Soggy Sunday

Sunday was grey and drizzly after overnight rain and wind. In front of our apartment we met a very lost sweet couple fromTaiwan, looking for where to get a gondola. We walked them over to the gondola dock near Ca d’Oro. We had been meaning to go see the Biennial installation there, so went in.

The ground floor with its stunning marble inlay flooring was flooding and unfortunately we were quickly kicked out before we could get the chance to fully appreciate the interesting lamp sculptures there.

Upstairs, the contemporary pieces were scattered about among the art collection, which made for interesting contrasts. We enjoyed it, as well as just being in such a wonderful late gothic Palazzo.

The weather was improving, so we wandered over to the bar in Campo Santi Apostoli for coffee and to share a cornetto while we people watched.

We followed a walk through the area from my Blue Guide, finding familiar sites like the beautiful Palazzo Van Axel that hosted a Biennale show last time; and places new to us like this gorgeous old archway. Probably 12th century, the carvings are worn but still good in the more protected areas. This little Campo carries the name Corte seconda del Milion, one of Marco Polo’s nicknames as he was thought to exaggerate his tale of travel in the east.

And this sobering reminder of later history.

Another hidden delight was late 15th century Chiesa San Giovanni Crisostomo. Dim inside with some lovely features including a Bellini.

And going through a dark sottoportego to find this remaining gothic staircase on Ca Lion in a tiny Campo with wellhead on the Canal.

A pre lunch drink at the Secret Bar, then we walked down for our lunch reservation at old favorite Vini da Gigio. It was surprisingly quiet for a Sunday lunch, but by now the rain was cominG down hard and sensible people were staying home.

We began by sharing their Venetian seafood platter, the best version I’d had on this trip. With razor clams, yum. Then a dish which turned out to be a weak spot, gnocchi with truffles. Very large gnocchi with a lot of cheese, just too heavy a dish for me. But the nice glasses of wine helped. We then split Osso bucco, a very good rendition of tender veal with vegetables, with a side dish of sautéed spinach. Too full for dessert, or even one of their wonderful grappas. Next time.

A bit more wandering through the fondamentas of western Cannaregio, then home to read and relax.

We had Jan and Ken, and their friends Donna and Andy over for a light dinner of salami, salads, and wine. We crowded around our little table, and enjoyed conversation. Nice end to a relaxing day.

Plan B

On Saturday we first crossed to Rialto early to get something for dinner. The shrimp looked great, so got a half kilo. As Larry gave our order and I stepped back, I noticed someone taking a photo with him in it. Pretty funny. Also got more of the tiny artichokes and some radicchio and lettuce.

Back home then headed over to the Arsenale area of the Biennale, figuring with the drenching rain, people would stay cozily inside. As we got off the vaporetto, we saw we were were wrong, wrong wrong. Streams of people were walking over, and as we turned the corner we encountered hundreds of people in line just to enter the doorway for those who already had tickets, as we did.

Quick discussion, get the hell out of Dodge.

Plan B was to go to Casa de Tre Oci on Giudecca. This is a small photography museum I had wanted to get to. So back on the Vap, holding on to not skid on the slippery floors. Through the window I watched a determined gondolier row a group of people huddled under umbrellas. Well, they’d have an adventure to talk about, I guess.

The museum is in a beautifully updated 1913 Gothic Revival house built by an artist, the tre oci referring to three eye shaped windows overlooking the Guidecca canal. The current exhibit is the work of Ferdinando Scianna, a photographer I’d never heard of before.

Born in Sicily, his mostly black and white photos document time and place as well as his eye for composition and capturing moments. There was also a free audio guide in several languages of him discussing his work–running away from then returning to Sicily, the emotional toll of photographing other’s trauma, taking portraits. The show was divided into Memory, Journey, and Story. I loved them all, but here are just a few.

For lunch, we walked along the canal for about 10 minutes In the drizzle and then down a tiny side Calle to Trattoria Altanella.

Cozy inside, quiet at 12:30 but filled up by 1. We split a seppie Nero pasta with shrimp and vegetables, and then shared frito misto. The pasta was very good, and the frito had lots of fish, making Larry happy. Good solid typical Venetian cooking, nothing fancy or exciting.

As long as we were there, we went to see Palladio’s Il Redentore, built by Venice after the Plague at the end of the 16th century. From the water you see the massive front with dome and pediment , with wide steeps leading up. Inside is white and grey, the lightness interrupted by large, rather gloomy artwork. Around the side in the Sacristy is a collection of macabre wax heads of Franciscans from 1710. Very creepy.

Decided to return home and relax with reading and wine. Leftover mushrooms for dinner.

Let The Sun Shine

It started out as a sunny day, so we decided to spend most of our time walking. From our apartment in Cannaregio, we first walked over to the Rialto bridge. I love this little Campo with palazzo, and a shrine around the corner.

