October  2007

Wednesday 10th October   
Stop me if you've heard this before...crack of dawn flight...awake at 5.20...flipping heck it's dark...swift run to the airport...thanks again, Carole, you're truly a brick! The flight and the bus from Marco Polo are an event-free breeze. Walking from Piazzale Roma to the flat I find myself campanile-spotting, what with my newly-acquired knowledge gained from working on my Churches of Venice site. Taking photos of churches and making visits are set to be big parts of this trip. But first - food.

I stroll over the Accademia bridge for the traditional eating of the first slice of (verdura) pizza in Campo San Vio whilst canal watching. The pizza is coolish but fresh and tasty. I can report that the Salute dome is still covered in scaffolding, and that Nico's gelati are still the best. I choose the classic fior di latte and pear to start me off. Then it's a stroll past a few churches down in Dorsoduro that need photographing and back to the flat via the supermarket in Campo Santa Margherita. The joy of doing foreign food shopping and finding strange products! I got some milk, despite having not the faintest idea what the choices were, some cereal, a packet of frutti di bosco yoghurt-creme biscuits, a packet of rusky things made with carrots, almonds and orange juice, and my old-faves the fridge-living-but-not-ice-cream coconut Penguin bar things. And now it's time for a cup of tea and a rest.

After which a stroll up to San Marco, some more pizza, and home to write e-mails and this stuff, mess with some pics, and then early to bed with some telly on the laptop. Oh, and I bought some Lindt cinnamon flavour chocolate earlier, noticing that they also now do a bar that's cherry and chilli flavour. Hmmm.

 campanile top

Thursday 11th October
  Santo Stefano cloister

Santi Apostoli

San Girolamo
Going to sleep to the sound of the Grand Canal lapping against the steps outside my door is not ordinary for me, I have to say. And neither is waking up to the cawing of seagulls. But I can live with both, no trouble. Easy to live with also was my Bianco breakfast juice - pear with apple and a hint of banana. Add to that some tasty fruity cereal and the day's started pretty well. The weather's a bit overcast, but it's been brightening up as I've been breakfasting and I can hear encouraging church bells so it's time to wash and sally forth and get photographing them churches. But Cannaregio or Castello, that is the question.

Cannaregio turned out to be the answer, photographing and visiting some other churches on the way.

The Cloister of Santo Stefano (left) has its entrance in Campo Sant'Angelo. I recently learnt that it houses the Ministero delle Finanze and that you can visit in the mornings on weekdays. It's a large and handsome cloister but the wires and air-conditioning units, amongst other impositions, show it to be what you might call a working cloister. Some nice corners and bits of stonework though, so worth a visit.

San Luca is not a church I'd visited before either. Tucked away just north of Campo Manin, opposite a long-disused cinema, it's pink on the outside and not entirely fascinating on the inside. There are paintings by Veronese and Palma il Giovane, of course. Pietro Aretino was buried here in 1556 but his tomb got covered over during a 19th Century restoration. My enjoyment of the place was also somewhat spoilt by the priest/attendant talking on his mobile, and even more when his second mobile started ringing with an annoying cheesy tune, and he neither switched it off nor answered it.

To San Salvador I'd previously had a hurried (well, swiftly hurried out) visit, so I lingered this time. It's got a lovely dark grey interior, which reminded me of some favourite churches in Florence. Despite the darkish stone it's a well-lit church - large but not huge - with three domes. The art highlight is a Titian Annunciation, but I didn't get to see this because it had annoyingly been loaned to an exhibition in Vienna. There's also The Supper at Emmaus, which might be a Bellini, a school of Bellini, or a Carpaccio, depending on which book you read. The church itself covers its options by having both artists' names scribbled on masking tape stuck on the plastic sign nearby, with question marks.

I visited San Giovanni Cristostomo to check out the late Bellini in there that's growing on me (but I didn't have any 50 cent coins for the light) and the Sebastiano del Piombo over the high altar, which I'd read about but not noticed before. It's one of those altarpieces that looks more impressive in photographs, because in situ it's just not easy to see due to distance and darkness. The Tullio Lombardo relief of The Coronation of the Virgin you can get close enough to, though, and it's mighty fine.

