Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Roman Bath as Renaissance Church

The baths of Imperial Rome inspired some of the greatest churches of the renaissance.

Particularly the Baths of Diocletian in Rome, completed ca. 300 AD, which covered 32 acres and could comfortably accommodate 3,000 bathers. The complex included changing rooms, gymnasiums, libraries, meeting rooms, theaters, concert halls, sculpture gardens, pools of hot, medium, and cold water with virtual steam rooms and saunas near the furnaces, all executed in marble and mosiac. Designed to dazzle with its splendor, it was a PR project. Diocletian had never been to Rome. He was a soldier-emperor. But he had heard of the beauty and the popularity of the Baths of Caracalla built almost a century earlier and his mandate was simple -- the baths bearing his name would be bigger, better, grander and more beautiful than those built by Caracalla.

Walking inside Redentore, and especially in San Giorgio Maggiore, the two greatest Palladio masterpieces of the Venetian renaissance, this provenance is triumphantly clear. All that's missing are the steaming pools and naked bathers. The arches and apses and domes that now shelter the holiest religious icons, once closed their loving arms around the public baths of the most notoriously decadent city in history. Unless you are Fellini, it's useless to try and imagine what might have transpired in all those giant marble tubs.

Re-imagined by Palladio these spaces are sober, majestic, monochrome, and subject to the constant interplay of light through the well-placed windows that take their name, Diocletian Windows, or Thermal Windows (from terme for bath) from the Baths of Diocletian.

Palladio's windows are clear bottleglass, the sun through them is as white as poured steel. Raise your eyes above the religious statues and paintings -- from the top of the first order upwards -- and you are in a pagan space with its joyous interplay of circles and arcs and straights, and absent the tubs and the gambling and the whores, it is equally suited to the religious purposes to which it has been put: it is grand and elevating.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Proust was wrong

Proust was wrong, or at least as I recall it. There is a quote in my memory where Proust says that Santa Maria della Salute is a perfect example of a mediocre building made great by its location.

There is, of course, no escaping the location.

The church stands on over a million and a quarter trees pounded into the mud between the Grand Canal and the Zattere to support its mountain of stone. It faces the Grand Canal where it widens into St. Mark's Basin. Salute is triangulated by San Marco and San Giorgio, and on the Festa della Salute a temporary pontoon bridge is built across the Grand Canal to reach Salute from the San Marco side. During the Republic the Doge led a procession from the Basilica of San Marco to Salute, across the bridge, in perpetuity, in gratitude for the Virgin sparing the city from the terrible plague of 1630.

The architect was a relatively unknown 26-year-old, Baldessare Longhena. The design is actually one of the great examples of human ingenuity and problem-solving, but you have to understand the problem to appreciate the achievement. Proust was certainly aware of the problem, but his dismissal is that of the esthete, void of the customary rigor and precision of his analyses. It reeks of an ill-considered first impression. Perhaps he didn't spend enough time with it.

To grasp its true genius, you have to walk around the exterior slowly and observe it from its successive angles, preferably at night when it is well-lit but the city is quiet and there are few distractions. The inside must be seen at several different times during the day for reasons that will be made clear.

Since the fall of Rome, architecture has labored in its shadow. The Renaissance revived the rules and proportions, the structure and decorative motifs of an idealised Rome extrapolated from its ruins. Palladio's Churches of San Giorgio Maggiore and Redentore, behind it, are the last word in Renaissance Roman.

But the Church had a problem with this idealization of Roman architecture. In its early centuries it inhabited ancient temples, and then it built its own upon, and often incorporating, their ruins. Eventually the forms themselves, the monospaces and circular temples, were abhorred by the Church as too pagan. The nave-and-aisle basilica ruled; it was too humble to have been used in the great Roman temples. What was not incorporated into the Christian iconography and style was suppressed.

Up until Longhena's design for Salute, circular basilicas were forbidden. The echoes of the Pantheon in Rome were too loud and too clear, and although the Pantheon had been converted into a Catholic Church, the Vatican frowned on any use of the circular form in highly visible or important locations.