Today was All Saints Day, a holiday with businesses and schools closed; and the start of a long weekend. Many Italians were here visiting family, both resident and long resting on the cemetery island. It seemed that Venice was filling up with not only the usual tourists, but also many Italian, German and French families trying to get a little Venice weekend in their lives before winter. The congestion around the Rialto bridge was so thick we had to fight our way around to get to Palazzo Bembo to see the rest of the Interiors show we had enjoyed the other day.

All was serene inside, except for an aggressively fashionably dressed group posing for photos in the windows. We enjoyed the views down. In the exhibit were some quite interesting pieces we missed last time.

Nelson Akamo from South Africa.

Paintings by a Russian artist, Alexy Tronin.

I was very taken by a video and painting series showing an older woman walking through a variety of landscapes, some desolate, some lush, some man made environments, some natural. One I found particularly fascinating was of a sort of boat graveyard full of rusting, falling apart boats that each seemed to have personalities. Damn, I didn’t note the artist.

Another interesting installation was by a Chilean plastic surgeon, who had an artistic past but was pressured by family into studying medicine. His aesthetic bent had him specializing in plastic surgery; but then he starting painting again, his canvas the human body.

And loved these paintings using the opposites on the color wheel by Israeli Ika Abravamel.

We resumed our walk slowly negotiating the mass of people on the bridge. Once in San Polo we got off the main pedestrian path, and the crowds disappeared. We just aimlessly wandered in San Polo and Santa Croce, ducking into Biennale offsite exhibits or across bridges and down narrow calles which empty into a Campo.

For lunch, we tried a newish Sicilian place I’d heard about. Small menu of Sicilian standards, done well. It was busy with a mostly Italian speaking crowd, nice to see a different regional food getting the love. We split fried appetizers, a pistachio spaghetti with shrimp, and swordfish involtini. Not quite as awesome as much of what I’d had in Sicily, but good and different from Venetian food. Nice owners, too. Baccaretto, on Corte de Trozzi. It got busy, so reserve.

Kept walking, past the Frari, through Campos with people sitting in the sun, trying to ward off the increasing chill.

Stopped in to Ca Foscari, where the 15th century university building was hosting a show of Russian painter Geliy Korshev. Soviet Realism huge portraits and still lifes. Some fascinating things from both an art and historical view. And I love how he used red.

Into Dorsoduro, down quiet Rios to the 17th century San Trovaso boatyard. Then to the Zatarre, where the people who weren’t in San Marco were strolling. We got gelato from Nico, which we couldn’t finish, a shame. Then back home.

Early that morning I had made a mushroom ragu from fresh mushrooms and dried porcini. With a bitter greens salad, we had for a late dinner it over a thin layer of polenta, classic cold weather food.

Splitting Up

On Thursday, I had arranged a Venetian cooking class with chef Carolyn Burkhardt, American born but living and cooking in Venice for many years. We met up with Florida friend Jan at Bar Puppa, along with her friend Donna. It was great to see Jan again! We walked across Venice, fighting the crowds around the Rialto bridge. Once in Dorsoduro, we met up with Nan in Campo S. Margarita and then Carolyn, who brought us to her family’s palazzo on the Campo. Upstairs, Carolyn has a huge (by Venetian standards) kitchen in her pretty apartment. We got to work, first making traditional league de gatto (cats tongue) cookies and a mascarpone-based Doge’s Cream for dessert.

We made fresh squid ink pasta, a very traditional Venetian preparation. Carolyn laughed that Halloween seemed an appropriate day to make black pasta. To my surprise, you can get the little packets of ink at the supermarket here, and Carolyn gave us each one to bring home.

Mixing the egg gradually into the flour takes a bit of practice, and then the dough is kneaded before being wrapped and left to rest. The sauce today was another Venetian tradition, Alla Busara, shrimp with tomatoes. Carolyn shared a tip for getting the most flavor and texture from shrimp, a brief brining.

Carolyn had prepared some toppings for cichetti, which we assembled. With a glass of Prosecco, a delicious snack, especially since I’d skipped breakfast.

We rolled out the pasta by hand, Carolyn checking carefully and giving guidance so we had an even thickness. We then cut the pasta, and Carolyn demonstrated how to fill and form two stuffed kinds, ravioli and tortelli. Our stuffing was baccala montecata, the traditional creamed cod that I’ve only eaten as a cicheti topping. We cut the remaining pasta into tagliatelle. More than a bit of variation in our ravioli and tortellini sizes and shapes, this is something that will take practice to do by hand.

Then the pasta went into pots, the sauce finished, and we sat down to eat. The baccala made for a nice filling, and I was pleasantly surprised by the delicate flavor of the squid ink pasta, subtly tasting of the sea. I also loved the sauce, with the fresh tomatoes instead of the purée tomato sauce I’ve had in restaurant alla busara dishes.