Santi Apostoli was a new one for me, and what a big dark box it is. Which goes to throw into relief the lovely little Corner chapel. (It shows on the outside as the pale-brick domed bit in the photo above left.) A bright and stony sanctuary, it's older than the rest of the church and was built by Codussi for poor old Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus. The chapel also has the tombs of her brother and father, but her body was moved to a big, flat and plain tomb in San Salvador. If I was her I'd have stayed here. The chapel also has a luminous altarpiece by Giambattista Tiepolo of The Martyrdom of Saint Lucy, whose just-removed eyes stare at you from a plate, and yes they do follow you around the chapel. The church has a sweet old fresco fragment in the chapel to the right of the high altar, and on the left wall there's a spooky little dark nun's balcony, or something like that.

After grabbing some lunch I wended my photographic way through Cannaregio, stopping at the railway station and then wending down via Campo Santa Margherita and a frutti di bosco and fior di latte gelato, to the flat for a rest.

(Opposite the station is the church of San Simeone Piccolo, the first thing visitors see when they come out of the station. It's currently unfortunately covered in scaffolding which, even more unfortunately, is itself covered with a huge advertising hoarding. How tasteful.)

Friday 12th October
As I can't sleep with a ticking clock by the bed and due to the flat having no windows which catch the morning sun...well I was surprised to discover it was the wrong side of 9.30 when I finally got up this morning. So I rushed the wash and the breakfast and headed off towards San Marco.

I found the elusive San Gallo, which is just north of that big wide bit of canal where the gondoliers congregate at the north-west corner of the Piazza San Marco. The church is open as it has a Biennale exhibit by Bill Viola in it, but as it's a video thing the church itself cannot be seen inside due to the darkness, which is a shame. Still, at least the video installation was just as tedious as they usually are.

San Zaccaria is looking spiffy now on the outside (right) after its recent clean. I went inside to commune with my much-beloved Bellini. There were only about 15 or 16 people in the church, but after the third mobile had rung loudly I was about to do the same to someone's neck, so I left.

San Martino (below right) I've never found open, and it wasn't today, but only the inner glass doors were closed and so I got a little look in. It has a squarish and darkish aisleless interior, with those strange red curtain-material coverings on the columns.

I ended up near San Zanipolo for lunch, followed by a limone and pistachio gelato. Attempting to get back to the flat (near the Accademia) from there, without a map, I found myself near the Rialto. Why do I always end up at the Rialto whenever I try to navigate mapless?

After a rest I typed up the above ramblings and then went out and rambled around Dorsoduro a bit - behind the Accademia and up to San Pantalon, taking church pics as I went. I always get San Trovaso and San Pantalon mixed up as they both suggest trousers, to me anyway. I visited San Trovaso, not for the first time, but it's not a church that sticks in the mind - the net curtains and the piped new-age music are memorable enough, but for the wrong reasons. San Pantalon, on the other hand, which I visited for the first time this evening, will live with me for a good while. I had been prepared somewhat by reading about the ceiling - the largest oil painting in Venice and a trompe treat - but when you're actually under it...wow!  The big problem with this church is gloom, it has to be said: it's a dark church with very few lights. But once your eyes acclimatise the ceiling reveals itself as something special. The looming architecture and the hoards of characters - you'll swear that there are some actual people up there, so convincing are the protruding limbs. Some ceiling paintings impress merely with their scale and ambition, but this one is artistically impressive too. There's also a Veronese here, but you have to put your .50 in the slot for the light or you'll see nothing, literally, thanks to the darkness and the reflections. If this church ever gets a clean and good lighting it'll blow people away.

Then coming back through Campo Santa Margherita my day was made complete. Not only did one the fruit stalls have some uve fragola - my fruit discovery from last year - but they also had giuggiole. These are a small brown fruit, looking very like a nut, and tasting like a very nutty apple. These were recommended to me only yesterday by a German
Venice blog chum, and I'm grateful. I'm having a very tasty fruit-fest as I'm typing this and feeling that all is good in the world. Oh and I have a new cake to try with some tea in a minute, called a fornarina, with chocolate and marzipan promised. Sigh!

San Zaccaria

San Martino

A photograph of the giuggiole
 is with the Saturday cake below.

Saturday 13th October
Woken up just before 9 by men with unquiet voices and a very squeaky trolley in the calle by my door. After breakfast I made my way towards the Miracoli church, without a map, and soon found myself by the church of San Zulian, near San Marco, not a good result. I was heading to the Miracoli, slowly, to check out a junk/antiques market where, it was suggested, I might find old postcards of churches. There were quite a few old postcards on offer, but mostly of views of San Marco and the Salute. The market sprawled all the way past San Canzian, and had some fascinating bits of stuff. But I bought nothing and headed of to tick off a few more churches in Cannaregio.

