Saturday, June 16, 2007

Back to Food (and maybe another word or two about the Biennale)

Let me say a couple of quick words about the Biennale before I get back to food. I've put up a link to the "official" New York Times review of the show. I do not consider myself an art afficionado by any stretch of the imagination but surely as observers we all know what moves us to tears, to laughter, to joy, to despair. Mostly, I agree with the reviewer's opinions of individual works - except for the Korean Pavilion which moved me only to want to leave it as quickly as possible. I have been dreaming of a trip to the Venice Biennale for as long as I can the sheer volume of extraordinary modern art in this spectacularly ancient city. The point is perhaps the more Biennales under one's belt, the less awe and wonder. Enough said about the review...
Last word today about the show - I have left up the photo of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' stunning circles because I think they are beautiful and lend an air of calm to the page.

Let's eat!
So there's Da Fiore, Fiore, Osteria Da Fiore, Trattoria Da Fiore - it's very confusing. (I think at least two or three of those are the same restaurant.) Da Fiore is arguably the best and most expensive restaurant in Venice and it's just not what this trip is about for me. However, a stroll over the Accademia Bridge last evening revealed Trattoria Da Fiore and sometimes you just know a place is going to be wonderful. This one is. The best spritz - it actually WAS fizzy! - I've had so far followed by a Caprese salad of sugar-sweet cherry and grape tomatoes, little balls of melt-in-your-mouth buffalo mozzarella, with just the right amount of olive oil, fresh herbs, tiny ribbons of basil and crunchy sea salt. Unbelievable! A flavorful and beautiful lasagnette of ricotta and spinach with two tiny mounds of wilted and then quickly-fried spinach leaves, and a GIGANTIC, thinly-pounded veal cutlet with a lighter-than-air battered crust served with delicious french fries (of all things). The cheesecake was not like any cheesecake I've ever tasted. And to be honest, I'm still pretty much stumped for a way to describe it (something that Chris finds downright startling). It wasn't cold, it was very dense, it had a bit of chocolate in it and was served with a bit of chocolate sauce on the plate and dusted with powdered sugar. It was very tasty, not sweet at all, and the only thing I can think of is that the ratio of cheese to flour is very different than in most cheesecakes. I shall certainly talk to Chef Cheech about this when I get home.
Okay, a word about tiramisu and then we're off to the market. If you think that stuff we get in the U.S. is tiramisu? Uh-uh...tiramisu must be traditionally Venetian (yes, I will find out for sure) because it is on every dessert menu in this city and it's fantastic everywhere. It is most always served layered in a bowl - the way it should be - and even becomes a luscious gelato flavor in the right hands.
The market calls...Ciao (which, by the way I learned yesterday is a Venetian word...)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Back to the Biennale (yes, again...)

Chris being the artist that he is, we, of course, headed back to the Giardini first thing this a.m. - and we JUST got home - is seven hours of art too much for anyone? Probably. The more familiar you become with something the more get from it or at least the you SHOULD, right? I found myself still favoring the same pieces/artists/installations, only more so. To the left is a photo of American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres' spectacular marble circles at the entrance to the U.S. Pavilion. They are concave so rain water has pooled in them - by design. They are the largest sculptures made from single pieces of Carrera marble in many centuries. Stunning. Time for a glass of vino. Ciao.

Il ghetto

The word ghetto - which is Venetian in origin - means iron foundry. Until 1390, Venice's could be found on a tiny island in the sestiere of Canareggio. In 1516, the city's 5000 Jews were confined to that same small area and would remain there for more than 250 years when they were liberated by, of all people, Napoleon. It ended up incidentally, they were actually safer confined than they were free. The original inhabitants were mostly Ashkenazim from Germany. They were joined later by Sephardim escaping Spain and Portugal, and finally by Levantine Jews from the Ottoman Empire.
In spite of overcrowded conditions, this population managed to build five synagogues - all of which remain today. The three oldest which retain many of their original features are, of course, in the most fragile condition and are used only for special occasions - weddings, bar mitzvahs (can you imagine, especially if you could trace your family history back to Venice, having a ceremony in a 16th Century synagogue??!!). The two newer are used for both Friday night and Saturday morning services each week. (Photography is prohibited, thus no photo posted.)
Today, the Jewish population of Venice is just 320 and our guide explained that with such a small number it is difficult to keep up schools and other necessary facilities but they do their best. They do have historically magnificent synagogues in which to worship.
You can google "Jewish Ghetto in Venice" to learn more. It is a truly fascinating story.