Even the Benedictines across St. Mark's Basin, when confronted with the task of completing San Giorgio Maggiore after Palladio's death, chickened out. Palladio's design featured a perfect Roman facade complete with a porch thrust forward. Once Palladio died, before the church was completed, they revisited the design and pushed the porch in, making the facade another variation of the superimposed pediments Palladio had used for Redentore.

Longhena's idea is brilliant. The church is not round, it is not a Pantheon per se. It is an octagon. The octagonal base supports a round dome and inside the space is round. He created a round basilica within an octagonal frame. And he got away with it. That was not only due to the cleverness of his design, but in some measure to a loosening of the stylistic reins during the general restyling of the Catholic Church in the Counter-Reformation.

In a brilliantly Venetian masterstroke, the dome sits on a glass drum. The light floods Salute through these high, tall, clear glass windows from different directions at different times of day. It should be seen at as many different times of day as possible. The interior can be uncannily luminous. As always in Venice it is about the light.

As you enter and walk around, you are definitely in a different realm, no longer Roman, no longer Renaissance; it is pure imaginative fantasy. It is Baroque. The circular floor beneath the dome is a geometric Persian carpet of inlaid polychrome marble. The altar chapel, on the far side of the soaring circles created by the dome, is a smaller variation on the same theme, windows supporting the ceiling and the smaller dome above the altar. It is complex, spacious, luminous. Light rules.

The stonework and stucco are white and grey, a harmonious monotone that highlights the paintings and creates, with the surrounding sculptures on pillars, walls, and ceilings, its own textures of light and shadow.

In its echoing center, all we see of the Grand Canal is a distant glitter of the sun upon the water through the open portals. It is not about the setting. It is about the sensuous curves and the stately geometry of the interior.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Piero il magnifico

Usually the Palazzo Cini Gallery is closed. Having walked by it a million times, not certain what exactly was inside, it became a perpetual enigma in my daily life. Today, and for the next few weekends, it is open.

The collection is small, amassed by the Cini family and donated along with the palace to the Cini Foundation which also runs the monumental S. Giorgio Maggiore complex including the magnificent Palladio refectory and a spectacular library. (The filing system of the library is old style. Books by and about Dante are shelved under the carved bust of Dante atop it. Ditto Homer, ditto Plato, ditto Petrarch, etc. A neat system, but to find what you're looking for you need to know what the author looked like. Early cult of personality?)

The collection includes masterpieces of renaissance Tuscan and Ferrarese painting, works by such big name artists as Filippo Lippi, Pontormo, Botticelli (and Co.). These are interesting, as are many of the other paintings and drawings in their collection. The Botticelli, a "Judgment of Paris" is clearly primarily by "& Co." The Lippi is small, sad, touching, but not blisteringly beautiful like his works at the Uffizi.

No, pride of place goes to the late Piero della Francesca "Madonna con bambino" which is breathtakingly spectacular. Piero is one of my favorites and his extant work is sparse. This painting wins the Blue Ribbon for the month.

The Piero is strikingly modern; in it you can see Picasso, Modigliani, Cezanne. Like late paintings tend to be, it is spare, terse, and perfectly composed. Often this simplicity was the result of failing eyesight, as with Tiziano. But here, exquisitely articulated detail is a testament to no diminution in technical skills. The apparent simplicity is by design. If anything, Piero is here transcendent; the terse pictorial language is the result of age, skill, and fully mature artistry. The madonna's simple black robe is thrown back over her shoulder reveraling a sumptuous lining of burgundy and gold brocade Byzantine in its complexity. Its dramatic impact is emphasized by a simple sky blue shift beneath it, and beneath that, for perfection of design, a ruby colored frock with silvery gold brocade.

Everything else is clean, spartan, geometric, void; the sky behind them is a late Georgia O'Keefe desert sky. The faces are somber; their pose is monumental, as if the wind had carved them from sand and pale stone.

