Saturday, July 7, 2007

Three days, three islands

A gorgeous sunrise water taxi ride to the airport made it only slightly easier to leave Venice. My month in one of the most gorgeous cities on earth was everything and more I thought and hoped it would be.

Two smooth flights later, I was in NYC being picked up at JFK by cousins David and Heidi and off to their home in Brooklyn (okay, so maybe it’s not technically an island and I’ve taken a little poetic license with the final post on this blog – big deal). We three and their friend Chef Kate went out to dinner at a great Thai restaurant called Nana in the Park Slope/Brooklyn Heights area that has exploded with great new restaurants in the past couple of years. It was fabulous and, to be honest, a taste treat after a month of Venetian food.

Back to the airport less than 24 hours after I’d arrived. But not before everyone’s favorite NYC breakfast – orange juice, coffee, bagels, lox, cream cheese, onions, tomatoes, and my personal favorite, whitefish salad. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Two smooth flights later (and a bit of sleep, to boot) and I was greeted with smiles from friends David and Geri. Less than 30 minutes later, home again, home again jiggity jig.

I know how lucky I am to live in such a wondrous place. It always makes coming home from vacation easy. This time, though, I didn’t feel quite as happy and relieved as I usually do on touchdown. Dreams of Venice

Random thoughts and the debunking of myths

Let’s debunk some myths first, shall we?

Myth #1: Venice is unbearably hot during the summer months and the lagoon stinks. Venice is hot during the summer, lots of places are hot during the summer and we never once smelled anything foul at all coming from the lagoon or anywhere else.

Myth #2: Venice is unbearably crowded with tourists during the summer months. Piazza San Marco and the Riva along the Grand Canal is unbearably crowded with tourists during the summer months. The rest of the city is not.

Myth #3: Venice is one of the few – if not the only – place in Italy where you can get bad food. First of all, I have a feeling if you try really hard you can get a bad meal anywhere. In 28 days, I had a total of three or four pretty lousy dinners, maybe one or two not-so-great lunches and not one bad breakfast. More important, we had numerous great and a few truly amazing meals.

Moving on to “random thoughts”…

-if you think cell phone use is ubiquitous in this country, you ain’t seen nothin’ ‘til you get to Italy – from kids to grandmas and grandpas, everyone is on his/her cell phone ALL THE TIME, which includes the people who pilot the boats and row the gondolas making the waterways a very interesting place to be

-Venetian men sing and talk to themselves a lot – Wanda was the first to take note of this

-there are a lot – a LOT! – of dogs in Venice and their owners love them very much and take them everywhere

-if you have the “subway gene,” you will automatically master the vaporetto system; if you don’t, it might take a little while to figure it out

-if you can’t or don’t want to walk up and down a lot – a LOT! – of steps, Venice is not a good choice for you – there are very few elevators in and you will need to negotiate a lot of bridges to move around and really enjoy the city

-Venetians – all Italians, really – are the most stylish people in the world – from kids to grandmas and grandpas, they just look great all the time – Chris calls them “walking works of art”

-Venetians take recycling seriously – they recycle everything because they live on Islands and understand the value of their resources – da ya think we could learn something from them??

-and finally, lest there was any doubt, Orange IS the new Black.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

And now it's time to say...

...arrivederci to La Serenissima.

We had one last morning at the Biennale in the Giardini, one last spritz and cicchetti lunch at Vecio Forner, and shall have one last dinner at a new restaurant - Vini da Gigio - in a new neighborhood - the far northern reaches of Cannaregio.

It has been grand, artistic, delicious, more than I ever dreamed and I shall have stories to tell and photos to share for a long, long time to come.

Grazie mille, mi amici, e ciao ciao ciao.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Another perfect dinner... Alle Testiere. Tiny soft shell crabs quick-fried with olive oil and vinegar, monkfish smothered in saor, eggplant and ricotta ravioli with swordfish, shrimp in spicy tomato-cinnamon sauce, grilled filet of sea bass, panna cotta, fig torta. White wine, red wine, white wine, red wine, dessert wine. Three times in four weeks - each dinner as good as the one before. Amazing service and a place as cute and friendly as if it was in your own neighborhood, wherever that neighborhood happens to be. It's hard to leave. It will be fantastic to go back, whenever that might be.

Sorry, no food photos, no photos of the restaurant. So, a serene Venetian scene instead. Buona notte...

Next to last

I seem to be counting everything down - cappuccini, meals, Biennale installations, walks by Le Forcole - everything.

This morning was the final visit to Biennale "collateral" exhibits and fortunately, Scotland, Latin America (Territorios), Armenia, and the third of three Australian installations were all either in or on the grounds of Palazzo Zenobia, very near to home. All interesting in their own way - Armenia deals with war, Latin America deals with territories - in every sense of that word - and making them one's own, Scotland is represented by six artists, all extremely different, and Valhalla - the final Australian installation - is, for me, the most groundbreaking of today's bunch. I've posted two photos down below - one is the exterior and the other the interior.

We also took in a fascinating exhibit of wooden interactive machines/models of some of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, reproduced from his own drawings. Installed at the Church of San Barnaba, the setting (once again) is an interesting part of the experience. I've posted a photo at the left.

Strike two at VizioVirtu - and this time the chocolate maker was standing outside the shop. I suggested she update the information on her website which says the shop is open all day. Perhaps the midday heat is too much for her little creations. We shall not make another special trip, I'm afraid.

Nap time. Then dinner (next to last) at Alle Testiere.


La Fenice p.s.

I almost forgot to mention a fabulous exhibit of black and white photos by William Claxton that is also at La Fenice for the next two months. The installation of "Photography is Jazz for the eye" is a great juxtaposition of eras and musical forms. The portraits are from the 50s and 60s and include Charley Parker, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and many, many more. They are exhibited on music stands throughout what are called the Sale Apollinee, a series of five rooms used during "intervals" by the audience members in the first three tiers of boxes.

The Phoenix rises...twice

A busy day yesterday - Gill, unfortunately has a bit of a bug so after a little nursing from the Contessa, he went farmacia shopping. He's a trooper and hasn't really let it slow him down. While he did that, I had an informative and inspiring chat with Severio Pastor, the forcole carver, and his young apprentice. I'm writing a sidebar to my Biennale story for The Honolulu Advertiser about them. Their carving is as much art as anything I've seen in the Biennale exhibitions.

The other highlight of the day was most definitely the audio tour of La Fenice, Venice's storied opera house that has twice survived devastating fires. The name, which means The Phoenix, could not be more appropriate. The 1200-seat main theater is a masterpiece of extremely decorative Rococo style. It also takes the comfort of both performers and audience members into consideration. Constructed mostly of wood including the floor, the acoustics are excellent. The velvet covered seats "on the floor" and in the five tiers of boxes are lovely and quiet and each has an air vent beneath. Not only does it keep the audience member cool in summer and warm in winter, it eliminates the need for large vents that are notoriously noisy and interfere with the music. No photography is allowed inside La Fenice but I've posted a photo of the main entrance to the left.

I'm sorry to report that dinner last night was a major mis-step. Recommended very highly by the agent from whom I rented the apartment, it was a very "local" place but we were served the "tourist" dinner. At least it was fairly inexpensive. Enough said...

Onward to today's adventures. Will take in a few last Biennale installations - hard to believe I've been here almost a full month, have not seen it all and will leave having not seen it all. I think I'll probably be back for another (I hope). I'm very much looking forward to dinner tonight - a third visit to Alle Testiere - and I know Gill is going to love it. And I think we better go back to VizioVirtu for some chocolate today, too.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Last "going" ('til me)

A couple of Biennale installations yesterday - fantastic, big oil paintings in a beautiful church setting is Argentina's entry - "I am Winter Itself." And a "collateral" event - a video installation on three screens, each placed on an altar in a tiny church was absolutely extraordinary. Entitled "Ocean without a Shore," the artist is Bill Viola.

We bid "arrivederci" to Wanda this morning after a divine and very Venetian seafood dinner out on the Zattere fronting the Giudeca Canal last night
under a big, full orange Venetian moon - doesn't get much better, I think. The restaurant is called Riviera; the food was delicious, the service excellent, a perfect way to send Wanda off.

It was a quiet morning here at Palazzetto da Schio and this afternoon, Gill and I ventured out by vaporetto to Rialto and wended our way back down to Dorsoduro via San Marco through lots of little streets and alleyways and shops (yes, shops). The photo to the left is one of the wonderfully typical "sights of Venice" we encountered today.

We just finished dinner in the garden - fresh greens, grilled raddichio, pasta with sundried and heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, and basil from the garden. Vino, of course...

My time here is winding down. I have lots of impressions, anecdotes, thoughts to post and I promise to get to all of them as quickly as I can.

Ciao, mi amici...