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?


Sunday with Family; Monday in Town

Early Sunday morning we took the train from nearby Euston Station up to Liverpool. When Larry’s father and his four siblings escaped Germany on the Kindertransport, they all lived in England for a time. Four eventually made their way to the US, the fifth stayed in England (eventually also living in Israel and the US). Aunt Kaye’s story can be read here, on a website that tells of the Jews of Bad Neustadt. Kaye’s Story


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We had a lovely lunch at Larry’s cousin’s home, punctuated with the charm of the youngest Klein descendant and the good-natured jests of various football fans. Real football, not this ponsy American game.

Oh, and cousin Tamar made fantastic scones. Yes, she shared the recipe!


Monday we fulfilled one of Larry’s requests, a London Walks that focused on the Brunel Tunnel under the Thames. The tunnel was completed in 1843, and at the time was considered “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Our guide led us along the river on the south bank, telling interesting stories about the shipping history of the Thames,its former neighborhoods, the poverty in the area, and the Blitz.  The powerful East India Company  had its stronghold in Rotherhithe, now a quiet, upscale community of restored warehouses and new flats.



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At the end of the tour we went down into the viewing platform that led to the tunnel, where there’s not much to see and the “Museum” is a room with a video playing (now the tube goes through the tunnel). Still, engineer Larry was pleased, and I thought the guiding quite interesting.


We dithered a bit about lunch before again attempting to get into Guildhall, eventually landing at an OK Vietnamese cafe in the City. And yes, Guildhall was open. It’s a gorgeous 15th century building surrounded by modern construction, you’d need to be looking for it to find the entrance through the bureaucratic hallways. It was constructed as a civic building, many trials and public meetings have been held in the Great Hall over the centuries, it is still used for events.. Several memorial statues were added in the 18th and 19th centuries,and it’s an interesting room to wander in.



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Across the plaza is the Guildhall Art Gallery, which at this time had an exhibit of Victorian art, all rosy cheeked maidens and allegories. But downstairs is something fun, the remains of the Roman amphitheater, the largest in Brittania, with the wooden gutters still underneath. Rather cheese overly dramatic lighting and human forms to give context, but still cool.



Made our way back home, had some Indian takeaway for dinner.


Markets and Medicine


On Saturday, we first walked around, exploring the neighborhood a bit to our north. Upper Street stretches with many restaurants. from fast food chains to locally owned ethnic, with upscale french bistros and Ottolenghi’s first outpost punctuating the offering. We turned off the main streets to check out addresses of some other apartments I’d bookmarked in the area, and then turned into Camden Market.

Just a few streets of stalls of antiques, collectibles, and just plain junk–about a tenth of the size of the Portabello Market, but completely without the crowds.  There are also shops selling cheeses, fancy bakeries, a butcher, fishmonger, and arty clothing. Hidden in a passage was a shop focusing on Liberty-style antiques, anyone want to buy me a gorgeous pair of candlesticks?



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We next hopped onto a bus that took us deeper into East London, through the neighborhoods of Hoxton and Hackney. It was fun on the bus, with a mixture of people, from older folks who sounded and looked as if they’d been east Londoners for 10 generations, to sari or chador-clothed women; hipsters with artfully torn leggings, cellphones and piercings; everyone chatting and  helping each other with their bulky wheeled shopping carts as they got on or off at the stop for the Hoxton Market. Careening down streets packed with ugly post-war apartment blocks, we finally arrived at Broadway Market in Lincoln Fields. Food market nirvana, more down to earth than Borough Market.






Many stalls, selling just about anything delicious you could imagine. We shared several items for lunch as we wandered around–a leek and mushroom pie, a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, crispy Indian samosa turnover, two gorgeous eclairs. We also bought some fresh pasta for dinner from a man speaking Italian, a container of Sicilian pesto, some cheeses, fruit and vegetables.

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On the bus home, I was intrigued by all the houseboats docked on a canal, and the very London mixture of old and new.



In the afternoon, we went over to the Wellcome Collection, a small museum near Euston Station focused on health. It’s a rather different place, as the website says, it “it explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future.” This weekend was an event called “Speaking with Your Body”, I never did figure out exactly what that was all about, but there were people making clay sculptures of their hands; and having intense conversations in the exhibit on Bedlam, mental hospitals in London, and artistic therapies. Lots of visual and auditory art in response to mental illness, some moving, some just unsettling.