Piero della Francesca
Borgo San Sepolcro, 1410/20 - 1492
"Madonna con bambino"
Palazzo Cini Gallery

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is it real or did you make it up?

Accademia Bridge, Santa Maria della Salute, 8AM

There are twenty-six stairs up, and down, fifty-two total, to cross the stone bridge at the Arsenale. There are 52 up and 52 down on the Accademia Bridge, total 104. This does not particularly matter to me, but it matters to a character I am writing. I could have pulled a number out of my ass, but someone would know. So I took the No. 1 to Arsenale and counted.

Fiction is a variable balance between reality and imagination. Different writers rely more heavily on one or the other.

Here's how I formulated it for myself the other night. Use reality where necessary and imagination where necessary, depending on which makes a better story. Never be limited by the truth; never yield gratuitously to the imagination.

Proust, who was rich enough to publish his own masterwork and mad enough to understand the enormity of his achievement, laid bare the contradiction between the two and worked its dialectic from every angle. The result is genius; the product of a singular set of circumstances, something never to be repeated. But he set the bar very high, and most memoirs contain nowhere near the volume of truth as Proust's fiction.

So it is a pleasure to blend, like an alchemist, what seems to be memory, with what seems to be imagination (both being very approximate and difficult to quantify), and create something unique from them, transforming the base metals into gold.

Quantum physics proved how the act of observing something changes it. The act of remembering also changes reality, as the does the act of imagining. In the end, the real is more or less a composite of an infinite number of simultaneous points of view, vide "Rashomon." Nothing is ever real except the present moment, and there is very real reason to question whether anything else exists.

Strange as it may seem, that makes perfect sense to me...

The images are merely an excuse for thinking aloud... Santa Maria della Salute at 8am, when the sun is rising over the lagoon, and at 8 pm, when the sun is setting over the mainland.

Santa Maria della Salute from Accademia Bridge, 8pm

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Waste Land

Western sky after storm

For unaccountable reasons, I reread T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land".

Written in 1922, it was, when I was in college, regarded as the definition of Modern. Yeats was mystical-traditional, Dylan Thomas plain drunk and Ezra Pound plain crazy. But Pound's influence, his encyclopedic knowledge and precise language, is evident in every line of The Waste Land, which Pound edited.

I read it in the aftermath of the first big storm of the season, a rip-roaring downpour that emptied the streets and filled the vaporettos to capacity and beyond. My ride from San Zaccaria to Zattere, normally a pleasant eight-minute zip across the basin and up the Giudecca Canal, was a complete nightmare. There was barely space to breath. I was standing in an exposed area, partly covered by other people's umbrellas; the poor English chap in front of me, in his shirtsleeves, pushed against the gate, was streaming water and somehow smiling good-naturedly. His wife tried to hold her umbrella over him above the shoulders of other people but one slight turn of the boat and the wind flipped it inside out.

A tumultuously wet and thundrous day. A good day to read The Waste Land which ends with a rain storm of expiation and rebirth.

The Waste Land not only held up, it was, in fact better; that is to say, I appreciated it in a new and wholly personal way.

When I was 19 I was struck by the stark and unique beauty of particular phrases, but lost in the maze of mythology and footnotes about arcane references. I didn't worry about the footnotes today. I just read the poem, got into its flow, into its sequence of situations, dissolving, like film dissolves, one into another, or jump cutting away. The language of the cinema was only just being developed, but Eliot and/or Pound understood the concepts of montage and the principles of film editing. The poem is "cinematic" the way Puccini wrote movie music before there was any and movie music as we know it would have been far different had there been no Puccini. Similarly, Eliot was modern before there was Modern, when all he had to go on was The First World War with its astonighingly bloody trench warfare. Airplanes and bombs made it bloodier than Austerlitz or Waterloo; but nothing, for sheer barbarism, compared to what was to come. Eliot's vision reverberates with the rest of the Twentieth Century; its style is the style of the Twentieth Century par excellence; it was in 1922 and remains so today. In that sense, it is a timeless masterpiece.

