Friday, July 30, 2010

Venice- Day Three

The possibility of rain continued the next morning as we made our way around from one section of the city to another. There are few, if any, straight lines in Venice. Getting from one point to another takes you through multiple possibilities and choices to a conclusion that is, hopefully, where you want to go. On the other hand, you can only get so lost in Venice; it is only a matter of time before you reach the edge and are looking out at the lagoon.

This was our last day in Venice and because of our wanderings taking longer than I anticipated one day (not a problem, really) and the deluge of rain the next I had to make sure that one of my favorite things to do in Venice was on the schedule before we left. That is, walking just beyond the Doge's Palace along the waterside to the San Zaccharia stop on the vaporetto route. There we would take the poor man's route around the city. This is the relatively inexpensive but long vaporetto ride around and then down the Grand Canal. The problem was timing. The benefit of starting on the #2 vaporetto at San Zaccharia, heading toward San Giorgio Maggiore, is that you will be able to sit wherever you want- it's the beginning of the route and the vaporetto's seats are wide open. My choice? Right up in front. But it isn't quite the same if you are getting soaked from a steady rain. So, the question was- the Church of the Frari to see Titian's Assumption of the Virgin and Bellini's Pesaro Altarpiece first, or head over and hope the weather would improve? Fortified with more espresso than usual, I made my choice by not really choosing. We walked. We looked. We did a little shopping. (Are you suuuure you want those really bad plastic masks?) We ended up heading over toward San Marco, and as we did the sky brightened and the sun came out.

I received one card with a magnetic strip to cover the tickets for all of us, we waited all of three minutes and our ship came in. Being a mature, fatherly figure to my students I made sure that when the gate was opened I was first through and directly to "my seat". This particular vaporetto route takes you across the lagoon to San Giorgio where you can get off and go visit the Last Supper by Tintoretto inside and follow that up by going up the campanile for what may be the best view of Venice. They have a habit of closing around noon, though, so it needs to be timed right. I didn't. The vaporetto then makes stops along the Giudecca, that long, half-forgotten island off by itself in the lagoon. In little gaps between buildings you can see trees and gardens beyond. Across the way Dorsoduro lies with the domed Santa Maria della Salute and a line of other churches facing the water. When we were going by the church bells were ringing and I could see the movement of the bells within the towers.

Farther along, you may have a chance at a tour of the Lifestyles of the Rich and, if they aren't Famous, they certainly are Extravagant, where you may see enormous yachts lined up along the shore. Then the cruise ships follow up. It was only a one cruise ship day (that will not happen on Fridays to Sundays) which meant that we would have another day where the streets would not be terribly crowded. The vaporetto then goes around by the market, by the people mover (new to me) by many small boats picking up food and wares to be delivered and then makes its way to the Grand Canal. Here the crowds get on deck and you can, if you wish, take a quick breezy look in their direction from your seat in front. The rest of the trip down the canal is dreamland, no matter how many times you do it. Your sense of time is collapsed as you remember all those images of Venice from long ago which merge very easily with what you see before you. It all goes too fast.

Before long we are back at San Zaccharia, the floating dock shifting a bit under our feet as we leave. This is one thing that I do with my students that does not need, or is even helped by, an introduction. We get on, we sit, we gaze and this huge, elaborate stage moves by us as it has for centuries.

This is my favorite thing to do in Venice.

Later that afternoon I found a campo I'd never been to before, had some wine, chatted with a couple from Lancashire, remembered the time and bolted back to the B&B to meet the students for our journey back to Florence. Crossing the bridge and walking into the train station we were met by the next group of people who were entering the play. In place of a bow, we walked through the doors of the station, the train was waiting, we climbed aboard and shortly after, watched the clustered buildings above water slowly recede. With the train moving back onto land I again entered into a sense of something that seemed closer to normal reality.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Venice- Day Two

The morning started bright and clear and we, in small groups, went outside to sit down in the small courtyard under the vines for breakfast.

Venice is so quiet.