There’s permanent galleries with a large exhibit from the collections of William Wellcome, which we really enjoyed. Each area focused on a different aspect of medicine–ailments, therapies, medical training, death, birth, sexuality, faith. Fascinating artifacts, creepily engaging.

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Historic attempts to control Nasty Women–a 14th century  chastity belt, and a 16th century “scold’s” Mask. Keep trying, boys.

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Oh, and those fun-loving Ancients.



Pasta for dinner, very good pumpkin tortelloni I dressed in butter and sage; and a nice salad.


Serendipity, Stupidity, and Serenity


Friday morning we decided to go to Guildhall and Saint Bartholomew the Greater Church, at somewhat opposite ends of The City. For those unfamiliar with London, The City refers to what is now the financial center, formerly the oldest part of London. Four-Fifths of which burned in the 1666 Great Fire, was rebuilt, and then largely destroyed again in WWII bombing, then rebuilt after the War. While at first glance its all soulless skyscrapers, there are bits and pieces of the past hidden here and there–remains of the wall built by the Romans, a medieval church,  half-timbered Tudor buildings, Georgian and Victorian buildings next to flashy new glass.

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You can easily find tours of the area through London Walks, the City web pages and other resources; we’ve also found this map very helpful. Map of London Listed Buildings

Traffic was even worse than usual, so we got off the bus after only a few stops and walked the rest of the way. I had seen that there was to be a guided tour of Guildhall’s art gallery and the underneath Roman forum at 12:30, so we decided to walk to St.Bartholomew and then double back. Along the way, we passed several lovely old buildings and many historical plaques reminding of buildings or persons who had been born or lived on the site. Around the corner past the Museum of the City of London (well worth a visit) and Barbican (pure modern awfulness), and a segment of the Roman wall.


I’d wanted to visit Saint Bartholomew the Greater (not to be confused with Saint Bartholomew the Lesser, smaller and largely rebuilt 😉 ) after briefly stepping inside while on a walking tour several years ago. It is the oldest continuously used church in London, first built in the 11th century; the oldest bits remaining are from the late medieval period. You enter through a lovely Tudor gatehouse, and then can admire the old stone exterior, built of the same small stone material as Southwark Cathedral. Pay a small admittance fee, and then are free to wander the dark, evocative interior.





As luck would have it, a chamber group was practicing for a lunchtime concert, so we got to wander around listening to gorgeous music echoing off the walls. Lots to look at–the beamed ceiling, Norman stone arches in the nave, huge early 18th century organ, floor gravestones, a banner from the Worshipful Company of the Art or Mistery of Butchers (Smithfield Market, traditionally London’s meat market is next door.)


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We went through the gaily painted Victorian arches of the market, which closes for the day by 9 am. There are some interesting signs detailing its past, Larry was amused that in medieval times disgruntled husbands supposedly could also unload their wives here.


We backtracked to Guildhall, and found out that it was closed for the day for a special event. Ah well, now we know to call in the morning next time. Even seen from the outside, the 15th century building and surrounding structures are impressive.


We were hungry by now, so wandered on. I spied a Bea’s tea room, and thought we’d have an early tea as lunch. Very disappointing, with dry “sandwiches” (actually thin fillings on top of mini brioche, OK cupcakes, brownies and meringues instead of the nicer pastries and finger sandwiches you get in a hotel tea.(and that we saw on the display counter) At least the scones and clotted cream were good. And tea bags, feh.


We took the Tube over to the Victoria and Albert, one of my very favorite museums. It showcases design and craftsmanship from around the world, and is chock full of fascinating things. There were some special exhibits, Larry and I split up  with him going to one on Ove Orup’s engineering and design; and me goggling at Medieval embroideries. The level of workmanship in the embroideries, mostly for church and royal use was astonishing. Almost as amazing was how beautifully preserved some of the examples were, with the gold threads and silken details almost without wear; and others where you had to look very closely to discern the fine details that use and time have almost erased. No photos allowed, these are from the V&A’s site.

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And yes, we did the Underwear special exhibit. I gave thanks to be born after the age of corsetry.


I also spent time in the Jewelry rooms, which have fascinating displays arranged by theme, era, and material. And just wandering down the long sculpture hall yields new finds, like this gorgeous art deco fireplace in back of some Rodins.


