September 2010

Wednesday 15th September

In a word: smooth, my journey was. A bit of a long queue for check-in, but it moved pretty swiftly. The tedious security checking seems to move quicker now, as people are more used to it, and I had time to nosh a Prêt sweet-potato falafel sandwich before boarding. The plane was full of a party of decidedly unquiet Italian teenage girls, but they sat up the back, as teenagers do. And as I am a bit more flush financially this trip I even treated myself to the wild in-flight extravagance of an EasyJet coffee and a Kit-Kat. £3.50, but what the hell!
      I'd ordered a week-long vaporetto ticket this time so had to hunt for the Venice Connected point at the airport. This turned out to be a desk, and not the machine I was expecting, to the right as you enter the concourse from baggage reclaim. At first it seemed to be unstaffed, but it turned out that sitting at their desks the staff's heads are below sight level. Or maybe they're very short people. Anyway, ticket acquired I exited to catch the bus, but the number 5, the orange bus, not the blue bus, as the Venice Connected ticket only works with ACTV services. (I know that this is pretty dry stuff but it might come in useful!) Venice itself was warm when I arrived and not too crowded, it seems, and walking past the Accademia I noticed that there's a bit of scaffolding down and some façade visible, for the first time in ages. Rumour has it the rest of the scaffolding will be coming down in November. My room at the Ciliota this time is on the first floor, overlooking the courtyard, and the wi-fi reaches my room as I'm on a lower floor, which makes life a lot easier.
      Out in the early evening for a social call involving collecting my  reading glasses, drinking prosecco, nibbling breadsticks and watching boats (and cats) over the Grand Canal as dusk fell. After that all I needed was a slightly gross slice of pizza from the buzzy place in Campo Santa Margherita (the french-fries pizza was the only veggie one they had, honest) and a fior di latte and extra-noir chocolate gelato from Grom for the stroll back, and I was ready for an early night.


Thursday 16th September
Awake at flipping 6.00 for some reason, so I'm typing this in not-quite-daylit silence, without even the sounds of breakfast preparation down in the courtyard. Anyway, you know how you always forget something when you go on a holiday? This trip I've managed to forget my umbrella, the nice big notebook I use to jot down my impressions in churches, and my trusty map. The map I'm needing less as the years go by, but it's just something I always have in my bag. I'm planning on doing some slightly more venturesome stuff this time, involving boats and trains, but for my first day I'm intent on an acclimatising stroll into Castello. I need to get a Chorus pass, Santa Maria del Giglio needs a proper visit, for my churches website, and it's on the way. But it's still half an hour before breakfast so I'll regale you with a...
      Scaffolding bulletin

      The classic view from the Accademia bridge towards the Salute is currently spoiled by just the one covered building - a vast improvement, especially on the time the Salute itself was all covered. Looking in the other direction, the Palazzo Giustinian-Lolin on the right (an early work by Longhena) which has been a rusty-scaffold-covered eyesore for years, has now acquired an advertising hoarding featuring nastily overbright floodlighting at night. One can only hope that the cash flowing in from this blight might result in some actual work being done. One can only hope. (But, gossip has it, the work has actually finished and the hoarding is staying up just to make more money.)

