Dentistry and More Art

I had been having a toothache that was getting progressively worse. Through a friend of a friend (Thank you N!) I had an appointment with Dr. Pra Wednesday morning. He had a little English, we learned some new words in Italian, we managed. Some x-rays, poking, scraping and disinfecting later, I walked out with a prescription for antibiotics, painkillers, and a x-ray as a souvenir.

We took the Vaporetto over to the Ponta dela Dogana, a contemporary art museum in Dorsoduro. Larry walked back home to get our forgotton Biennale tickets and fill my prescriptions. I loaded up on ibuprofen and went to the Damien Hirst exhibit “Treasures of the Unbelievable.” He had imagined a story about an escaped slave who got rich, and sailed with a boatload of art and trade goods. The ship sunk, and the “found” artifacts are spread out through the exhibition space. It’s really wild–tons of sculpture, some encrusted with coral and sea life, gold pieces for ancient cultures, pots and ceramics, jewelry, enormous figures, fantastical objects. It took years to create, and just when you think you’ve seen enough, there’s another surprise around the corner.

 

 

 

Larry met up with me and we continued on to the Biennale at the Giardini. First we stopped for a light (and easy to chew!) lunch at El Rofolo on via Garibaldi. We didn’t spend too much time there, but got to the American, Japanese, Canadian, and Australian pavilions.

 

Mark Bradford in the USA pavilion had huge canvases and forms, richly layerd with paint, fabric and paper. I thought the canvases were lovely, there was so muh color, texture, and shapes harmoniously placed on each piece.

Mysterious series of staged photographs of an Aboriginal woman. Australia Pavilion. I think this was one of my favorite national exhibits.

Rooms filled with enormous structures you walk around, through and under. Great Britain

Fountain surrounding sculptures of figures man-made and from nature. Canada

 

We took the vaporetto the long way home, enjoying our last sights of Venice. And to pack, sigh. For our last dinner, we made a reservation at Vini al Gigio a few minutes walk away in Canareggio. Excellent meal. We shared antipasti of scallops, then repeated some Venice favorites, Larry with frito misto and I with fegato. We split a chocolate-hazelnut semifreddo for dessert, and walked back home.

Because of my knee and tooth issues we didn’t do nearly as much wandering as I would have liked to, but taking it slow and spending time just sitting on our hidden deck on the rio made for an enjoyable and relaxing time. We know we’ll be back. Next stop, Friuli!

 

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Through the Lagoon

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On Tuesday, Shannon had booked a boat tour for her tour guests, and invited us to come along. Guide Andrea met us on the corner, and took us to a nearby rio where Marco was waiting with his beautifully painted traditional Venetian boat. Climbing aboard and out with my bum knee was a bit of a challenge, but with help and practice, it got easier as the day progressed.

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We glided through the rios and entered the Lagoon. Andrea, who was born on Murano, gave us a basic history of Venice and the islands in the Lagoon. We went through Murano, past glass factories and showrooms in old buildings, and then through the newer part of town. Back in the Lagoon we went past several scarcly inhabited islands, and then we got out on Torcello.

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Torcello had a growing population starting in the 6th century, and by the 12th was a large community centered on wool production. The growth of Venice, the silting up of the river, and malaria led to the population dwindling by the 15th century. Just a handful live there now.

The major legacy of Torcello’s power is the fabulous Byzantine basilica, started in the 7th century. The mosaics inside are truly stunning. We had visited Torcello on our last trip, but were quite happy to revisit to see the glittering masterpieces.The Last Judgement is a 11th century showstopper, stretching  across and up the whole west wall.  No photos allowed, do an image search on Google to see some marvelous photos.

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We docked a short distance away n Torcello, and ate a nice picnic lunch. The sun was quite strong, and we glad that Marco had a sham canopy to shade us. Padding alongside the boat came a tiny baby duck,. After a while it became obvious there were no mama or siblings in sight. Marco scooped him up, and the little guy seemed quite happy to be held. Marco made some calls, and eventually found a wildlife sanctuary that could take him tomorrow.