By now it was quite late (the V&A, like many museums, stays open late Fridays) and we had reservations at Nopi. Love this place, with simple interior, well spaced tables, fun Ottolenghi empire food and well trained staff. We decided to go with a bunch of small plates to share. Started out with oozing buratta with cardamon and clementines; and zucchini and haloumi fritters. Both delicious, nice contrast of creamy and crispy.


Then on to  perfectly grilled octopus and a neat little salad of zataar-spiced lamb with vegetables and yogurt; with some crisp polenta. Also lovely. We were pretty stuffed, but managed to split grilled pineapple with coconut gelato and hazelnuts, and were very glad we did.


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Art and Sky



Thursday morning we all trooped over to the National Gallery for the special exhibition on Caravaggio and how he influenced other artists. It was interesting to see how other artists utilized his ideas of lighting , but also in using dramatic groupings; and informal as well as narrative poses. Well worth a visit. We also strolled some of the other rooms, it’s always great fun to see art with others and bounce observations back and forth.


For lunch, we all were intrigued by an Indonesian place in Chinatown Susan had pointed out the previous night. P. and J. handled the ordering, being more knowledgeable than us. Really good tablefull of food, each dish having a range of flavors and spicing. We’ll have to seek out an Indonesian place in New York, I don’t think there’s one on Boston.



After we said our goodbyes, Larry and I headed into the national Portrait Gallery for some special shows, the William  Eggleston photographs and one on Black life in 19th century Britain. We also revisited the early portrait galleries to round out the morning.



We had been trying to get some of the free tickets for the Skygarden, the new viewing floor at the top of “the electric razor” on Fenchurch Street. Two tickets popped up for 5 pm, perfect. We took the bus over, but got off after halfway because traffic was so slow the bus wasn’t moving.

What glorious views. It’s a large two-level glass atrium, with a thickly planted area in the middle,  bars on each level, and plenty of seating. We took lots of photos, had some drinks, and staked out a section of platform to sit on at the edge where there was a great view to the west. And sunset was the perfect time to be there, watching the light fade from the sky and turn on in the buildings.













Printed and Spoken

Evan’s flight was scheduled for late afternoon, we we wanted to do something fast and local this morning. Larry and I first walked over to Chapel Market, where there were just a few produce stands, and mostly housewares. We took the few bus stops over to the British Library, first stopping to admire the imposing St. Pancras.



My favorites are always the gorgeously illustrated old books, including the Golden Hagaddah from 1th century Spain. Really, I hadn’t noticed the “No photographing” sign until I was politely stopped by a guard.





We went back to the flat to pick up Evan’s bag, and went down to London Bridge to have some lunch before his train to the airport. Want to try the new pasta place which gets such good reviews, but the line was down the street. Instead got a table at the turkish Arabica in Borough Market, and then found out that the train had been cancelled, and he’s need to get an earlier one. The waitress was helpful in steering us to quickly prepared things, and after a tasty and fast lunch, we were out the door.

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After seeing Evan onto the train, Larry and I headed over to Soho, where we had tickets to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart in Pinter’s No Man’s Land. They were absolutely brilliant in their roles, giving Pinter’s sometimes head-scratching words shape. I love how a gifted actor can impart humor or despair just with how a line is timed, or with subtle body language. And I adore the jewel-box London theaters, the intimacy so different from Broadway.

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We met up with old friends Jonathan, Philippa and Susan in Leicester Square. Larry and I had a go on the light-up seesaws, there’s video footage here for blackmail purposes. Amy is really 4 years old. We took the bus up to our flat so J&P could drop their bags and chatted a bit, then walked down to Exmouth Market where Berber & Q was just opening. Modern Israeli food, lots of fantastic tastes and textures. We began with an assortment of mezes–slices of smoky eggplant, a delicious beet and orange salad, chiles in yogurt, a rich and chunky humus, a salad of okra and beans much better than it sounds. The short menu emphasizes schwarma, so we shared the fantastic lamb schwarma and chicken, served with herby salads, sauces, and pita. Great food, although the environment got so noisy when full we had difficulty hearing each other, something I hate about so many restaurants these days in my grumpy middle years. I’d certainly go again for the food, but only if I could eat outside or take away.