     It was still only 8.30 when I got to Santa Maria del Giglio, so I ventured on, with the intention of getting the Chorus pass in San Pietro, another church I needed to visit. On the way I checked out the San Lorenzo cats a recent correspondent had mentioned the ricketyness of the boss tabby, who was hobbling last time I visited, and the time before that. However an emaciated- looking paler tabby that was far from sure-footed may be the cat she means, and the boss tabby I was thinking of was not in evidence. The aforementioned scraggy tabby seemed bosom buddies, though, with a black cat with whom he seemed inseparable (see below left). While I was in the area I checked out the supposedly-open Sant'Antonin, but it was firmly closed with water-gates firmly installed in all the doors. Not having my map lead to a fair degree of lostness as I ventured East, but also lead to a few photo ops, some dingy campi, and a chap smoking a funny cigarette in a canal-side dead-end.
      San Pietro has been closed for a while, for restoration, and so it's been ages since I've been inside. It's a lot more likeable and light than I remember. Lofty and dominated by a balustraded cupola and a somewhat overpopulated altar by Longhena, which is topped with the remains and statue of San Lorenzo Giustiniani. There's plenty of unspecial 17th-century art, but the Lando Chapel is a pleasant little space, the only survival from the earlier gothic church, with a mosaic altarpiece based on a Tintoretto cartoon. There's also a Veronese over the door. At this stage my camera battery died, annoyingly before I could take a nice big interior, so I decided to vap it back  - the prospect of being out and about for any length of time in Venice without a camera being truly scary for yours truly. I will just mention here, though, that when buying my Chorus pass I was given a rather nice map, showing all the Chorus churches, and most of the rest too.
      After lunch and a rest, off to Santa Maria del Giglio. A compact and aisleless space, with three shallow altars either side. There's an impressively detailed big arch over the high altar, with an organ behind. The Molin Chapel (entrance to the right) has the only Rubens in Venice - a somewhat fleshy Madonna and Child, not really in keeping with its surroundings. The chapel has a ceiling painting by Son of Tintoretto and lots of extravagantly designed reliquaries with bones, nicely labelled with the name of the saint they came from. Remains also include hanks of  hair and other hard-to-identify bits that it's probably best not to know or enquire about. Elsewhere there's a Tintoretto altarpiece, looking a bit 'studio of'. The Evangelists by Tintoretto, taken from a destroyed organ and hung at the back of the apse, are much better, and you can walk around behind the altar to get a better look. Also an impressive Last Supper by Giulio Del Moro on the inside front wall, with four cute sibyls by Il Salviati ranged below. There's also a sweet little carved high relief panel of St Jerome, and an overpowering carved baptistery crawling with putti. So, a church whose cumulative pleasures sort of creep up on you. I then headed into San Marco and points North, checking out the bookshops. Big mistake, as the environs were heaving and almost impassable on some bridges. Remind me to avoid this vicinity for the rest of my stay. It was blessed relief to head down into Dorsoduro for a reviving gelato (pear and fior di latte) and some elbow room.

Friday 17th September
Today Torcello. I'll admit to having been a bit of a boat coward on previous trips to Venice. I always imagine being stranded on some far island after the last vaporetto has left, sleeping under a tree and being nibbled by squirrels. If you have a version of this fear, maybe without the carnivorous squirrels, and it's stopped you visiting Burano and Torcello, I can put your mind at rest. The boats to (Murano and) Burano from Fondamente Nove leave every half hour, and the boats from Burano to Torcello leave from an adjacent stop, also every half hour. The trip to Murano is pretty short, but Burano adds about half an hour, with Torcello then a mere ten minute hop. And should you go? Very much yes - the churches on Torcello are a Byzantine treat. Santa Fosca is the smaller of the two, a lovely square and bare pale brick space, with streaky and strokable Greek marble columns. It's technically Greek-Cross shaped with clever embellishments to its shape. The remains of the Saint are on display under the altar, but it's hard to tell what you're looking at, thankfully. Santa Maria Assunta next door is much much bigger and much more in-your-face Byzantine. Outside the door is the ruin of a very old baptistery (above right). To get in you have to go into the shop to the right of the entrance, pay your money, and get your ticket, printed on a sheet of A4 paper, which you present at the ticket office, to have a little hole punched in it. If you want an audio guide, you pay to get another sheet of A4 in the shop and take it to the woman at the desk in the church. And I do recommend the audio guide. It's only two euros and other than the bit where the reader coughs, and waits, and then starts her sentence over again, it's professional and informative. This guide makes a few mentions of poor restoration work on the mosaics, and it turns out that the 19th Century restorer, Giovanni Moro, made such a poor job that he was tried and convicted for it. But the mosaics still blow one away, especially the huge Last Judgement on the inside front wall. You'll also like the jazzy polychrome marble floor. There's an iconostasis (icon screen)  dividing the chancel from the nave, with an old (and looking it) crucifix on it. There's a frieze across the screen's whole width of images of the Virgin and Child with twelve apostles. The apse conch behind has an imposing Virgin and Child with an annunciation above, in the arch corners, and twelve apostles below. The young woman at the audioguide desk was pretty fierce with her shouts of  'no photos!' and so I got no shots inside, especially as all the good angles would've involved me standing in her line of sight. The interior is imposing and bare, with the mosaics standing out all the more for the stony surroundings.
      I stopped off at Burano on the way back for some lunch and an explore. It's, um, colourful isn't it? Lots of cats, though, and I bought a yummy slice of Bussola di Cocco (see right). Then back to Venice for it, a cup of vanilla redbush and a rest.
      In the evening, following a wi-fi failure, I went for a stroll/shop up past the Rialto. The shop I was heading for was closed, the rain got heavy, I got soaked, found refuge in a fast food place, ate tasteless crap, bought some chocolate, scurried back to dry out, and now I'm being tortured by the cliché of the rhythmically squeaking bedsprings from the room above. Get on with it! I need a cup of tea. And some chocolate. Lindt now do an orange and pistachio bar you know? It's most palatable.