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We continued on, docking at Burano, known for its former lace-making industry and brightly painted fishermen’s houses. Hal and Fynne went off to shop for lace (most of what is sold is made in China nowadays, but Andrew steered them to two good shops that still have some real lace.

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Larry and I walked around, absorbing the fantastic rainbows of houses. We met up with Andrea at one of the lace shops, and inside were two lovely older women making lace. One of them told me the piece she and other women are working on is going to be a UNESCO heritage piece, She told me that different women specialize in different aspects of the work. Such fine thread, such skill and precision. Amazing.

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Back in the boat we returned to Venice, baby duck (or goose, someone else had told Marco) in a shaded box with a capful of water. I hope the little guy is OK.

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At dinnertime we wandered out for a glass of wine and cichetti with Shannon, and said our goodbyes. Larry and I had a light dinner at Da’Alberto, which was OK but nothing more. We then wandered out, and ended the evening watching the boats on the Grand Canal.

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Biennale Arsenale

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Monday morning we took the vaporetto along the lagoon-side of Canareggio, swinging around to get off at the Arsenale. This part of the Biennale has fewer of the big national pavilions, and I was interested in concentrating on the series of themed pavilions. Earth, Community, Shamans, Color, Time, Dionysians. Artists chose to interpret the themes in very personal ways, and I adored this installment.

Maria Lei from Sardinia used the folklore of the area as the framework of her several pieces, many of them taking the form of books, or pages embroidered with text and embellished in creative ways, or community art projects using a community-created ribbon that the residents used in individual ways to wrap their community.  Here she wraps books in the traditional flatbread made by women in Sardinia.

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Kosovo artist  Petrit Halilaj used traditional fabrics to create huge moths, clustering around the light fixtures of the pavilion like people in Kosovo yearned for the light during the war years.

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I loved Michelle Stuart’s many photo collages, especially this one called Flight of Time.

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Thu Van Than from Vietnam used different forms and media to explore native plants.

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And look plants in footwear. Hey, we did that at school!

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Teresa Lancetta used Moroccan carpets as inspiration for her fabric and paint pieces.

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Grr, I don’t have notes of who did this (I need to research) but this was one of my favorite pieces, a long hallway hung with many “curtains” of metal if varying textures and patterns, hung with gorgeous lanterns.

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This was cool–Sookyoung combining his heritages with the traditional Korean practice of potters destroying work that isn’t perfect with the Japanese tradition of celebrating imperfection and damage with gold. It was constructed of thousands of shards of pottery, bound with gold and reaching toward the ceiling.

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Abdoulaye Konate from Mali created this wonderful woven and painted piece which documents a trip to Brazil.

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Beautifully glowing gold “drops” on black squares, so elegant. Liquid or solid, moments in time.

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Here’s a lovely installation from Argentina which represented aspects of the country’s history.

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And from Iceland, shimmery works centered on ice.

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Since our favorite El Rofolo was closed on Mondays, I had made a reservation for a nice lunch at CoVino. Teeny, with just 5-6 tables and an open kitchen. We had fun watching the assistant chef assemble the cold dishes, working in her tiny workspace. We had a lovely lunch, the food was fresh and light and went in unexpected directions. You can do a two or three course meal, we figured what the hell and went with the three.

Larry started with a vegetable riff on the traditional Sarde en Saor, with an assortment of spring vegetables lightly marinated and showered with capers and pine nuts. I had a rich little baked pasta. We enjoyed sharing these.  Larry went on to a “burger”, a wonderfully flavored meat mixture with roasted potatoes, greens and a delicious egg. I had sea bass with fennel and vegetables over an bagna caude sauce, excellent. We finished with tiramisu, and lemon curd with soft merengue. Glasses of prosecco on the house, and two glasses of excellent wine. Winner.

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We went back to the apartment so I could rest my sore knee, and later went to “our” hidden deck for an aperitivo before a simple dinner of salad and salumi.

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Sunset over the Lagoon from our window.

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Slow Sunday

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Sunday morning we took a slow walk over to one of the Biennale collateral exhibits in Canaregio. It was called Man as Bird–Images of Journeys, a collection of work from artists from around the world. It was in the Palazzo Soranzo Van Axel, a gorgeous late Gothic building built in 1473, privately owned. One of the fun things about Biennale is visiting these collateral exhibits, which are often housed in palazzos otherwise not available to the unwashed masses like us.

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On the first floor the works explore water and nature. I enjoyed Leonid Tishkov’s beautiful painted  photograph series Private Moon, each showing him with a glowing crescent moon in different environments, perspectives,  and angles.

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The second floor had some truly strange things, chief among them a harrowing video piece centered on a young girl trying to cope with being in a constantly changing, anxiety-producing landscape. And another of a little house made of lights, with a chair and tv screen inside. Oh, let’s not forget the video of a tank of fish, slowly emptying so that you watch the poor fish flop around in desperation, till it tilts up and fills again. But we did love a room of hammered bronze pieces that you bang with mallets to create sound that is amplified back, creating new harmonies as people tap.

We made our way back home, and had a lunch of leftovers. We were supposed to join Shannon and her guests for a tour of the Clock Tower in San Marco, obviously my knee wasn’t up for it so Larry went while I stayed home. Unfortunately the clock wasn’t working that day, but Larry enjoyed seeing the mechanics and workings anyway, and the view was great. I’ll get up the 130 steps another time.

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For dinner, we joined Shannon and her guests at Ai Promessi Sposi. An excellent meal. We all shared tuna tartare, sweet little scallops, and buratta. We went on to nice mixed salads, and then I had one of my favorite things in Venice, Fegato (liver, OK, go make gagging noises, but this isn’t your mother’s liver); while Larry finally got his frito misto.  We shared a light semifredo for dessert. A nice time.

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Venice, Extra Slow

Over the winter, I got an alert for an insanely low airfare to Venice, well under $400 round trip. Compensation for Boston winters, you jealous Californians. I texted Larry to say hey, wanna go to Venice, and grabbed tickets. I’ve also wanted to check out Friuli, so a trip plan fell into place for May.

Easy flights, although Madrid is not my favorite place to change planes. We took the Alilaguna to fondamente Nove, and were met by our landlady Elena. My friends Jan and Ken had stayed in Elenas apartments twice, so we knew we’d be comfortable. Lovely Lagoon view, although it’s difficult to really take advantage of it. Playing our usual game of “if this was mine…” I’d add a high bar table and stool at a window to enjoy coffee or wine with the water and boats for company.

  

I took a brief nap, and Shannon arrived from London. We headed out to walk and have a first spritz at the “anarchist bar” in Campo San Apostoli, watching the world go by. then picked up a few groceries. And wine. The vino sfuzo guy was very sweet, though his wine didn’t compete with his charm. Best houseguest ever Shannon also got some more enjoyable bottles.

 

For dinner, we first stopped at the bar Un Mondo Divino for some lovely wine and a few bites of chichetti. We then had a good pizza dinner at Casa Mia, and poured ourselves into bed shortly after.

Friday morning we had a late start, but eventually made it to the Rialto market. My knee was starting to bug me, so we were vaporetto hopping much more than usual. The fish market was starting to shut down, so we quickly bought some S. Pietro fillets and shrimp for dinner, then artichoke hearts, fresh peas, odds and ends, wine from Mascari. Shannon took us to two Rialto area chichetti bars for lunch and wine, lots of fishy goodness. We even somehow managed to snag tables at Al Arco and Do Spade.

 

Back home, Larry and I rested while Shannon ran errands, and then we cooked dinner together. In our bag of shrimp were several stowaways! The induction cooktop was a bit of a pain–it is hard to find the sweet spot between too low to cook, and too high. But we managed to put together a nice dinner, and we were joined by Nan, a mutual friend who lives here.

Saturday was a gorgeous day. I rested my knee while Larry helped Shannon, and then he ran errands, coming back with a knee bandage, crutch and painkillers for me, hooray. Our Venice trip was looking to be more of a time to campo sit than we had envisioned, but we’ll make the best of it. It is somewhat nice to not feel compelled to run around too much, just to relax and enjoy in this quiet corner of Venice.