The loudest sounds you will hear are motor boats delivering produce or other articles to stores; vaporetti, if you're near the lagoon, or are on the Grand Canal; bells tolling out the hours; people talking and laughing together while sitting and having a drink. Don't forget your earplugs when you go.

The sun was warm and the air was cool and we made our way over to the Accademia. They have a new ticket booth outside. I found this out by walking right past the three signs directing you to it, inside where you used to buy tickets, watched the people in front of me get directed outside and then asked to buy tickets. A little embarrassing. I spent extra time with the early paintings by Bellini that are in the second room, a bit more time looking and discussing the renamed Feast at the House of Levi by Veronese, and, as always, with the Pieta', Titian's last work. Giorgione's The Tempest used to be in one of the first rooms you go through, now it's along the back hallway (near the bathrooms) in a couple of rooms that are very small and the small paintings in these rooms are hung very close together. In these two rooms are a number of paintings that would be the centerpiece of almost any museum in the world. Here they are inches apart- POW-POW-POW.

The Accademia is overwhelming in what it contains as far as amazing work, but it is not a huge museum. It is easier to look selectively, with less guilt, and avoid Stendhal's Syndrome. A couple students were with me to visit St. Ursula, as I always do. Besides seeing the story by Carpaccio unfold, there is a charm to seeing multiple events taking place on one canvas divided by a column, a wall or a flag. The viewer is transported from the left, where they see an imaginary view, to the right side with the meeting of the Prince and Princess with a backdrop of Venice. But, when looking at Carpaccio's work, as I've written before, I enjoy seeing how the composition is like an interlocking puzzle with one piece meeting another, that piece then framing and leading to another, from mast to flag to column to street to person to facade. There is also the sense that you are going to walk outside right into that world because your view of the buildings and canals do not seem all that different from Carpaccio's.

We went over to the Ponte Rialto to do some drawing, but by now the storm clouds were rolling in and it was only a matter of time before they would let loose. The bridge was relatively uncrowded for the second day in a row as we sat down near the water's edge. In time it started to rain lightly so we moved to the shelter of an open loggia near the old fish market to draw. As one draws the view, your eyes move and recognize shapes, lines and connections. The lines on the paper follow. Up the side of the building, connecting to the roof line of the adjacent palazzo, down the edge of light marble in the face of the building, along the bottom of the window traced out in oriental design, over to the edge of the next building, down to the riva, the bank along the canal.

When we were through I decided to let everyone have free time to explore for hours before dinner. The rain came down a bit harder as the students headed out in groups, to look for something to eat, to take photos, to look for presents to bring back. Walking back through the narrow streets to Dorsoduro the clouds opened and the rain came down in buckets. Standing in the relative shelter of an overhang of a building I stood and watched the shapes, lines, architectural elements interlock with the people racing by, trying not to get soaked, and those, like me, stock still under the awnings.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Venice- Day One

Tuesday, the third of June, we left for Venice by train. It was exceptionally clear with little to no haze, giving us distant views as we went through the Apennines and out onto the open stretches of Emilia-Romagna. Most of the students were reading, resting, listening to their ipods along the way. I was looking out the window at small towns, the fields that went off into the distance and thinking about how densely the cities and towns were settled. After crossing the Reno, Po and Adige I could see the jagged peaks of the Dolomites, their shapes filled in with a consistent blue off in the distance. This was the clearest I'd ever seen them.

There is something very different about arriving in Venice. I've arrived at Santa Lucia station five times now (not very many times compared to the addicted) but, there is something about leaving the mainland and going across the lagoon where you are doing more than traversing space. You are going to a completely different place. You can see the city, the outlines of buildings, domes, bell towers as you move forward; the city keeps its back turned toward you across the water as you approach. It is like a theatrical backdrop. Then you enter the station, much like a lot of other large train stations, where the vision of the city is put on hold (anyone need to go to the bathroom?) for a few moments. Then, walking out of the doors of the station, you enter directly onto the stage. You walk into the scene itself. The people standing and gazing, the boats and vaporetti gliding by, the masses going over the bridge to your left, the dome of San Simeone Piccolo rising across the canal all are part of this play. Thousands of stories are taking place on the stage before you. And you enter.