Saturday 18th September
Feeling better this morning, despite incessant rain. Decide to go to the Piranesi exhibition which is on at the Cini Foundation, next to San Giorgio Maggiore. Hoped to see a poster on my way to the Zattere vap stop, but didn't. It was a bit after 9 and I assumed the exhibition would open at 9.30 or 10. So when the boat got to Giudecca Palanca I got off for a time-killing stroll. The weather being not only wet but wild I decided to head inland a bit, to get away from the wind and waves, and have another look at the long-closed church of  Santa Croce in its semi-wasteland setting. I thought that I might be able to take a photo of the back if I circled around a bit. And so found myself in amongst a modern housing estate, where a flock of about eight cats had just been fed some biscuits and where I could just about see the back of the church over a high wall. It was here that I was approached by a Tasmanian in need. She needed internet access in a hurry to book a flight, and had been told about a library nearby. It was very near, very closed and advertised internet access after 4 o'clock. Not a big help. I could do little else but offer her advice on finding internet cafes over in Venice. The modern library building had a handy-looking balcony, for the purposes of photographing the back of Santa Croce. I found a way up, and found the library lit and open up on that level, but still going to great effort on its posters to make sure thatl everyone knew that the internet was only available after 4.00pm. Very odd.
     Waiting for a vaporetto I finally see a poster for the Piranesi exhibition, and I still have half an hour to kill, so I think that this might be my opportunity to go visit the Redentore church. It has an unusually uncluttered interior, mostly because the church was built (to give thanks for Venice's delivery from the plague of 1575/6) on a site belonging to Capuchin monks, who agreed to take it on providing their vows of poverty were observed. So, no remunerative funerary masses and monuments, and one elegantly unembellished interior. High, pale and airy (due to the many windows) and very Palladian. The wide and aisleless nave has three connected chapels on each side. The chancel has a polychrome marble floor, although not a patch on the wilder and older designs on the marble floor of Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello yesterday. Over the chancel there's a balustraded dome, and there are two side apses so the Doge and Signoria could sit unobserved by the common herd. There's some middling art (the Tintorettos are 'school of') and so a Palma il Giovane Deposition stands outa bit. The leaflet in the church speaks airily of 'The nearby sacristy' which 'keeps important works by great artists'. But the Chorus info sheet mentions it not and there seems to be no ready access.
      So on to the Piranesi exhibition. You'll know if an exhibition of architectural drawings and etchings of wild architectural caprices are going to appeal to you, and I just love such stuff. Roman ruins half buried, imagined massive prisons, crumbling buildings like something out of a nightmare, or a very good computer game. In addition to the drawings there are models made from some of Piranesi's never-executed designs for, for example, a fireplace, an enormous urn with gryphons, and sundry other items you'll want to own. There's also a tepee with video screens inside showing a video of an animated 3D float through the carcieri, the imagined and mad prisons. This was, well, cool, in the extreme. Watch it and read about it here. Then finally there's an exhibition of city photographer Gabriele Basilico's reinterpretations of many of Piranesi's views of Rome. And these were mighty fine too. If you think that you might like this exhibition then I guarantee that you'll love it. You have until the 21st November. I was enthused and excited and looking forward to buying a catalogue but...old English version. Pah!
      The rain had set in well as I left, so I hightailed it back to the Ciliota with a mozza/pom/ruccola panino and an almond tart. I'm sure I've had one of these latter before, but not as fresh and moist as this one.
      Did I mention the rain? I waited through several false stops before I went out this evening. Then it started again, thunder and all. And then when I'd taken refuge under a (not swanky) bar's awning, someone came out and ostentatiously started to mop the marble step I was standing on. Grazie mille mate! So now I'm thinking there's nothing for it but to take to my bed with my laptop and the last three episodes of season three of True Blood.