On a completely other note, Marcia left for Paris this afternoon - it was such fun to share with her the first week filled with adventures! And, she'll be baaaaack... for three days at the end of the month. A couple of hours after her departure, Chris arrived. The last time we saw each other was two years ago, in this very place. Fun to be back here together and I'm sure he won't mind me saying that's he was very happy to leave Naples.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The word of the day is ART

I truly do not know where to begin. I spent the day at the Arsenale and was more astounded with every step. Fifty-seven artists are represented in the main exhibit space, then there's the African Pavilion, then there's the Italian Pavilion, then Turkey, then China which is represented by four women artists in one of the most extraordinary installations I've ever seen. Their work is displayed among huge, old, rusted shipping containers and other maritime equipment. I have photos of this - look for them at the bottom of this post.
The theme, appropriately for this former naval space, is war, war and more war. Not all of it, of course, but it is the theme that revealed itself early on. World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East - all front and center. I will have to absorb all of this and then try to put it into words for you as best I can. I think the photos will do a better job of that so you may have to wait 'til I get home and Gill helps me post a gallery for you. For now...look left and to the bottom of this post.
Oh, and did I mention there are still DOZENS (DOZENS) of additional "collateral" installations all over the city?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back to the Biennale and a little Vivaldi

Back to the Biennale for the rest of the Giardini installations, most notably the Italian Pavilion which is really a full-sized museum. Work by artists from many countries are represented, invited by the host city. The photo to the left is an example of what the Eastern European countries are showing this year. It's title is "Angel." I feel so fortunate to have enough time to visit again and again - it would otherwise be overwhelming. I'm glad, too, that I'll be able to help friends enjoy it, I hope, even more than they would otherwise. Oddly, there were no crowds at all while just a few minutes' walk away, Piazza San Marco was teeming with tourists.
And tonight, for a change of pace and an extraordinary treat, a concert at Chiesa San Vidal, a lovely church just across the Accademia Bridge. The Interpreti Veneziana is a group of eight young men who obviously LOVE what they do. The first half of the concert was "Le Quattro Stagioni" (The Four Seasons) and what better place to hear it than Vivaldi's hometown. These young men played new life into spring, summer, fall and winter. The second half featured works by Corelli and Pergolesi - all glorious.
On to the Biennale's other main venue, the Arsenale, tomorrow. I am most looking forward to the African work.

More food, more art

First, I've posted a new link to the latest NY times article about the Biennale.
Back to pastry/dolci (I'll get back to art in a minute, hold your horses!) Didovich - an institution (that means it's old) - is considered by some the very best pastry shop in Venice. We set out early Monday morning - in a light rain which could not deter us in our quest - and walked around and around and around it 'til we realized it was it. No sign, nothing to indicate it is what it is except for the incredible edibles, a child-like drawing stuck to the wall with scotch tape that had part of the name on it and the swirling yet obviously hand-painted "D"s on the glass doors. Need I say a small and extremely unpretentious place - Gill, I was picturing Venice's answer to Gilli's and it is the opposite. Savories (not TOO savory) and sweets (not TOO sweet) are mind-bogglingly good. As is the cappuccino (I'm going to stop writing about cappuccino as of this post.)
Back to art. In spring of 2006, French industrialist/businessman Francois Rinault bought the historic Palazzo Grassi as a place to stage exhibitions of his remarkable contemporary art collection - he had tried for years to accomplish thisgoal in his native France with no success. Venice welcomed him with mostly open arms. His first show featured Richard Serra, Jeff Koons, and those kinds of names. For the Biennale - although not connected to the Biennale which they make abundantly clear when you enter - he is featuring the work of 17 young artists (yes, all from his own, personal collection as the staff makes clear) in a show called "Sequence 1." The Palazzo is spectacular - it was restored by a Japanese architect who is now working with Rinault on another exhibition space here. The staff is stuffy, snobby, "art cops." And the show, for me, was mostly dull and disappointing. As if there wasn't enough art at the "official" Biennale venues - but, as I say, the building made the trip worthwhile.
We happened upon a very hip little place for dinner - between San Marco and Rialto - called Osteria Enoteca San Marco. Great wine list (duh!) and simple, fresh, well-prepared food.
We're all caught's gray again this morning - we talked yesterday about going to Murano today - we'll see...haven't even had a "you-know-what" yet...
Ciao, mi amici