And that says nothing about its sensibility. It is the outcry of the parched soul, the spirit and the intellect, for salvation, and that is why it ends in that thundrous rain of grace, undeserved perhaps, but that's what grace is all about.

"And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
 I will show you fear in a handful of dust."

This could have been written in sands of the Almagordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, Los Alamos, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, the year that I was born. It could be about the apocalytic power of the universe released when atoms collide at high speeds. When the twin shadows of the blast merge, and the fire consumes the sky and time.

There's fear and repentence, anger and forgiveness, love and betrayal and expiation. It is as vast a saga as The Ring of the Niebelungen; but ruthlessly cut to a few surgically precise lines, the parts that stand for the whole because the whole is beyond comprehension and we only get clues. Ever.

And then there's this:

"At the violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
 Like a taxi throbbing waiting,
 I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
 Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
 At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
 The typist home at teatime, clears her breakfast, lights
 Her stove, and lays out food in tins.
 Out of the window perilously spread
 Her drying combinations touched by the sun's last rays,
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
 Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
 I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
 Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
 I too awaited the expected guest.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Biennale: Lithuanian Pavillion, East-West Divan

I went to the Scuola Grande della Misericordia to see the Lithuanian Biennale Pavillion and, upstairs from it, the East-West Divan show with four artists from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Aside from the art, I have always been curious about the Misericordia. Since I have lived here it has been derelict; a hulking brick structure with no ostensible purpose. The Palasport sign over the side door is a remnant of its brief incarnation as a gymnasium, and the upper floor was home to the local basketball team. The plain brick exterior gives you no clue about what is inside.

The building is attributed to Jacopo Sansovino, who was the the favored architect of the Venetian Republic in the sixteenth century. Outside the brick is spare and unwelcoming; inside, the scale is luminous and transparent. Crossing the brick portal, you step into the high renaissance. The Renaissance ideal was to breathe life into ancient Rome, from the lifelike frescoes to the monumental architecture. The enormous double-high space is a recreation of the Grandeur that was Rome. The idealization of the past is romantic in its essence; but the buildings are, in fact, perfect. One pass through the Pantheon settles that question forever. Only the heavy weight of the church, aggressive in policing against the pagan spirit of Rome, prevented the renaissance architects from recreating the Roman temples for their churches.

The art inside was interesting in several different directions. The primary Lithuanian installation was "Tube" by Zilvinas Kempinas, built amid the triple colonnades of the first floor. The tube, big enough to walk through and as long as the space, is comprised of horizontal stripes of thin metal alternating with transparent spaces. To walk through is to enter an Op Art world. The effect is mesmerizing.

But I found the art upstairs even more fascinating. The show is called "East-West Divan: Contemporary Art from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan." Their literature describes the exibition as follows:

The exhibition will present recent works by ten artists from three countries, better known in the West for stereotypes of terrorism and Islamic extremism than for their rich artistic heritage and vibrant contemporary cultures.

East-West Divan meditates upon links between the artistic traditions in Venice and the Persian artistic heritage shared by these countries, revealing the tightly knotted relationship between East and West - both in life and the imagination.

The artists vary in style, but all share the integration of traditional techniques with today's content. If you look at some of these, and their accompanying statements, in the GALLERY, you will get a sense of the mission of these artists, to express the identity of real people who are more than stereotypes, who are not driven by a lust for world domination, and who simply want to live their lives in their way in peace.

It is a beautiful and startling revelation. The art is gorgeous, never provocative simply for the sake of being provocative, but always thoughtful and therefore persuasive. Culturally diverse people dream the same dreams.

Art can do that. At its best, that's what it does. It is an expression of our common humanity.


Lightning Strikes Twice

Grigolo and Ciofi, final curtain calls

On my way home this afternoon I passed by La Fenice. I knew the cast of today's Traviata was the same cast I had seen. The matinee was due to start in less than half an hour and I figured I would see if I could get a ticket.