Whilst wandering and photographing I found San Felice open - a first - and it's a calm grey gem on the inside, much in the style of Brunelleschi, which was totally not what I expected from my book's sniffy talk of a radical reworking of the interior in the 19th Century.

Also somewhat obscure is Santa Maria dei Servi, just north of the Maddalena, which once was huge, according to old prints. But all that's left now is a rebuilt and much smaller church and the impressive gothic gate to the old monastery (below right) which is now a hostel.

After a few more churches found and photographed lunch was a slice of pizza and a can of lemon iced tea sitting with my back to the Palazzo Labia. It was somewhat disturbing to feel definite throbbing vibrations, like in London some places when a tube train goes under you, but continuous here. The palazzo houses a TV company so I hope this was just my sitting near some generators, or something.

I crossed the Scalzi bridge and wound slowly back through Santa Croce towards the Rialto. I've not spent enough time over here on my last few visits, I now realise. This area is just so damn calm, and still utterly really Venetian, after the crowds of the Lista di Spagna. And the canals are so still.

I had a stracciatella and lemon gelato whilst wandering, and boy was it a good one! The lemon almost made you wince, it was so lemony. I also bought a pane di doge, because it looked more like a bun than a biscuit, but it turned out to be more like a scone in consistency. Nice though. I provide a photograph below right with the giuggiole, those nutty fruits mentioned yesterday. Oh, and a saw a few nice cats today too. The perkiest one is below.


Santa Maria gate


Santa Marta

Sunday 14th October

Today started out cloudy and dingy but, and I hope I'm not spoiling the tension here, it got a lot sunnier later. I thought I'd venture down into Dorsoduro again and see if I couldn't finish it off, church-photography wise. Sunday is not a good day to visit churches, as there are usually services on. (Saturdays the danger is weddings, and we all know how dangerous weddings can be.) The last two churches in this sestiere are about as far west as you can go - one in the docks area and one attached to the prison.

Santa Marta in the docks is out past all the apartment blocks, beyond San Nicolo. Passing San Nicolo there was a service on and I could hear singing. It sounded like a good congregation, and there was clapping along, which I wouldn't have expected. Santa Marta is a very clean brick box (below left). It seems to have had all the life and aging scrubbed off, leaving nice warm-coloured bricks but very little character. As this is where ferries come in there are also roads out here, with cars! Very unnerving.

Santa Maria Maggiore, by contrast with Santa Marta, is crumbling away picturesquely as a seemingly forgotten corner of the prison named after it, with the only new building a guard post on the top of a high wall attached to the back of the church. A guard patrolling along this wall started staring at me as I took photographs so I moved swiftly on.

While I was all the way over here I thought I'd tick off another isolated church - Sant'Andrea della Zirada - behind Piazzale Roma. A sweet little church, but unloved and well-hidden behind the multi-story car parks.

I headed home via a pizza and ice cream place behind the Frari. Lunch was a spinach and ricotta calzone, followed by a tasty coconut and orange-chocolate gelato. I sat on the steps to the canal in the campo behind the Scuola di San Rocco to eat my lunch and one pigeon was so keen to share he jumped up onto my thigh! There was some kind of peace fair going on in the cloisters by the Frari so I got to look in there, but the photographic opportunities where somewhat limited by the stalls and such.

Venetian cakes being not exactly soft, I had a craving for something, well, doughnutish. So when a shop on my way back had such a thing I bought it, but I didn't catch the name. It turned out to be soft and doughnutty, which was expected, but with apricot jam in it, which was not. But nice.

In the evening I gave in and bought myself a new map, and some little cannoli-type pastries (left) on a walk around San Marco, where I took a photo of that snazzy building near the Fenice with the setting sun shining on its angels (below).

Monday 15th October
Them Italian men with their unoiled trolley wheels woke me at eight, but that's OK - I've only got two days left, and it's sunny! Out under the blue skies by nine, I headed towards San Polo and Santa Croce.

A few churches around San Polo got photographed, and then I reached San Zan Degola and it was open. And what a refreshing little church it is, having bare stone walls, mostly, with some of the painted decoration remaining, and very few paintings. A wooden ship's-keel roof is held up by eight fine chunky columns. There are a couple of fresco fragments which decorated the entrance and back of the left-hand chapel and are now mounted on the sides of this chapel. The right hand chapel has a painting of Michael fighting the dragon, which I assume is a recent find as my, admittedly quite old, guidebook doesn't mention it. It does mention a pair of school-of-Veronese paintings, but I didn't see these.

