Sunday, September 15, 2002 Our first time on the famous No. 1! Intent on feeling the occasion at its full extent, I squeeze into one of the precious few spots on the open deck, camera at the ready. Was I right to remain at the starboard or should I have chosen the portside for the best pictures? I am consumed by doubt as the vaporetto plunges into the waters and one by one those beautiful facades, with arches and columns and little docks and bricole parade in front of me. I sneak a look at portside: is the proverbial grass greener there? But I console myself with the thought that over the next four days there will be many opportunities to check on both sides. With camera aclicking, we’re soon at our destination, the Accademia stop, in front of the Gallerie dell'Accademia.
Off the boat and first onto the bridge, for a general view. Deep breath; the temptation is to go down to any of the sides and step into the narrow streets, but we will be back there and so, we turn towards the Accademia and enter. A note announces that the Tintoretto and Tizian rooms will be closed today. We know we will return, if not in this incarnation, then in another, so just plough in.
About the Accademia and its treasures entire libraries have been written. On a personal note, we are addicted to the art and at the same time have human weaknesses, such as limited ability to focus on all the offerings of the great museums. In most cases, we need more than one visit. In this case, we will have no time for a second visit during this trip. We have one more reason to return to Venice, as if we really need one more.
But as we start, we know our limitations. From the start we observe the dominance of the Madonna with Child theme, from Veneziano's Madonna col Bambino to that of Giovanni Bellini, Madonna in trono con Bambino. We stop at Georgione's Tempesta and La Vecchia. We notice Hans Memling's Ritratto de un Giovane and find for it further a counterpoint in Lorenzo Lotto's Ritratto de un Giovane Gentiluomo. But most of all we love the works that evoke Venice, where details hint to Venice of today. And so, we stop longest at Gentile Bellini's Procession in Piazza San Marco, where each detail reminds us that we were standing in the very same place only a few hours ago and the brightness of the sparkling Basilica is just as we have seen it a day before. In his Miracle of the Cross on San Lorenzo Bridge other parts of Venice appear and the intriguing sight of the uniquely Venetian chimney pots about whose purpose we were wondering yesterday. Of these we will find many more in Carpaccio's Miracle of the Relic of the Holly Cross, although this one is located at what seems to be an earlier version the Rialto Bridge. In one of the rooms I observe an incongruous oversight: Tizian's St. John The Baptist is reproduced reversed in the guide sheet, probably from a negative or slide turned on the wrong side. Either nobody observed it, or it would have been too costly to reprint the guide. I make, discretely, a note on the guide sheet, for posterity. No doubt, a conscientious civil servant will erase my arrow and there goes my posterity. Just because guides mention it, we stop at the Veronese's Madonna dei Sartori, look up "sarto" in my pocket dictionary, find out that it means "tailor" and a bulb goes off in my brain as this explains the expression "sartorially dressed"! We love Pietro Longhi, whose work we see for the first time, for the real life scenes: a concert, a tailor's family, a dancing lesson, the pharmacist and his shop, no saints. Back to Veronese, his Madonna col Bambino has an amazing depth of field; it unfolds as one looks higher and higher, with elements of 3-D. Still with Veronese, the amazing Convito in Casa di Levi, in which the characters populating the standard Last Supper stage look as ordinary humans can be: drunk, tired, bored, no weighty matters, apparently, on their minds. And the dog is waiting patiently for a (fish?) bone. Nothing like Leonardo's Last Supper which I will face two weeks hence, in Milano. And we love the story of Sant’Ursola, as depicted by Carpaccio in what used to be painting story-telling and looks today like a super-cartoon in nine frames.
As we leave the museum, back into the brightness of the noon sun, we talk some about what we believe to be the difference between the Italian and the Spanish painters of the period. On one side, the play of light and shade, the attention to detail, the elegance and lightness of the brush, the deep involvement with movement, the theatricality of the scenes. On the other, the drama, the darkness, the tension in movement, the wide brush, the dominance of powerful human faces. We are not quite sure where this observation is taking us, but are fully aware of how fortunate we are to have been able to visit both Spain and Italy in the very same year, with so many impressions still fresh in our minds.