My seat was in the same box I sat in the first time I went to La Fenice in 1990. It is a lateral box above the orchestra and on the first level, the same level as the stage. When the singers are on your side of the stage, you could reach over and touch them. That was precisely how I wanted to see Patrizia Ciofi and Vittorio Grigolo.

Was it as good as Wednesday night? In many ways, it was better. But I think that is because it was more immediate. My seat Wednesday was better both for sightlines and sound, but achieved these by distance. Up very close I could see the shadings of their expressions, what they did with their eyes with their hands.

Ciofi is at her peak; she is capable of taking your breath away. Grigolo is in the midst of a brilliant beginning and where it will lead is anyone's guess. But for now, they set the stage on fire. When she desperately runs her hands through his thick black hair, it is his thick black hair. No wigs. And her signature red hair is part of her character. They are two stunning people desperately in love and fate has decreed that they will not live happily ever after.

Part of these artists' intensity has to do with the fierce difficulty of the music and the level of concentration required to produce it well. But the rest, the hyperdrive they hit, is dramatic inspiration, the director's and theirs. They put the music at the service of the drama and they do it with the power to make us believe it.

The production a perfect visual and theatrical setting for the drama. Everything about it, to the smallest detail, is of a piece and makes sense within itself. Thank Robert Carsen for that. It is 180 degrees from the ugly and inane production of Romeo e Juliette Fenice did earlier this year, the vapidity of the production matched by the mediocrity of the voices. In Traviata, nothing is gratuitous; even the Viva Las Vegas gypsy scene works. What great production of Traviata doesn't veer into kitsch during this interlude?

During the overture Violetta lolls on her velvet bed as men in business suits, one after another, shower her with money. At the end of "Sempre Libera" she is flinging the money around madly. In the second act the leaves that cover the stage of the lovers' country retreat, the leaves they lay in and shuffle through, and that occasionally falls from the trees and from wallets in almost every scene, are dollar bills. In every scene, including the confrontation with Giorgio Germont, a man throws money at her. Everyone misses the point. She has to die before they understand what really made her tick. Sometimes things cannot be put right, the center cannot hold, things do fall apart.

Ciofi and Grigolo took no prisoners. Vladimir Stoyanov, as Germont Pere, did not fare as brilliantly only because in the world of this Traviata he is a grey-suited corporation man, a Senior VP of Finance caught in a tawdry family melodrama. His affect and mannerisms were constricted and constrained. His passion crept in slowly and all the more dramatically for it. It worked for me, and it made his denunciation of Alfredo and his heartbreak at the end all the more touching.

Because I was sitting over the orchestra, I could also watch maestro Myung-Whun Chung. He stood before the orchestra, monkish and still and immensely powerful. He alone put the key in the ignition. Before he did, he waited for complete quiet in the theater. At the beginning of the third act, he waited and waited and waited until the theatre finally became quiet and was just about to raise his baton when when somebody sneezed. I think one the woodwinds cracked up first. The orchestra was heroically stoic as others in the audience giggled, and Maestro Chung, his back to the audience, finally had to laugh.

It was a brilliant afternoon at the opera, but more than anything, it was absolutely exhilarating to hear what I thought was a vanished species, the golden-throated Italian tenor. Grigolo has got it; I hope he does the right thing with it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fenice | La Traviata

Every once in a while, if you go to enough opera, the characters onstage come to life, the singers become real people caught in terrible twists of fate.

Violetta's plight is certainly one of the most wrenching in all opera. Like other great operatic heroines she is torn between love and duty (one of Verdi's favorite dilemmas). She accepts duty, self-sacrifice, for the sake of a young girl she has never met and will never meet. She knows she will die as a result of this decision, and she doesn't know when. When she does die, her bereft Alfredo, twice robbed of her, and his complicit father, are overwhelmed with their own private griefs.

But when I cried it was not because the music was sad. I cried at moments that were incredibly beautiful. The Brindisi certainly is not sad, nor "Un di felice." Ardent, impassioned, ecstatic even; not sad. "Sempre libera," mad but not sad. No, I cried at the exquisite beauty of the moment, the big picture, created when everyone was firing on all cylinders. Myung-Whun Chung wielded the baton and shaped a sensitive reading; he is like Jeffrey Tate in his ear for the vocal/orchestral balance. He serves the singers well, and they him. The team has performed it before and will perform it again.