Fun, informative class, and Carolyn gives excellent instruction. She can be contacted at

clbinitaly@hotmail.com for information and to reserve.

Pictorial proof I was there too.

Meanwhile, Larry had decided to go find the ancient Jewish cemetery on Lido, which we had heard about when we toured the synagogues in the Ghetto. It is about a 15 minute walk from the vaporetto stop, and luckily the gate was upon. The cemetery was established in 1386. You can read about it here- Jewish Cemetery on Lido

Larry met up with me aftward, and we took the vaporetto to the Arsenale for some more of the Biennale. We only stayed about an hour, since we had week long tickets which allowed us to return. I find the Biennale more enjoyable and rewarding if I don’t have to try to take the whole thing in one gulp. Not too much was pulling me this afternoon, although I did enjoy a textile installation of crocheted coral and a weird and funny video of sandwiches being made and unmade with ingredients like tomato and businessmen.

The work that most resonated with me on this visit was a sound installation by Shilpta Gulpta called “For In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit.” The artist describes it as a “symphony of recorded voices which speak or sing the verses of 100 poets who were imprisoned for their work or politics from the 7th century through today. ” You walk through a field of spikes which impale scraps of paper holding fragments of poetry, with microphones above and audio of whispered or sung poetry. It is mesmerizing, with an unsettling mixture of gentleness and harshness. I found it compelling.

Ugh, there’s a Grandi Navi , big ship, going through the mouth of the canal.

Back home on the vap, very crowded this time of day, especially on the start of the long weekend of All Saints Day tomorrow. We first had a drink in Campo S. Apostoli , watching the kids dressed in Halloween costumes careening around trick or treating at the shops. Then home for leftover fish and salad for dinner.

Art in Many Forms

Wednesday morning was cool and grey, but as usual we were up early so decided to go to the Rialto markets to get a few things for dinner. First, we walked the Pescheria to see what fish appealed.

We got a beautiful little swordfish steak, and then went to my favorite vegetable stand staffed by an older couple where there’s always a line. A huge head of Romesco, one of my favorite cold weather vegetables that is challenging to find at home. Then went to the stand where we spotted two lonely bunches of zucchini flowers. Asked if he’d have any tomorrow, the vendor laughed, “yes, next year!” So the last fiori di zucca went in the bag. and I couldn’t resist some mushrooms for tomorrow.

Crossed the Canal, and popped into the little San Erasmo farm store. Everything from their organic farm on the island, strictly seasonal. When the owner learned we were from Boston, he and Larry had a spirited exchange about Larry Bird and the 80’s Celtics. Two kinds of radicchio (my new obsession) and some apples went into the bag.

A stop at the bakery for the crunchy dark bread we like, the deli for a bit of fresh ricotta, and back home.

It was still barely 10 am, so we thought we’d go to one of the art installations around town. I had read that the group show at the European Cultural Center at Palazzo Bembo was good. And yes, we loved it. We actually only got through one of the two floors, deciding to return on another day to finish. The theme was Personal Structures.

Lots of variation, much of it wonderful. A few things I was particularly struck by…

The Hidden Library, a two room installation by Jim Rattenbury of sculturalmpieces with video.

Song of Songs, a romantic, pink hued room by Tineke Smith, where everything invites touch– including a pink knitted piano cover!

Eerie and evocative paintings of an abandoned German TB sanatorium.

Beautiful paintings from a Swiss artist

And this was amazing–Two rooms by Frederick Uriel called Plastic Reef, constructed all from throwaway plastics.

Graceful sculptures from Helene Jacubowitz.

Another stunner–in a little alcove, a shimmering textured painting, overplayed by video and music. This was so mesmerizing I watched it twice. Artist is Lala Azra from Indonesia.

For lunch, we walked over to Ai Promessi Sposi, and split a spaghetti with clams and then a frito misto. Larry was happy because there were lots of different itty bitty fishies. A bit over salted to my taste, but still fresh and good.

I had really wanted to see this year’s Biennale prize winner, an Opera in the Lithuanian Pavillion. Staged in an abandoned warehouse at the back end of Castello and performed only two days a week, we arrived to find a long line of people. The line moved every now and then, I think we waited maybe 40 minutes or so while chatting with a woman from Parma and eavesdropping on a really annoying guy bragging about artists he knows.

We climbed stairs to a balcony overlooking a pretend beach, complete with sand, people lounging on blankets, kids playing, dogs sleeping, hundreds of props, and an opera in progress. The libretto is in English, and is slyly funny and quietly perceptive as people sing about the everyday things that are contributing to our plant’s problems. I thought it wonderful, and could have stayed much longer than our allotted 20 minutes.

Back home, rested, then made stuffed zucchini flowers, swordfish “saur” styleand veggies for dinner.