Alas, many an artist have discovered that art does not a stomach fill and we are hungry after the hours spent at the Accademia, and so we set in the path opened by Shannon, the renowned Slow Traveller. The list, as inspired by her for the Dorsoduro/Accademia area, included Taverna San Trovaso, Pizzeria Accademia, Vini al Bottegon Cantinone and Casin dei Nobili, all religiously and carefully jotted down on a Post-it note before we left the hotel. Pizzeria Accademia is easy to find but we feel that for our first decent meal in Venice we would like something more whatever, but not this. Alas, Shannon forgot to mention on which side of the Accademia to turn in order to get to the other targets and so, being in front of the Pizzeria and, therefore, at the left of the Accademia, we continue unknowingly into uncharted restaurant territory. (We will discover the correct turn later. For the time being we are on “the wrong side”). A few steps and we are on the Dorsoduro, facing Giudecca. Walking along Dorsoduro we find a few places at which to stop for lunch, realize that San Trovaso is not going to happen today and go on looking for a place with the best view and the most shading umbrellas. We settle on Gianni’s, at a table at the edge of the water and with an unchallenged view. We have a decent enough meal, my seppia col nero alla veneziana (con polenta) in particular, although anybody who would have had seppia alla veneziana in Toronto, at Joso’s, as I did, would consider the Toronto version superior. With Josette's vegetarian pizza, 1/2 bottle of wine, water, coffees and cover charge, we pay €48, service and tip included. We ate better in many places for this kind of money, but the gorgeous view and the leisure taken watching Venice life go by make it all worth it. It is Sunday and people from the neighbourhood are out for a stroll, dogs everywhere, even on Gianni's patio, which is as it should be by our reckoning. In fact, the dogs are quite active and aggressive and their owners extremely unhappy with each other when their dogs get into scraps, which inspires me for the following immortal maxim: "Dogs like people but don't like other dogs; people like dogs but don't like other people". There it is, black on white.
By 1:30 p.m. the Gianni patio is packed and the service gets sloppy. It is time to leave. We return along Dorsoduro but round behind and on the other side of the Accademia building and so, dear Shannon, we discover, one by one, the locations of the Casin, the Bottegon (the door discretely half open, probably because it is a Sunday), and finally, Taverna San Trovaso, where else but right across from San Trovaso the Church, a bit further up from the "squero" where gondolas are being repaired. We mark the location for future options and go on towards the bridge. With Frommer's Venice Walking Tours (highly recommended!) on hand, we identify Palazzo Franchetti, now under renovation, Palazzo Barbaro where Monet and Sargent had studios, the beautiful garden of Palazzo Marcello, one of the few visions of garden in full growth along the Canal, then walk on to Campo San Stefano, whose Tintorettos we mark for next year's visit, Pallazo Morosini, the same Morosini who blew up the Parthenon as the 17th century was drawing to a close, and San Vidal. We admire Ca' Rezzonico from across the water and promise to be there soon, since the traghetto service does not operate on Sunday. We walk back all the way to the hotel, which we left at 8:30 in the morning. Not bad for a guy with two artificial hips… On the way, we pick the "Gelato Of The Day": Mora. Pretty good; I wonder how do they get the flavour so fragrant.
In the afternoon after some rest, we head towards La Fenice, although we know there will be little to see of the building because of the renovations. We also wish to scout the Scala del Bovolo area for apartment rental potential. The La Fenice is indeed hidden by construction work. The new Fenice was supposed to be completed in 2001, then in 2002; hopefully, it will be ready by September 2003 when we hope to be back here. Palazzo Cantorini del Bovolo with the dazzling Scala del Bovolo and the loggia are beautiful, the area great for a longer stay, but we have some doubts as to our ability to drag luggage all the way there. This will require more thought. We turn back through Campo Manin and then Campo San Zaccaria. On the way, a stop since Josette finds a beautiful little mask, with a musical theme, which could replace the one "retired" accidentally. Josette thinks it is too expensive. As we leave, I tell the gentleman in the shop that, undoubtedly, we will be back. Indeed, sober consideration allows us to return to the shop and buy the mask. By now, we became "regulars" and the gentleman, who resembles astonishingly Omar Sharif, really a potential double, and who had a few aperitifs it seems, offers us a discount. Packing the delicate object causes some more conversation during which somehow I get to show off and ask the shop keeper whether he knows the origin of the name Calle delle Rasse given to the street opening just in front of the store. He confesses ignorance and so I tell him the story from Morton, who actually lived on Calle delle Rasse. Rasse was a strong black canvas-like material used to cover the gondolas when the gondolas were all still brightly painted and adorned with precious furniture. The entire street was dedicated to the commerce in this fabric: import, sale, fitting, etc. As a result, like in many other cases, the name of the function becomes the name of the street. Of course, today Calle delle Rasse is all cafes, little souvenir and jewelry stores, a small market. Nothing remains from the time of the colourful, happy looking gondolas. The gentleman confesses interest, although I doubt he really cares, and so I don't tell him why Venetian blinds are called "Venetian". His loss…
In the room, I get a chair, place myself in front of the large window, and rest taking in the incredible view in front of me: starting with the open lagoon at my left, eyes panning slowly towards Isola San Giorgio Maggiore with the Church at 45 degrees and the soaring Campanile, further over to Il Redentore-the landmark in Giudecca with the two bell towers, over more to include Punta della Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute. I have never seen a more glorious view and I wonder why I deserve it. I shiver. (…and I shiver as I assemble these notes, a month later…). I take picture after picture and I know none will do justice, but will at least be a reminder of what I feel now.