Vittorio Grigolo is the Platonic Ideal of Alfredo. He is beautiful the way the young Elvis was beautiful onstage. His joy and anguish are believable and he looks great in form-fitting levis, a tight black shirt and a black leather jacket. He was coltish, athletic, smitten and ardent, whether smiling or smouldering. And, oh yes, he sang beautifully. It was the rare instance of the music written for such man being sung by one. His voice was shiny and supple, rang out over the orchestra as needed, and was as delicate and soft as needed to be convincing in the intimate moments. The voice seduced this ear. From the brindisi, when he plays a white grand piano, he had my attention. That most magical of stage illusions happens: he becomes Alfredo. You could see his adoration for Violetta in the movements of his body and hear his emotional changes in his voice. The heat between the lovers is palpable. You never ask "why" because you understand perfectly well.

Patrizia Ciofi creates a stunning Violetta with pale white skin and long red hair, her lean body alternately tense and voluptuous. She has internalized this production; it is hard to tell where she ends and it begins. She is compelling, heart-breaking, and exquisitely musical. She also plays well with others, which makes her an ideal partner in duets. Her transformation during the confrontation with Giorgio Germont, from no to yes, from life to death, was visceral and noble. Her public humiliation at Flora's party was shattering. The stage picture for the prelude to Act 3, Violetta alone on the floor, her face illuminated only by the glow of the empty television screen on the floor beside her, was chilling. "Addio del passato" was the bitter and sad farewell of a dying woman.

This beautiful partnership began in 2005 when this production was new, and, under the baton of Loren Maazel, it reopened Fenice after the fire and rebuild. It has aged well; Robert Carsen is like that. The Modern Indefinite sets and costumes create a parallel universe I could easily step into and believe. Carsen's visions are poetic; they ripen nicely. The chemistry was there for magic, and it happened again and again.

I love live opera for times like these, when the fourth wall dissolves and you are in another world where only music is spoken and it is talking directly to your heart and soul.

Autumn flowerboxes

Most of the summer flowers in my flower box were spent, so this morning I bought some new ones for fall. They give me immense pleasure and I try to plant them so that they look as good from the inside as from outside because I see them more from the inside. I went with Erica and Cyclamen because they seem to grow through the winter.

On my way to the flower shop I stopped into Frari (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari), one of the twin Gothics of Venice. I hadn't been into Frari in almost year a year.

It never ceases to amaze. The interior skeleton of bare bricks is encrusted with ornate marble tombs accreted over the centuries like baroque pearls. Above, the vaults are bare; there is virtually no fresco work in the nave, some in the vaults of the transept and altar, but in the style of Byzantine mosaics rather than in Italian medieval fresco style. These frescoes are like frayed embroidered quilts. The alternating diamonds of carmel and ivory-colored marble are found on the floor of most of the large churches in Venice.

The Canova tomb, which he designed for Titziano but was buried in himself, is romantically mysterious, its door half open like all the little mausoleums -- the little houses of the dead -- that fill the cemteries on Lido. Why ajar? Are they coming or going?

Several of the other altars were designed by baroque architect Baldassare Longhena, who designed Santa Maria della Salute at the age of 26. The are huge in scale, incredibly ornate in decoration; already, the baroque has begun to veer into the grotesque. It is easy to get lost in the detail, but it is the sheer volume of light and space so strikingly framed that is the most amazing thing about Frari.

That and the Bellini triptich in the sacristy. I fell in love with that painting my first time in Venice, in 1990, and still consider it at the top of a very short list of the most beautiful paintings in the world. Looking at it, you see the Renaissance in perfect flower, so lifelike as to breathe. It is serene and touching in its humanity; the palette is vivid and jewel-toned palette; the architecture of the little chapel surrounding it and the gold frame holding it are reflected in the painting. It could only be properly seen here, where it was intended to be.