I had been staying in Cannaregio my last two trips, but this time I was staying on the edge of Dorsoduro looking across at Santa Croce, less than a ten minute walk from the train station. The B&B, Locanda Gaffaro, was tucked away inside a small courtyard and beyond the gate was an enclosed garden with chairs and tables shaded by vines growing above. We dropped off our luggage- Brian's method: bring the big luggage to the apartment in Florence, bring a small backpack with two changes of clothes and drawing supplies on the road- and headed out.

Venice is very compact, its small to tiny streets lead you through maze-like routes toward and, sometimes, away from your destination. It is always funny to see that in places you will have two arrows
, painted on the side of a building, pointing to San Marco, each pointing in the opposite direction. Either route will take you there. In some places you are walking down what feels more like the enclosed corridor of a building than a narrow street outdoors. Then you come into an open campo and you get your bearings. The experience of Venice- finding your way, getting lost, thinking you are going in the correct direction, realizing you don't know what the hell you're doing, getting to a point of recognition- adds up to the experience of place as metaphor. That heightens the sense that you are taking part in a play, with a didactic twist that is not over-wrought, but natural.

For this, my third time taking students to Venice, I am developing a tradition. Once again, I lead them to Piazza San Marco to look around and marvel (less pigeons- yea!) and then off to play "Let's Get Lost in Venice". Each student leads the group for fifteen minutes, or so, and then chooses the next leader. The aim is to stay away from the crowds and not to find ourselves back in San Marco. We found quiet canals, water lapping against the sides in the shade of trees with no one near. We heard a piano playing time to unseen ballet students. We smelled fish, shrimp, octopus and other creatures gathered from the lagoon and beyond at vendors booths. We ducked in to San Zaccharia (I had to take the reins for a minute when I saw where we were) to see one of Bellini's greatest paintings that is still in the church, where it was intended to be. One student, while leading us, found a small courtyard named with her surname- Cortese; definitely a photo opportunity.

As with a lot of places I go to with the students I become more aware of what I want to see someday. I have never been in the Doge's Palace and there are loads of churches, well-known and nondescript, that I have never ventured inside of. As with Rome and Siena, (with Florence also, although we are there for the better part of a month) we can only see a small part. I have to choose what is most important for the students' experience, so I return to a lot of the places again and again. No complaints, I just try to fit in new places, a bit here and there, when I can.

We ended on the northern edge of Cannaregio, looking across to the cemetery on its own island in the lagoon. The students decided it was time for a gelato, so we had some looking across the lagoon- "What island is that across, over there?" "I have no idea".

Later, after making our way back to the B&B, while the students took a rest, I scouted the location of two restaurants that were suggested by my friend and self-admitted Venice addict, Kathleen. I made reservations for Taverna San Trovaso for that night and Casin dei Nobili for the next. From the time I saw the Taverna, I thought I recognized the way it sat along a canal but made its own corner along the street. It looked very familiar. When I went inside to make reservations that sense grew on me. I went back through to the Campo Santa Margarita, which is definitely the happening place in the neighborhood, and sat at a table under an awning in the square and had a Aperol Spritz (very Venetian). I watched as a local guy, half hiding behind me, was steering a remote-controlled car around the open space in front of us. He made it weave in front of people as they walked, bump into them as they stood in groups talking, darting in front of someone who tried to avoid it but almost kissed the pavement in the process and race after casually elegant young women. For the young women he would reveal himself after the car tapped their foot a few times. Not a bad idea.

Later we all arrived at the restaurant, at a time that was more appropriate for Rome and Florence. I forgot that, generally, people go out to eat a bit earlier here. On entering, I was almost certain- this was the place my teacher took a group of us to fifteen years ago when I was first in Italy. Now it was my turn to take students for their first time. Venice helped me find my way, get lost and come to a place of recognition. The play goes on.