Sunday 19th September
The paving is drying and the sky is blue. Hallelujah! Regular readers will know how last year I got excitedly into the old and decomposing Ospedale al Mare on the Lido. So this year I just had to go back and have another look, especially as in the last few months I've learned that some capitalist have bought the site for the building of luxury flats. Also my idea of going over to the Lido on a Sunday is to thereby avoid the worst of the weekend daytrip crowd, and as three of those stupidly huge cruise ships went past as I was waiting for a vap on the Zattere, I think that I was wise, for once.
      Upon arriving on the Lido I looked back towards Venice, and saw mountains behind the usual forest of campanili. I've not seen that before. Walking unchallenged into the Ospedale grounds again, I noticed that there were more open doors this time, some busted open, and a bit more vandalism inside, in the old theatre most noticeably. The open doors meant a bit more wandering and photographing inside for me. In one room I found many many piles of old patient records, the very thing that had caused a bit of a furore on Venetian TV a while back. There was also a service on at the church in the hospital grounds, this church being my reason for going into the grounds in the first place. I wandered into the church as the service was finishing and it's a sweet little space, with painted walls and nice olde details. I managed a couple of photos as people were leaving. Beyond the church, at the end of the road through the old part of the hospital, is a large ornamental pond. Having admired the pair of stone turtles I was watching the dragonflies dart around when I noticed that the pair of turtles was now one turtle. And that there were several more swimming and basking. Having had my fill of crunchy floors and piles of plaster I decided to call it a day, urban exploration wise. (Not enough room for all the gems amongst  the 90-odd photos I took today, but I'll be adding a fair few to my Ospedale al Mare page later, have no fear.)


I made my way out and along the sea-side road, basking in, yes, warm sunshine. I had a bit of a wander but the soreness of the feet and the flatness of the camera battery drew me back to base, and a rest. Getting myself some lunchtime pizza in Campo Santa Margherita on the way back, I found a flea market happening in the campo, and bought a book. It's a booklet actually, a guide to the paintings viewable, and the churches open, during an Open Churches (Chiese Aperte) event in Venice in 1994. It took place in July of that year and seems to have been a precursor to the whole Chorus idea. It talks about some of the churches being otherwise closed, but they're all open now, Chorus scheme members or not.