In the famous Tiziano Assumption above the altar high renaissance drama supersedes the quiet, classic interior world of Bellini. Nearby, there were white roses on the white marble gravestone of Claudio Monteverdi in the floor of a gated chapel.

There are few places quite so rich in exuberant artistic invention.

Tonight, La Traviata at La Fenice with Patrizia Ciofi as Violetta and Vittorio Grigolo as Alfredo. I hope it's as good as I hope it will be.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A day in the life

I had to go to the Post Office to pay Erika's electric bill (she is in the U.S. simultaneously preparing Tosca for Nashville and Lady Macbeth for the Vienna State Opera). The landlady gave me Erika's bill a week after its due date, so I reckoned I'd better pay it right away.

Unfortunately, today was a big day for pensioners cashing their vouchers, which is one of the Post Office's most important functions here. The line was at least an hour long at the small Post Office on Campo San Polo, so I went to the main Post Office (at the foot of the Rialto Bridge, in the former German Trade Association of the middle ages. At one time this particular Grand Canal palazzo wore exterior frescoes by Tiziano and Giorgione, but they didn't last long. Human incompetence completed the job begun by the corrosive salt air).

The main post office has five service windows for pensions, bill-paying and the like, and one reserved for postal products. Of the five non-postal windows, only one was working. The computers were down. With only one window open, the line was a good hour's wait, two-thirds of them pensioners, but I seriously wanted to get the bill paid and decided to tough it out.

If the stamp window isn't busy with stamps, they can handle bill-paying, so the first argument broke out after someone at the end of the line slipped up to the empty stamp window, in front of thirty people who had been there longer. Italians are very forthcoming with their opinions; everybody has one and all are voiced. I wasn't in a particular rush, the plumber wasn't due until after three, so I settled in, but everyone else raised enough hell that a window was opened for pension business only, leaving the other window for bill paying, as well as the stamp window which quickly became a bill-paying window. This trimmed over half the wait time; I was only in line for half an hour to pay the bill which took about a minute-and-a-half.

The plumber was coming because my neighbor, whose (immense) apartment takes up the complete ground floor and two-thirds of the first floor of my building (my small apartment, once a part of it, taking up the other third), had not only not paid his rent for a year, but had also neglected to pay his water bill. I came home one day last week to find no water, and it took the landlady several phone calls to find out why it had been shut off, to pay it, and to get them to turn it back on again. That happened surprisingly quickly.

But after the shut-off and shut-on the filter on my water heater started to drip. The workman who cut the seal he had put on the day before when he shut it off, told me that after turning it back on I would need to clean the filters on the faucets; the off/on processing barrages the taps with calcium and rust. He twisted mine off to show me, and they were filthy. Something similar must have happened to the water heater filter. The leak was is a casual drip drip; I have to empty the bucket every six or seven hours. The landlady called the plumber who said he would come today after three, but never showed. At five I texted my landlady replied with his phone number. When I called him he apologized, said he'd had a crazy day and would come tomorrow at 1pm.

That left me the remains of a cool, sunny September day and I decided I deserved a gorgeous walk. I did the walk around Punta della Dogana, but in a slightly different way, noticing different things.

A party was being set up on the private deck behind the Punta della Dogana, facing San Giorgio and the immense yachts moored in the basin, all likely related to the film festival. I caught a glimpse of the festival the other night when Eve and I walked by the red carpet area on Lido, spread north of the Casino, and ended up on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior, film festival central. It was fabulous in its way, but mostly for the conversation, for the light of the full moon on the Adriatic, and all the glamorous people around us. The hamburger wasn't bad either (much better than last time) and the buffalo mozzarella was everything you could ask for.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sic transit gloria mundi

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O'er the far times, when many a subject land
Look'd to the winged Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

Lord Byron
Childe Harold, Canto IV

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Where Am I?

Full moon over Dorsoduro

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Three Guys on a Fence

San Vio, Venezia, Biennale 2009