Sunday, July 19, 2009

Festa del Redentore 2009

The Festa del Redentore is spiritually centered in the Church of Redentore, one of Palladio's masterpieces. Started in 1576, the church was built ex voto for relief from an outbreak of plague. It is a triumphal statement of humble gratitude and grandiose self-glorification.

But socially the Festa is centered on St. Mark's Basin, where thousands of people crowd in boats for a long evening of partying, and along the fondamentas of the Giudecca canal, and on any balcony or altana with a view.

A pontoon bridge is erected across the 300m canal which is closed to normal traffic. From the opening of the Church until the dissolution of the Venetian Republic by Napoleon, the Doges crossed a bridge built on boats in a solemn procession from San Marco to the Redentore.

But the real highlight of the weekend now is the midnight fireworks display in St. Mark's Basin, over the heads of the boats crowded below. Traditionally the boats were decorated with flowers and lanterns and the kind of kitsch Italians love to distraction; today one sees a preponderance of plain rented boats filled with kegs and watermelons and sandwiches; the people eat and drink and party, loud music blaring and at dawn there are beach parties on the Lido.

Frank and Liesl's altana is the perfect place to watch the fireworks. Their top floor apartment is on the west side of the Church of the Redentore; their altana has a sweeping view of Venice, from Marghera to Lido, to say nothing of the fireworks. Above the noise and below the fireworks, their altana is a place of enchantment.

I went with my new neighbor, Erika, who is an old friend of Liesl. Maestro, Erika's miniature pinscher, young and unschooled in the ways of Venice, made it on foot along the Zattere but when we hit the pontoon bridge he went into his carrying case. At 8pm it was still broad daylight, the fireworks hours off and the partying just beginning to crank up along the fondamenta.

Liesl served a five-course sit down dinner on the altana; she gets a Great Hostess Award! The tuna mousse was an absolute knockout, and everything on par with it. Dolci finished just in time for the fireworks.

The show is long and spectacular. It begins at 11-30 and the grand finale is a fireworks-filled hour later. The Venetians have been playing with fireworks since Marco Polo visited China and they have perfected the art of beautiful displays. This year's show had moments of spectacularly blazing beauty.

Fireworks are an art of the moment. They do not last. They explode and disappear in an instant and tell a whole story in the process. Watching them, adults become children. The children, who had been anxiously waiting all day, fell into a deep and exhausted sleep before the show ever ended, but the adults gazed in open-mouthed wonder.

If there is a perfect expression of bliss, triumphant bliss, it is fireworks. They soar and sparkle and dance. You cannot fix them in time nor cling to them beyond the moment in which they happen. It is a singular instant, now, to be savored and let go, like an amuse bouche for the soul.

Afterward, before fighting our way back across the crowded pontoon bridge, Erika bought a big white fluff of cotton candy. Children. Children of all ages at the Fair. Tired and dazzled and exhilarated.

My attempts to capture the elusive are in the FIREWORKS GALLERY.

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