The reason I came

The 52nd International Art Exhibition - The Venice Biennale - opened officially on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. and we were there. This year's theme is "Think with the Senses - Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense." Thrilling, fascinating, and thought-provoking are the best words I have to describe what I've seen and experienced so far. Finally, it's all about the art.
This year, 77 countries are represented at the two main venues - the Giardini, Venice's lush and green public gardens which are transformed into the most important contemporary art exhibition in the world every two years, the Arsenale, the former military ship-building facility which this year houses, along with much more, a major African exhibit, the first time Africa has participated - and at numerous palazzos throughout the city. I have only just had a taste - delicious.
The show is manageable - well-laid out in individual nation pavilions, the attendees also representing the nations of the world are polite, the rest rooms are clean, Illy Caffe passes out free espresso shots all day and free cups of water are there for the taking, too. There are no "art cops" - it is a civilized experience clearly designed so that viewers get the very most out of their visits. Chris, Wanda, and Gill - you are in for an incredible treat.
Highlights for me so far have been Spain - Gill, wait 'til you see it - Russia and, I must say, the U.S. pavilion does our home country proud. The work is all by one artist, Felix Gonzalez-Torres who, unfortunately died of AIDS while still in his 30s. I believe he is one of a very few artists ever to have been represented at the Biennale posthumously.
The new photo - posted to the left - is by Antonio Bruceno. He is Venezuelan and his photos of native people leave you breathless.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The end of the electrical conversion story, the trail to Tonolo, and Ai (No!) Gondiliere

So the moral of the converter/adapter/surge protector story is, it's 2007, folks, and most electronics are "travel-ready" with the appropriate adapter. Everything works just fine with a simple piece of $4.95 hardware.

Saturday and the trail to Tonolo. Two patisserie/dolci shops stood out from all the rest in my foodie research and we found Tonolo - on the border of our sestier, Dorsoduro, and the next one north, San Polo, in time for breakfast Saturday morning. Yes, of course it was worth the haul - delicious cookies, buttery pastries, and, of course, stand-out cappuccino.

Also gave us the opportunity to check out Campo di Santa Margherita's Saturday market filled with fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and wild teens!

Right in our own neighborhood, pricey ristorante Ai Gondiliere had come highly recommended. Unfortunately, as we all know, expensive doesn't necessarily translate into "great" and in this case it was downright disappointing. They try - with nice little touches like a glass of Prosecco as soon as we were seated, crudite presented in a water goblet, each carrot and celery stick standing up straight as a soldier nestled into crushed ice, a ramekin of fantastic mustard - local, I'm guessing - topped with olive oil that tasted oh so delizioso on the bread and the vegetables, and a little dessert sampler of shot glasses of chocolate mousse, white chocolate-covered ganache bon-bons and dark chocolate-covered orange peel. But the meal itself was completely uninspired in both flavors and presentation.

Moving right along - the Biennale is open!!

Lights out

So it's 10:30 Friday night and it's time to try out all the adapters and converters and two-pronged round plugs and three-pronged round plugs and surge protectors and, and, and...the computer is working just fine but Marcia notices it's not getting power and the battery is running dangerously low. So we move it to every outlet in the apartment umbilicaled to its expensive Office Max converter/adapter and surge protector and it's still not getting any power and we try each plug/device separately 'til I plug the surge protector into the surge protector in her bedroom and...yep, ALL the lights go out. This palazzetto is centuries old and although the Contessa has walked us through almost every eventuality, blowing a fuse was not among them. Desperately looking for fuse boxes, breaker boxes, emergency power sources all the while praying this blackout didn't affect the piano nobile I finally - somehow - found the breaker box and got the power back on. It was definitely time to GO TO BED.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


A quick note - I'm posting additional photos - you'll find them at the bottom of the page...enjoy!