Then on to San Simeon Grande, which was open too. This one is smaller, strangely enough, and has an unusual asymmetric interior - the right-hand aisle is much wider than the left.  Still, another calm and pleasingly stony interior, without any great art, but with two men trying to get the central heating going; which, judging by the distant throbbing that started up just before I left, they succeeded in doing.

After these churches the church of the Scalzi, by the railway station, couldn't come as more of a contrast. An unrelaxing baroque riot in marble, with walls that might make you think of dark salami, statues aplenty, and a painting on every surface. The baldachin over the high altar is huge with twisty columns and statues of sibyls lounging on the architecture. I'm sorry but I can't take these extravagant baroque churches seriously, they're so over the top and overpopulated I get a headache. Some warm and glowing contrast is provided by a couple of the chapels having Tiepolo ceiling vaults.

I had a cheese and salad roll sitting by Palazzo Labia again,  sharing it with some pushy pigeons and sparrows. Then I strolled through Cannaregio, ticking off my last two churches in that sestiere. I also met a cat, on a wall, who looked friendly, meowed and let me stroke his head, but then he took a swipe at me and jumped over a fence, which is a lesson to us all.

I then walked back to the flat, indulging in a stracciatella and lemon gelato and collecting a cake on the way - a pane di uva (like a big current bun see right). Oh and the new map, produced by the Touring Club Italiano and costing 7, was a big success, I recommend it.

After my visit and mention of Santa Marta yesterday news reaches me of a local ska band who sing a song about the
place. Click below to play.


Pal van Axel

Tuesday 16th October

I'm sorry if I'm sounding like a record stuck in a groove but...this morning, well before 7.30, a boat, with a crane, delivering sand, for an hour.

I had forgotten that one of my to-do's this trip was to visit the Palazzo van Axel, which is open to the public due to it being used to house the Mexican Biennale exhibit. So I tooled over there and it was a treat. Several internal courtyards full of weathered sculptures and staircases (above and left) giving views into the courtyards and over the roofs towards, for example, the roof of the Miracoli church. Unusual views and usually-unseen rooms with odd old fireplaces. Some of the video installations were quite interesting too. And that's not a sentence that I type often. A lot involved the viewer triggering reaction in the art and the best of these had images of recumbent people projected onto the floor and barely visible. When you stood over them to make a shadow and make them more visible they reacted in some way to your presence. Spooky and clever.

I then made my way to San Zanipolo, for a visit, but there was a service on, so I went to photograph San Lazzaro, the church in the ospedale. When I got there the outer door was open, which it never is, but there was a funeral in the church.  San Zanipolo was back in tourist mode by the time I got back so in I went. It wasn't too busy, and I appreciated it more than I have in the past, but it still pales beside the comparable Frari, due to it having less great art and being a simpler space. What you see when you come in the door is what you get: tombs of doges mostly. Some of these are by the Lombardi, and are lovely, I admit, but the Bellini triptych is early and a bit dull and there's not much else to raise the spirits, except the Chapel of the Rosary with its Veroneses, which I did like.

I went and photographed San Francesco della Vigna before lunch, watching a grubby white cat stalking pigeons, who were so not scared by this ultra-visible puss that they weren't even flying away, just strolling away from him. A slice of pizza margherita and a stiff walk with a gelato saw me back at the flat for a rest.
I was going to try, but coming all this way and not visiting the Accademia was just not possible. And visiting around 5 0'clock turned out to be a good time for it not being crowded. The rebuilding continues, as ever, and ever, and so there are room closures and disappointments still. The Tempest is now in Room 3, which is a bit of a better spot than its recent time in room 20-something. The room which was the old church is now closed too, which was a disappointment, and of course there's no word about this as you enter. There were some paintings which the captions say you don't usually see, in place of some gaps, which was nice, including a very nice Titian Madonna and Child near the shop, but it turns out these were just displaced pictures from the closed rooms. The problem rooms and cracked walls are mostly those which surround the building site that is the central courtyard, with its crane, which is worrying. I'm really looking forward to the end of the rebuilding, as they have so much more art stored than they could show before, but how we wait!

Home tomorrow.

Wednesday 17th October
My journey home could not have been easier: only about a half-dozen people on the bus to Marco Polo, three seats to myself on the plane to Gatwick, I waited all of three minutes for the train into London, which was almost empty, and then a pleasant walk from Wandsworth Common Station during which I realised just how much I'd missed trees this past week, during this time of the year when trees are at their best. Let's hear it for trees! The cats were confused to see me back and then affectionate, which is the reaction I get from most creatures, except sometimes the other way around.

Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips