This and That

Thursday was a bit dreary, with the sort of clammy weather that feels cool one minute, steamy the next. We decided to walk over to Palazzo Grimani, an enormous 16th century palazzo built in a Classical design. Giovanni Grimani acquired a huge collection of Roman statues, which are now back in the room designed for them. It’s a fascinating palazzo to visit, with some very different Classical, Renaissance, and Mannerist elements.

Upstairs, I really enjoyed an exhibit of paintings by Helen Frankenthaler. Her huge canvases at first look simple, until you let your eyes roam to take in all the details of color, line and texture.

I’d been wanting something to roast vegetables in bigger than the gratin dishes in the apartment, so we wandered owner to housewares store Ratti. A large store by Venetian standards, with an upper floor for appliances. I found an inexpensive baking sheet, and a vegetable peeler. Larry perused the Moka offerings.

Nan had texted asking if we were free for lunch, so we headed west, first going to a Biennale installation in a church. Eh, rather middle school in earnestness and lack of development. Much better experience at lunch at Osteria al Cicheto on Calle Misericodia in the far reaches of Cannaregio. About eight tables packed tight, small menu, good smells. The three of us shared two antipasti, (a salad with goat cheese; and a swordfish salad) two pastas (Vongole; and duck Ragu) and two secondi (stuffed calamari; and slow roasted pork) And eight glasses of wine over a very long lunch–we closed the place. Very good food, nice wines, fun conversation.

We were very close to the Ghetto, so after lunch went over for the 3:30 synagogue tour. We hadn’t been there in many years, so wanted to revisit. The Jewish community officially began in 1516 when Jews were first allowed to live in Venice, (although closed in by gates) and at its height had 5,000 residents crammed into a very small area. Many of the buildings in the Ghetto had 7-8 stories of low ceilinged rooms to squeeze as many people as possible into the space.

Jews came from Germany, Spain and the Middle East, and were limited in what occupations were open to them. They formed synagogues, schools and charitable institutions; the Sephardic community was relatively wealthy while they were involved in trade in the 16th and 17th centuries. Several synagogues were built, and at the Jewish Museum you can go on a tour to visit three.

Nice walk through Cannaregio, and a quiet evening at home. Oh look, transportation strike tomorrow!

Blue Skies

I had to resort to taking something to help me get back to sleep at 1 am, so slept well past my usual 5 am. We eventually headed out, and crossed the Canal and roamed around San Polo for a while,getting happily lost in the maze of tiny calles.

We had seen an intriguing sign on a palazzo fronting the Canal, “Love is Blind–Blind For Love.” Palazzo Tiepolo Passi is hidden down a teeny alleyway off Calle Savonarola. You climb the stairs, and are welcomed by a docent. The artist, Caroline Lepinay, has created an experience retelling the myth of Cupid you can encounter with your senses–and if you reserve, it happens in a magical way. First, without your sight.

The docents take groups of four blindfolded people through the small exhibit blindfolded, leading them to each element, where they encounter the pieces by touch, by hearing music and voice, and by smell. The docents are themselves vision impaired, which gives them the unique skills to help visitors use their other senses. Afterward, you take the blindfold off and retrace adding sight. Yes, perhaps it is a bit gimmicky, but that doesn’t take away from how you experience it. You can reserve through the website. Love is Blind

We walked around some more, peeking into little shops and dodging down side streets to avoid crowds. San Polo was definitely more crowded than Cannaregio. I was looking for a jewelry store I’d first found on our first Venice trip almost 20 years ago. She uses Murano beads, and her pieces are reasonably priced. (Although I’ve eventually had to have things restrung as the necklace stringing is delicate) Ieventually found Donà Maria Luisa, just by chance. We chatted for a while, and I was sad to hear that she is going to be retiring soon. She talked about how so many of Venice’s visitors now are happy to buy cheap imitation Murano glass jewelry, and it is getting more difficult to do what she does. She is looking for someone to take over her shop, anyone interested?

We continued walking to Rialto, and ducked into Al Arco for some chichetti and wine. We didn’t have luck hovering for a table, so stood and chatted with someone who works at the UN who had been stationed in Lebanon. We also stopped to share a glass and tramezzini at the bar next to Casa di Parmigiano. We picked up some ravioli de zucca for dinner.

My joints were complaining by now, so we decided to just take a vaporetto ride to enjoy the afternoon. We boarded the no. 1 at Rialto, and grabbed seats outside for the trip to Lido, then back again. Gorgeous day to enjoy being on the Grand Canal with the beautiful palazzos and boats of all kinds. Happily, no Grandi Navi this afternoon.

Eventually returned home, iced the knees, then went over to the “secret bar” for aperitivi on the rio. The evening futbol game was going on in the Campo, which makes me so very happy to see. This little piece of Venice is still here.

Raviolis and salad for dinner.

Essentials

We decided this time to get the Venezia Unica transportation pass instead of two weekly passes. The Unica is meant for residents, (Or those from abroad who cough up the fee) and gives an enormous discount on the Vaporetto. It is good for five years, so makes sense if you’ll be in Venice for several weeks during that period. So I guess we’ll need to come back to get even more of our money’s worth, right?

We walked the length of Strada Nova, crossed the horrible new bridge past the train station to P. Roma. (And why oh why did they use slippery green panels underfoot, they’re a death trap in high humidity so everyone tries to walk in the narrow paved part in the middle. Don’t get me started on the pod for the disabled that never worked)

We had our passports and had filled out the forms, and even so the process took time and yet more paperwork. We hopped on the vaporetto and went to the Rialto markets for some shopping. Mascari for wine, Casa di Parmigiano for cheeses and prosciutto; figs, greens, herbs,; and some little purple artichokes and zucchini flowers from Sant Erasmo, the farm island in the Lagoon. I pick the stands with the lines of little old ladies.

After stowing groceries back home, we realized we’d skipped breakfast and were hungry. Walked over to Ai Promossi Sposi. Seafood antipasti, and frito misto were delicious and hit the spot. The resident adorable dog sat at my feet the whole time, flashing big brown eyes and casually putting his head on my knee. Nice try buddy, I don’t want to be responsible for your upset stomach.

After a rest in the apartment, we walked west, zigzagging through the Fondamentas and bridges to Palazzo Albrizzi, site of three countries’ Biennale pavilions. it is always fun to visit these palazzos used during the Biennale, with the juxtaposition of past and present. Granada had the most interesting one here, with a focus on Memory, including a mesmerizing installation of projected images through jars, which blended and shifted. In another room was hanging photographic and text mobiles centered on family; and another with huge, beautifully composed photos. There was also a fascinating film that veered between hauntingly beautiful and very disturbing in imagery as the family storytelling unfolded. more about the Granada work here: Granada

Picked up the loan of a knife from Nan, then back home to pick up a few things from the Coop and a bottle of Friuli white from the vino sfuso. Followed by a preventative ice pack on my knee.

For dinner, I made sautéed little artichokes with garlic and lemon, and ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers in a very light batter. Salad, figs and prosciutto, cheap Prosecco.

Soft Landing

Easy flights, and we even slept for an hour. It was interesting how empty the flight from Chicago to Venice was, with many rows of three seats only occupied by one person. (And why Chicago? This is what can happen when you book flights through Philly using a bump voucher a year in advance, the schedule changes, and you get the choice of three hours in Chicago or six in JFK)

On the Alilaguna boat were a large family group from the South, spending a week doing the 2 nights Venice, 2 Florence, 2 Rome thing. I wish them luck in their tour of train stations. My first trips to Europe in my 20’s were like that, and the memories are a blur.

We met the apartment owners daughter at what I’ve called in previous trips “cranky fruit and vegetable guy stand.” The apartment is spacious, functional and clean. A bit short in aesthetics and cookware, but for $110 a night it will do nicely. Kicking myself for not putting a good knife into the checked bag, and I’ll need to find a baking sheet somewhere. If you lean out the window with a chiropractor in attendance, you have a view of the rio below. The same Cannaregio neighborhood we’ve stayed before, good shops and restaurants, easy to walk or vap anywhere. There is a school across the street, so lots of exuberant voices at times. I think we’ll be happy here.

Grabbed a table at the reliable Trattoria Storica for a late lunch while local guys knock back grappa with the owner. First spaghetti Vongele of the trip, yum. So nice to eat outside again! Larry is in a t shirt, the Italians in puffy coats and scarves.

Then we did some minor food shopping (cranky vegetable guy less cranky this year; maybe he got lucky) and unpacked. The apartment has tons of storage, although once again the rod for hanging clothes is way above my head. Met up with Nan at the bar at Algiobagio for aperitivi and handing off some US shopping. No photo, too busy yakking. Very pretty light on the Lagoon.

We walked around the neighborhood, just enjoying the first day in Europe fog. Things were fairly quiet in this corner of Cannaregio, fingers crossed that the crowds are less this time of year. The weather is perfect, upper 60’s this week but will get cooler next week. No rain in sight. But the forecasts here change hourly, so who knows.

Oh, here’s the bridge where my knee went “pop” two years ago. Larry reminds me constantly to not rush on stairs.

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We were starting to fade and not terribly hungry, so walked over to Bar Sbarlefo for a few chichetti to share and a lovely glass of Amarone. Then we split a cone of gelato from Ca D’Oro, pistachio and chocolate. Said hi to the Canal, and home to bed.

Dusting Off

I’ve gotten out of the habit of travel blogging. Quick Facebook posts are so much easier! But I do regret not having the detailed accounts of my experiences that blogging brings. My memories go deeper when I write, and the trips feel more vital when I can revisit as time passes. So I’ll do as much blogging on this Venice trip as I feel is enjoyable, and just do brief sketches if it gets burdensome.

Two and a half years ago, we were in Venice for the Biennale. I had twisted my knee before leaving, realized on the flight that it had gotten stiff and swollen, and it was definitely not working as it should. On our second day I was going down a bridge at a fast clip, and suddenly heard and felt a “pop” in my knee. It would no longer support me, and Larry somehow got me back to the apartment. I spent the rest of the trip hobbling around with a cane and knee brace, swallowing as much ibuprofen as my system could tolerate. Add to that a cracked tooth which then got infected, a visit to a Venetian dentist for antibiotics, and yet more ibuprofen. I was in such pain that I’d wake in the night crying. I considered calling the game and going home, but grit my teeth and spent the week alternating between slowly dragging myself around and sitting in our favorite bar with a spritz.

Venice needed a do-over.

This year, we’ve rented a simple, inexpensive apartment in Cannaregio for two weeks.

https://www.booking.com/hotel/it/dreaming-venice-apartment.html

Museums, wandering and getting lost, Biennale, long fishy lunches. Two days in the Valpolicella wine area for contrast. A Venetian seafood cooking class with the friend of a friend, a Murano tour with sweet guide Andrea. Serendipitous meetups with friends from London and Florida. Two weeks of slight removal from the insanity of the current USA. I’m ready.

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!

 

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?