Let it Rain

Although Venice is undoubtedly gorgeous on a sunny day, she also has her charms in the rain. The light gets even softer, land melts into fog, the wet stones under your feet add reflections. Just don’t get caught in one of the overcrowded calles near a tourist hotspot, you’ll lose an eye from someone’s umbrella.

We took the Lagoon-side vaporetto over to Giardini for a morning at the Biennale, the staggeringly huge bi yearly contemporary art extravaganza. It is always a very mixed bag, with some installations leaving me scratching my head or wondering why the artist didn’t go into plumbing instead. But some are either fascinating, intriguing, or just plain beautiful, if often (as Philippa and I agreed on the most nonjudgmental word) Challenging.

The Giardini holds most of the big national pavilions. At opening the ticket lines were long, but since the space is huge it doesn’t feel overcrowded once you get past the entry gate.

As usual, many video installations this year. The one I really loved was from France. Layered and beautiful, full of stunning or odd images as a group of friends travel through a dreamlike adventure, finally getting to Venice. The floor under your feet is padded and soft, and in the dark space are soft sculptures, some you can sit on.

French Pavillion

Another I enjoyed was from Canada, featuring a long, subtlety funny and ultimately sobering conversation between a group of Inuit elders, a young interpreter and an anonymous Whiteman who wants them to move to a settlement. Taken from the history of the Inuit’s forced relocation, it amplifies the huge divide of language and culture.

The Russian Pavillion started out ponderous and heavy, reflecting on the Hermitage and the story of the prodigal son. But downstairs was a hilarious kinetic sculpture, full of bobbing figures and witty images and text.

Larry liked the American Pavillion with sculptures from Martin Puryear, they didn’t do much for me. A few other things I enjoyed, but nothing else was particularly memorable. By this time it was almost 2, so we walked over to Calle Garibaldi to our favorite bar there, Cafe Refolu for some wine and little sandwiches. We will return on another day, I think afternoon would be less crowded as people run out of steam.

Then a soggy vap ride home, stopping to scope out the organic San Erasmus farm store and get a few things at the bigger Coop on Strada Nuova. Quite the selection of polenta to choose from.

Hung out and read in the apartment, and later walked further west in Cannaregio to meet Jonathan and Philippa at Cafe Dodo for a Spritz. Then an excellent dinner at Osteria Da Robia. A bit upscale, and good cooking. Larry and I split gnocchi with crab and bottarga, and then I had duck breast and a beautiful plate of vegetables. We split pistachio bavarese and a panda cotta for dessert. Another enjoyable meal in great company.

Murano

It is pretty funny that in our previous three trips to Venice we’d never made it over to Murano, the “Glass Island.” I think I had always lumped it into the box of tourist attraction, full of crowds buying Chinese imitation Murano glass. It is that, but it is also an important piece of Venice’s history, a community and heritage in danger of disappearing.

Our last time in Venice I had met local guide Andrea D’Alpaos , among other things art historian, Gospel music director and arranger, and most importantly for today, local boy. Raised on Murano, he conducted a unique tour of the back streets, peppering history with boyhood recollections and musing on Murano’s changes. Jonathan and Philippa joined us, and another couple. As we walked, Andrea traced the history of the island and how forces are changing the traditional industry and community.

One stop which I was enthralled by was the ancient church Santa Maria e San Donato. Most of the present structure was built between 1125 and 1140. Beautiful facade on the eastern side which faces a canal, as people would first see the church when arriving by the water. The western side with entrance is elegantly simple. Inside, the inlaid floor is marvelous, with cosmatesque geometric designs and animal motifs. The floor has been painstakingly restored.

That beautiful simplicity is again evident in the apse mosaics, with Mary surrounded by gold. Andrea asked the caretaker to let us into the small room to the side, containing Roman plaques and the mummified remains of St. Donatus.

Another stop on our walk was a very large glassworks, where we watched workers creating a large fish shape. It was fascinating to see the amount of work and care that goes into such pieces. I will admit for not caring for Some of what is being made in that workshop, but I can certainly appreciate the craftsmanship and years of work involved.

Andrea did show us to just a few of the shops lining the Rio where high quality glass is being sold. Much of the glass sold in a lot of the shops is not made on Murano, much from China. I did see some beautifully sleek contemporary pieces I loved from local glass makers. And I did buy a few earrings for gifts.

Oh, this was hilarious. When we met up with Andrea, another couple came over, said “hi Andrea, ” and introduced themselves. I thought, huh, I guess Andrea combined a tour, I’m fine with that since it brings the per person price down. When the tour ended, they got very embarrassed, and we all realized that they had joined us by mistake, they were supposed to meet a different Andrea at F. Nove! Andrea had assumed they were with us, I assumed Andrea had brought them! Pretty funny, but they agreed that they probably got a better tour. We ate sandwiches together, and went on our way.