We eventually wandered over to Trattoria Alla Frasca for lunch, a cute little place in a tiny, quiet campo. Very enjoyable. We shared grilled octopus, then I had spaghetti with tiny clams, mussels, and shrimp, and Larry had seared tuna. After seeing what the people at the next table were having for dessert, we split a light berry tart. Good food, fair prices, nice people.

My knee was feeling OK, so we got on the vaporetto, traveling around Canereggio and into the Giudecca canal, getting off at Zattare in Dorsoduro. We could not believe seeing two people fishing where the Canareggio canal meets the Lagoon, would you eat something that came from this close to the city?

My cane lets me sit in the “disabled, elderly, babies” seats, which is a nice compensation for the stupid knee. We walked down the Zatarre, and found the Granada pavilion of the Biennale. What I especially loved was sculptures by Jason de Caires, who submerges his figures into the ocean, creating underwater sculpture parks where his work is gradually encrusted by corals, plants and sea creatures.  Fantastic.

I also was intrigued by a triptych by Zina Assi, a highly detailed work that explores the thousands of facets of identity, and how it changed through displacement and migration. A colleague created a video from the piece, really interesting and evocative.

Vaporetto back home, and we sat for a drink on the hidden deck in the back of  We Croceferi . It seems to be combo bar, small hotel, and events space with a courtyard and bar) in Campo San Gesuti.

We made a simple dinner of pasta with tomatoes and ricotta. And now why is a tooth hurting? What’s next, locusts?

 

Heading East

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Friday morning we packed up our belongings, and headed out to do some last minute errands and absorb a tiny bit more of Venice before our 1:45 bus to Croatia. We hit the lovely gastronomica in Campo S. Barnaba for prosciutto, mortadella and mozzarella, and the bakery for bread, and topped off Jane’s phone account. We spent some time with Tintoretto at the Scuola di San Rocco. I love that they have mirrors available so you don’t have to strain your neck while looking at the amazing ceiling.

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We made sandwiches for lunch, and then headed to Tronchetto to catch the bus. Had some amusing interactions with two Italian-born brothers in their 60’s who had emigrated to New Zealand; now visiting Italy and Croatia with their wives. The bus trip was enjoyable, though we ran late because they had oversold seats in Trieste, and that needed to be sorted out. (one woman spent the first part of her trip cheerfully sitting in the bus stairwell, another on her boyfriend’s lap)

As we turned into the Istrian peninsula, the landscape turned hilly, with grapevines, green valleys, and pine forests. In Rovinj we were met by the charming Zelko who walked us to the apartment, showing us recommended shops and restaurants along the way. The apartment is right over the market and has a lovely view out the windows of the waterfront. It feels like a Croatian grandmother’s house, with doilies and dated features and furnishings. It’s spacious and comfortable, so who cares. Happily it has double-glazed windows, so things were quiet.

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We wandered out, enjoying the lively atmosphere. The Old Town streets are of Istrian stone like those in Puglia, beautiful with the gleaming white color and treacherous when wet. Most of the tourists seem to be German, with some Brits and Italians.

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Lots of tourist-oriented shops, but at least many were selling local products–wine, olive and truffle oils, truffle products and local crafts. And there seems to be a bakery on every corner selling breads and pastries from both European and Middle Eastern influences. We found the Piassa Grande wine bar, and conveyed Shannon’s greetings to Helena and Mandy, who were as lovely as rumored. Sat and enjoyed three different glasses of local wine with a plate of sausage with truffles, then shared a salad and pasta with yup, more truffles. I particularly loved one of the Teran wines; Larry preferred the Cab.

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In the morning, Larry went for a run along the water, and came back with a  warm borek from one of the bakeries and a SIM card.

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We went downstairs to have a coffee and do some shopping. Bought salad vegetables, ripe apricots, and some sort of sweet green/purple tiny plum from an adorable old lady who will probably become “our” market lady. Some sort of whole grain bread with seeds from the bakery.  We also wandered into the butcher shop for some local prosciutto called prsut, and got a slice of fresh tuna steak for dinner at the fish market. The tiny supermarket was a bit mystifying, as the only Croatian we’ve yet learned is Thank You, and the text on all the packaging was Croatian. Bought what we thought was yogurt, butter and cream, we’ll see when we get home.