A Comedy of Errors 2

I know, I know, I owe you "foodie" stuff. But first let me say we just got back from opening day at the Biennale - I cannot even believe I'm writing those words! - and it is more than I ever imagined. And I've only just started to see what the art world has brought to Venice. I've posted a new link to Randy Kennedy's blog - he's the arts writer for The New York Times who's been here covering the show.
Okay, back to the "comedy" -
For my foodie friends - first night dinner at Alle Testiere was perfect. We were late, they held the table although they only have about 24 seats. They offer a true market-based menu; the owner - Luca - tells you what they've got and you order. We had a light and amazingly delicious tiny shrimp and pear salad with pink grapefruit sections, fresh and oven-dried cherry tomatoes, served over fresh, delicate greens. Pasta course - ricotta and zucchini ravioli with strips of zucchini and oven-dried tomatoes. Next I had unbelievable monkfish - two pieces each wrapped in prosciutto - and served with a rainbow of fresh vegetables brunoise. Marcia had a filet of lagoon sole - absolutely delicious. Tiramisu - the real thing, in a bowl, light and luscious - and a gorgeous lemon apricot cake for dessert. As I said, perfect.
Time for bed - as a matter of fact, way past time for bed. With a prayer for a big green suitcase to show up in the morning.
Friday a.m. - they found my bag. Yippee - now all I had to do was wait around for the call about when they'd actually deliver it. Well, that's why god made cell phones, isn't it?
I found a note in the living room from Marcia saying she'd gone to find cappuccino and food. I wanted that, too. I called and she told me where to find her. I'd been meaning to tell her about the fabulous breakfast buffet at La Rivista, the little restaurant at Ca' Pisani where I'd stayed in '05 - remember Chris??!! As I followed her directions, I realized that's exactly where she was. That first cappuccino is always so ono!
Take a walk around the neighborhood and get oriented. Wait for the call. Wait for the call. No call. Lunchtime.
A real find in the San Vio section of Dorsoduro - Osteria Vescio Forner - our first spritz and our first experience with cichetti - the Venetian version of tapas - definitely the way to go. Oven-dried tomatoes stuffed with tuna, crostini, silky polenta with grilled tomato and spinach, corn-meal coated and fried green olives on a stick, a spinach and ricotta "patty" coated and cooked in a similar manner. Unreal. And hanging just over the bar where we sat, a poster by our favorite illustrator/guest columnist in the NY Times, Maira Kalman (see photo to the left)...
Home again, home again...yes, to wait for the bag. While I'm waiting, let's get this computer thing handled. I called Contessa Anna, the lovely lady who owns this palazzetto and she told me to come up and she'd sign me on. As I walked up the stairs to the piano nobile, she got the call. My bag was on its way - molto bene!!
Okay, then. Get unpacked, put on some clean clothes and let's get ourselves out to dinner! Il Refolo in Santa Croce on a little piazza beside a tiny canal came highly recommended and looked perfect. Except, of course, we didn't have reservations and every table - and then some - was spoken for. But our timing was impeccable. As we got the bad news a couple vacated the ONE high table with two bar stools just outside the door. "Could we sit here?" I asked. "For a drink, yes," the young waitress replied. "How about for dinner?" She asked the owner, a very savvy restaurateur, and not only did they let us eat at this table, they set it with the same linen tablecloth they use on all their tables. Classy, classy, classy. Later in the evening they'd haul out a honkin' big piece of plywood from god knows where to accompany a huge party for which there was no room on the piazza, either - like I said, a savvy restaurateur. More spritzes - you can never have enough - salads - both of us in need of live food - and a killer pizza with eggplant, anchovy, zucchini flowers and mozzarella - simple is often best. Oh, they SPLIT THE PIZZA IN THE KITCHEN - no, we didn't ask them to do it - and it was presented as beautifully as any fancy food would have been. Did I mention this guy is a really savvy restaurateur??
Had enough to eat? I'm ending this here - I know I still have to catch you up about Saturday and about Biennale opening day and I will...I'm going to see if I can figure out how to get several new photos up to illustrate this post.
Ciao, mi amici...