Monday 20th September
And today's sestiere is...Santa Croce. I catch a vaporetto from Accademia up to the railway station. Just after Rialto there's a police boat moored, and they're taking aboard a chap in handcuffs. That gives my side of the vap something to photograph, I can tell you. I actuallyget off at the Riva di Biasio and head for San Simeon Grande for photographic purposes. The church seems to be coming out of some restoration, with the left-hand aisle still full of scaffolding. But this does mean that the Tintoretto Last Supper is detached from the wall and displayed lower down for a while, and hence more appreciable.
      On to San Giacomo dell'Orio for a similarly swift and photographic visit, but no interior photos - the attendant tells me 'no photo' as she clips my card, even though my camera's hidden in my bag. As ever the size of San Giac is surprising after coming in through the small entrance façade. The more impressive back views (above left) give a better idea. I've been in, and spoken about, this one before, but I'll just say it's always a joy to see the reprobate, in the painting of his dastardly attack on the funeral procession of the Virgin Mary, thrown to the ground with his stumps in the air and his detached hands still gripping the coffin. Also the oddness of the decorated extravagance of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament (to the right of the high altar) amongst the surrounding stony simplicity. And an odd and dark painting in the sacristy by Il Tizianello. Did Titian have a son in the trade?
      Then to San Stae to see what it looks like without bits of biennale in it. And what a difference! It's very light inside, due to the Palladio-inspired semi-circular windows, a feature of the Redentore, visited on Saturday. The lack of art accretions also means that Doge Alvise Mocenigo's spooky bone-decorated tomb slab is visible in the centre of the floor of the nave. It's an aisleless nave with three side chapels either side. They and the high altar are all marble and matching. The church is a bit of a who's who of 18th Century Venetian painters and the best are either side of the high altar. These include The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew by Tiepolo, which is pretty famous, not least for being a highlight of the Glory of Venice exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1994.  Also Saint James Led to Martyrdom by Piazetta. The paintings in the sacristy have a tendency towards 'studio of' but there's also an odd cornice from the earlier church depicting past parish priests, with a fair few dark blanks awaiting portraits still. So, the surprise of the day. Without some odd clanking art thing going on this church is one calm, light and unheavy joy, with some good paintings which aren't dark either.
   For lunch I was meeting my mate Kim, an artist making luscious paintings of Venice with her shop just off of Campo San Barnaba. We stopped off at Kim's flat so I could meet her cats, Piuma and Neve, and her flatmate Felicity too, who took the photo of them below. They were sweet but very nervous of me, coming to sniff my fingers when I sat down, but skittering away as I tried a stroke. Kim then took us to a neighbourhood place on Giudecca, where she had fish, but they also catered for a cranky vegetarian with a starter of buffalo mozzarella with melanzane cooked with mint, a main course of spaghetti in a tomato and pesto sauce, and a chocolate and orange mousse. So just for today I'm replacing cake of the day with starter of the day. I should point out that, surprisingly, the aubergine was hot. But it was also (all) very nice. This blow-out was followed by a later than usual, but even more needed than usual, lie down.
   And by the evening my appetite was still pretty slaked, so I thought I'd go for the light gelato supper. I'd had a new place behind San Lio recommended by a site friend, so I found it and sampled the lemon and the Leonardo. A couple of the flavours had names, for some reason, and Leonardo turned out to be pine nut, for some reason. The lemon was a bit sherbetty but the Leonardo was a treat, and combining it with the lemon toned the latter down a bit.
Tuesday 21st September
Blimey, my last full day already. Decide to go see the Favretto exhibition. Went slowly and circuitously, so as not to get at the Correr before it opened. Popped into Santo Stefano, didn't see anyone about so chanced a quick photo, only to get the traditional 'no photo' bellowed at me from some dark corner. Looked into San Luca too, which is a small and used-looking church, with odd bits of framed modern religious art propped up all around. I also made the note 'GB skims' but I've not the faintest idea what that means now.
      The Giacomo Favretto exhibition was smallish but enjoyable. Paintings very much of their time - the late 19th Century - street scenes and interiors, with picturesquely dressed peasant woman and plushly dressed better-off women respectively. He seemed to have a thing for women with their heads turned away, so that  just the curve of cheek and neck and well-turned chin is visible. All this was new stuff to me, and some postcards and a catalogue in English would have made some money for the Correr, if such things had existed.
      But it was still only 11.00 when I left the exhibition, so time for a church! Santa Maria Formosa is one I've not been in in a while. It's a pleasingly cubey Greek Cross with the sparse and grey feeling of the Brunelleschis about it. The altar is topped with an impressive triumphal arch (see above right). One enters through a side door now, as a person selling tickets for concerts for Vivaldi's flipping Four Seasons sits in the main entrance, with his CD player blaring baroquely. So the art starts unimpressively as you circulate, but as you pass the main door there's a small tondo of Christ being circumcised by Catena, who's an artist we're always happy to see something by, his works being rare. This one is labelled attrib. but beggars get few choices. This is quickly followed by a triptych by Bartolomeo Vivarini, with his characteristic reds shining out. The central panel of the Virgin is flanked on the left by a painting of her parents, Anne and Joachim, who are about to embrace and kiss, which was how she was conceived evidently. Much less messy than the usual way.
      Then there's the Santa Barbara polyptych, by Palma Vecchio, and a fine and forceful looking woman he makes her too. On the altar below is a carved relief showing her lying on the ground with her head unattached, because she's just been decapitated by her father, who's shown running off but about about to be struck by arrow-headed divine lightning.
      Sensing the danger that I might go home tomorrow not having seen either of my fave Bellinis I trotted down to San Zaccaria for a quick look. Very quick, in fact, as I got there about three minutes to twelve. I then made my way slowly and photographically up towards the old Scuola della Misericordia as there was an Architecture Biennale thing on there, supposedly, and I'll use any ruse to get a look inside, but when I got there it was not at all open. I ate my olive and cheese bread thing basking in front of said scuola, helped a pair of lost American ladies find the Fondamenta Nove,  and then caught a crowded vaporetto from the Ca d'Oro, back to base for the traditional type-up, tea, cake, and snooze. Re. the cake (see right) - as the poet said: 'a doughnut by any other name will still be just as soft, sweet and yummy'.
      A late afternoon stroll up the Dogana, noticing that between San Marco and the Accademia bridge on the San Marco side there's still one, but just one, palazzo (below right) that's not been buffed up and (mostly) turned into a hotel. It still looks a refreshing wreck.
      Along the Zattere and up through Campo San Barnaba, for some minor shopping, and then towards the station, I found the place that does the good falafel, and indulged. Good to taste some chilli spice. On the way back the gelateria Tarcisio behind the Frari provided my last gelato. Cocco and mirtillo - a pair of fine flavours and a very winning combination.