The life on the water opening in front of us is amazing: passenger boats and taxies, ferries, cruise ships, gondolas, little boats used for deliveries or bringing repairmen where they're needed, a brazen power boat or two, crane boats, a firemen's boat, private boats, a courier's delivery boat. Below me, at this hour of the day the Riva degli Schiavoni is in full swing: restaurants and cafes are open with umbrellas offering protection to those sitting at tables, tourists in small or large groups milling in each direction, the San Zaccaria vaporetto landing, then the Alilaguna dock, vendors of T-shirts and souvenirs, buskers setting up but checking carefully for the Carabinieri since, unlike on the Ramblas in Barcelona, buskers do not seem to be welcome in Venice.
We will do this many times over the following days, watching life on and along the water, as it unfolds at various hours of the day with the web and flow of the crowds. All this has a rhythm: the opening of the cafes with their colorful umbrellas early in the morning and the setting of the tables, workers coming into town, then the tourists in agitated and frenetic pursuit of their guides, the sparkling waters, and as the day goes on, with the sun slipping towards sunset, the shades of the evening set, music starts at a nearby restaurant, the Riva empties slowly and so do the Canal and the lagoon and the cycle of daily life closes with umbrellas and table covers being collected, tables and chairs stacked, all closing for just a few hours, waiting to start again. A group of kids with a guitar would make some noise but even they will feel that it is time to close for the day.
But for us, the evening included a few more special moments. In Piazzetta dei Leoni, while "next door", in Piazza San Marco, The Battle of The Bands continues, a group of Italian tourists start singing, clapping, dancing. It is beautiful sight: they are of all ages, coming forward one by one to sing another couplet, then they go around in the circle and select a dance partner. It is very much like the Romanian dance Perinitza, where the chosen partner also gets a kiss to boot. But, behold: three Carabinieri approach and stop the joy: apparently, such public unauthorized displays of joy are not permitted. Some discussion, some protests from people who were watching from the side, all to no avail. They must disperse. In my mind I send an angry rebuke to Pink Floyd, whose 1989 concert left the Piazza San Marco trashed and the Venetian authorities traumatized to the extent that even benign displays such as that we have just witnessed are shooed away. We walk along the Riva, towards the Arsenale, but not quite that far. We pass Petrarca's house. At Santa Maria della Pieta there is a concert going; chamber music by the sound. We sit for a while in front of a café already closed. Somehow, the conversation drifts toward the churches we have seen so far in the Como region and particularly in Venice, versus their Spanish counterparts. The theory emerges that the latter were built for the glory not only of God but also for that of the absolute Spanish monarchs under whose reign they were built and their magnificence expresses and supports this intention. We find the Italian churches more peaceful, somewhat introverted. This may reflect the deep division of the dukedoms of Italy and in Venice, with the obvious exception of San Marco, which was built for the glory of one Republic and the use of a single person, the rest of the churches are community-based, dedicated to a great variety of saints, for the use of the population of the Campi. We decide not to write a doctorate on the subject and go back to the hotel where RAI Uno presents "Eugene Oneghin". And we wanted to go earlier to sleep because tomorrow we must get up to watch the feeding of the pigeons in Piazza San Marco. Forget it. It is almost midnight when the show ends.