped around the whole building of people trying to get into San Marco just because they're in Venice and they think they have to, rather than because they are interested in the history and the art. Before I got anywhere near the basilica, I really wanted to yell at everyone. Alot. You see, on the outside, on the right corner is the statue of the Tetrarchs. Everyone was ignoring the Tetrarchs!!!!! Okay, you all think I'm positively looney by now, but come on, people! This is a hugely important piece of European art! I was the only one looking at it! That is, until some sheep-like tourists decided that because I was looking at it, it must be something, so they snapped a quick picture and walked away. They spent more time contemplating the pigeons than the Tetrarchs!!!!! Okay, so, suffice it to say, that made me mad. We move on.
Yeah, it seems that San Marco is a giant monument to theft. The body of Saint Mark was stolen in 828 by a pair of merchants to be presented to the Doge (ew....gross gift). The Tetrarchs, also stolen. Probably to show that Venice was the sole survivor of the Roman Empire or some such thing....The giant horses? Stolen. They got their due, though. Napoleon's French troops stole some of the stolen Byzantine treasures. I suppose that I have to give Venetians credit, though. Where they displayed their stolen goods, Napoleon took his pilfered Orthodox memorabilia and melted it all down into 55 gold and silver ingots....Bastard....
I went back to the piazza around six because I had seen a flyer for a baroque music concert in the square. Thought I would check it out. It was free, of course, as it was just a platform with some people on it in the middle of the piazza, but oh, my, what a group it was.....and I don't mean that in a good way. It was 4 people playing a Vivaldi trio sonata. Yes, Venice is obsessed with Vivaldi concerts. Apparently some group plays the "4 seasons" about every 10 minutes in this town.....Most badly....Wandered into the church of the Pieta, where he composed. The Ospedale that was associated with it either isn't there anymore or the buildings survived and were sold or turned into houses and stuff, because there's no museum or monument.
Back to the musicians, though. There were two violinists, a cellist and a guy playing a little virginal (or something)....um, yeah, the kid playing first violin looked very pained the whole time, and frankly sounded it too....and, (Celeste, get this!!) they were in garb!!!!! It was hysterical! The violinists were trying to figure out how to get their hands free of the red robe-y things that someone had made them wear. Someone probably thought that it was a good approximation of what the Ospedale orphans had to wear, or something, but the floppy hats and enormo sleeves were too funny.
After that, I sat on a very cold stone bench and, as promised, wrote my boy a love letter from the piazza.
Also ate another unmemorable meal at a not-too-touristy place and got more funny stares....don't know why.
Back at the hostel, the Italian girls were gone and new luggage was next to the other beds. No sign of anyone during the late evening, though, so I watched some figure skating (Yay, a US team won an ice-dance medal for the first time in ages!!!). Went to sleep, and was woken a couple hours later by the front desk calling the room to let me know that the other occupants were coming up. They were a couple of very, very drunk boys from Mexico City. They stumbled in, tried to have a conversation for about a tenth of a second then fell snoring onto their beds.
I kept going with my island hop out to Murano, which was where the glass making industry was sequestered. Initially it was to inhibit the risk of fire in the main islands, but later it was a matter of protecting trade secrets. Now, Murano is all about ripping off tourists, and most of the glass sold as "Murano glass" is actually mass produced in China. It all appears to be hideously ugly, too...fluorescent glass dolphins and strange shit like that. There is a museum about the history (I think usefull things used to get made of Murano glass, as well as chandeliers for all of 18th C Italy and things like that), but I didn't make it there on time to see it.
Actually, what interested me most about the island is the church below, which is one of the best examples of "Veneto-Byzantine" architecture. There are Byzantine style churches in other parts of Italy as well (namely Ravenna), and it cool to see the architectural style so often used in Greek churches used in others. It was first built in the 7th C and then rebuilt in the 12th. The mosaic floor is amazing, but I couldn't get pictures of it, because its forbidden and the guard was wizening up to my surruptitious-picture-taking ways....oh well....
After Murano, I decided that some shopping was in order, so I got a couple of little things here and there. I picked up 2 Commedia dell'Arte masks that will become the best halloween costumes ever for next year, along with some postcards (my 2nd favorite vacation after taking pictures of buildings: buying postcards). I snacked on some delicious little cookies that are Carnevale specialties, and wandered around as the city lit itself up for the coming darkness. Perfectly picturesque.
On my last bit of time on the island, I decided to eat something that was not uber-cheap pizza or whatever like the rest of my meals, and looked in my guidebook for somewhere tasty and nice-ish. It recommended a restaurant that is attached to a hotel on the canal between the main islands and the Giudecca. The prices were reasonable considering how posh it was, and again, I got funny looks and things when asking for a table for one. Does anyone else ever notice this? Is it really that strange to eat by yourself? Anyway, I had some lovely Venetian "polpette" (little seasoned meat-ball type things.....yup, gave up vegetarianism....) and bruschetta and some local red wine. It was a nice end to a very, very long couple of days of walking. Speaking of which, I think that I've finally done in my knees. They're absolutely dead. D-E-D, dead.
Back at the hostel I chatted with the other people in my room (2 boys from Mexico City who are ditching classes at their year-abroad program in France to backpack around.) They saw the city of Venice for about 3 hours in 2 days, sleeping most of the day and then going out at night to local bars. Interesting version of tourism.....I then watched some figure skating, cheering for Sasha Cohen as she kicked some ass. I just hope she does it again tomorrow night!!!!
Interesting cultural note: You know the show "Loveline" on MTV and the radio? Well, there's an Italian version. Its about the same kinds of questions and stuff, but they had a very, very strange, very, very explicit little cartoon done in stick-figure style in which the main characters were certain parts of male and female anatomy...sooooo weird......
So, that was my trip to Venice. I came "home" Wednesday morning.
Final thoughts: Yes, I skipped the Accademia (the main art museum) and lots of other really important stuff. You can't do everything in two days, so picking and choosing was necessary. This just gives me an excuse to go back someday. I've decided that I would love to be rich enough to have a flat in Venice. A really historic one, please, with original wood-beamed ceilings and things like that.
I had a generally amazing time, except that, like I mentioned at the beginning of the letter, going on vacation alone was not what I initially wanted. I thought about spending my week off in Paris, but with both my Paris friends away or busy, I cancelled so as not to be on my own the whole time. Sure enough, I was lonely, especially around dusk, for some reason. I would have loved it even more, I think, had I had someone there to share with. I was really astonished and amazed and overwhelmed by the landscape and the art and the whole atmosphere. I was glad that it was February, though, and not the middle of summer. The tourists and the heat must be a terrible combination. Sweaty Americans and Brits crowding around everything....ugh....
One thing that I found to be very true was that the really stupid tourists all congregate around Piazza San Marco and the Ponte di Rialto and that area. They don't think to get past those places, which is nice because it leaves the rest of the city to itself. I was amazed by the silence in so many little squares and alleys.
And, no, I did not set foot on a gondola. Nor did I look at gondola tourist shit, thank you very much....
Happy Tuesday, everyone