Wednesday 22nd September
An uneventful trip home, which is good I suppose. A warning for the vegetarian, and the generally sensitive - the overpriced food and nibble shop at Marco Polo airport now sells meat. So, avoid if big pink hunks of dead animal hanging up gross you out. There was the usual too-early swarm to the EasyJet gate, which I think I may have triggered this time with my purposeful visit to the rubbish bin to dispose of my nectarine pip. I'll just leave you with a...

Domus Ciliota update...
Regular readers will know that I've stayed at the Domus Ciliota for three trips now, finding the place ideal (and cheap) for the lone traveller, and friendly. This time, however...well, they took the full amount for my stay from my credit-card account one month before my stay was due to start, causing me no end of banking bother. When I complained, upon arrival, I was told that this was because I had booked so far in advance. They admitted that I should have been told, and that this was a mistake. No apology, and no chance of a refund of the reduction which wasn't, but is usually, applied for staying a full week. I was promised that I'd get this overcharging back when I came to pay for my next stay. The repeated insistence that a refund was impossible to process left a bad taste, despite the friendly way the whole matter was dealt with. That and the fact that taking my money one month in advance is probably strictly illegal. I know that a few of you have gone to stay at the Ciliota on my recommendation, so I feel I must pass this experience on. And, call me harsh, stay somewhere else on my next trip. A shame.

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