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Yup, the stuff in the cup was cream, score.

Zelko came by to walk Larry over to the car rental place and then show him where to park.

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We went for a walk along the water, and looked for a place for lunch. Nothing jumped out at us, but as we doubled back to the apartment we saw people eating appealing looking food at the tiny kanoba right next to our apartment,Taverna da Baston. This turned out to be a great choice, as we loved our fish lunches–I had grilled branzino with sautéed potatoes and spinach; and Larry had a plate of grilled sardines with salad. Extremely fresh fish cooked over a fire–it doesn’t get much better than that. The owner brought over some grappa, Croatian jet fuel. The couple at the neighboring table had a three year old daughter who spent her time playing with the shopkeeper of the junk store across the street, and was given a little bracelet as a goodbye present. Sweet.

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Larry has been battling a local cell service provider over their plans–their web page gives details of a package plan that he found out doesn’t in fact exist. At first their customer service rep had been happily helpful, but once Larry started challenging the misrepresentation, there was radio silence. Avoid Bon Bon.

Spent more time walking around. There’s some guy making balloon animals for children, most of the kids using them to swat at each other. Some of the “animals” look like long penises, complete with testicles. Go ahead kid, smack your brother with a neon green penis.  We sampled cheese from a gentleman selling them in his doorway down the street from the apartment, and bought a hunk of local pecorino with truffles. Found the “beach” in town, with steep stairs down to the rocks where people were sunbathing. The earlier tour groups had largely departed by now, and town was quieter. The sparkling water, multicolored houses climbing the hill with the old church on the top does look like postcards. It’s unashamedly a tourist-oriented town now, but with a charmingly upfront air to it.

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Dinner time. I made a tomato vinaigrette to go with the tuna Larry seared, and a salad. The fish was fantastically fresh. A bottle of local Malvasia plonk from a nearby store was just OK, need to find a better source for wine.

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After dinner we went downstairs to sit on the sea wall and watch the sunset, lovely.

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Last Day

We met up with Jan and Ken at the Arsenale section of the Biennale on Thursday. We moved through the enormous structure housing the many installations, stopping at those that caught our eyes. This area seemed to be somewhat less political, more wide-ranging in topic than what we’d seen at the Giardini. Here are some of those that particularly resonated with me.

Riccardo Brey created a room of tables of assemblages using a huge variety of found and created materials, with fascinating textures, colors, and ways the pieces referenced each other. This one had gleams of bronze on black, very beautiful.And although I abhor Georg Baselitz’s patheticly stupid comments about women artists, I can still appreciate his unsettling upside-down figure paintings with their layers of texture.

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There were many wonderful artists in the Italy pavilion. A room showing a video montage by Peter Greenaway called “In the Beginning, Was the Image” explored the stock images that appear over and over again in art, using visuals, sound and text in a fascinating way. Also liked this figure sculpture in a room of painted walls, with a tiny video monitor in the background playing scenes titled “memory”

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How about a room filled with thousands of tiny, perfect portraits, suspended on walls and ceiling? I could have looked at the individual photos for hours. And these fragmented women you peer at through a crack in a wall were also affecting.

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Hanging in an old boat dock were two absolutely stunning phoenixes from Chinese artist XU Bing, all made from construction debris.

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We were hungry by this point, so we walked over to via Garibaldi. One of the Venice food aps suggested a “workingmen’s trattoria” nearby, so we sat down to lunch. It was a total comedy of errors, with the four of us peering at our uniformly lousy food in disappointment. Over salted pasta, stringy overcooked fegato, ugh. The really bad house wine was the highlight. Ah well, a run in with bad food at some point is part of the Venice experience, I guess.

Back on the vap, we went to an exhibit at the Palazzo Tiepolo Passi called Dialog of Fire, where artists created installations in glass and ceramics. I especially loved this roomful of softly glowing glass pillows.

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Home to rest, and sadly, pack. We met Jan, Ken and Nan for a late dinner at Estro, and had another enjoyable meal there with good food (the crudo plates were fantastic, except for some oysters that could have been better), wines, and conversation.

Buona note, Venezia. Off to Croatia tomorrow!