Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nan Quick’s Travel Diary: the Third Chapter

Paintings in the Arsenale section of La Biennale.
Venice-La Biennale 2011: ILLUMINAZIONI
by Nan Quick

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I’m eating lunch at an outdoor cafe on Via Garibaldi. The day is hot, with a nice breeze. A man wearing a blue mumu ambles by; and then another gentleman, wearing a very pretty flowered frock, passes my table. I envy his ability to walk in heels; I’m a strictly-flat-shoe girl. People are trickling into Venice for tomorrow’s Press and Preview Day at La Biennale, but Castello is peaceful today, and still belongs to its residents, who are pushing their kids in strollers, and carrying groceries in string bags.
Via Garibaldi before the onslaught.
Flying into Marco Polo Airport yesterday from Gatwick on British Airways was wonderful. The day was perfect and the mountains and waters and fields below were as clear as a schoolroom map. Only the dotted lines marking the divisions between nations were missing. And as the plane landed, all of Venice was below us to the East, looking like a tiny museum-model of itself. The Travel Gods were smiling: when I needed the Alilaguna boat from the Airport to Piazza San Marco, it was running. Tomorrow the vaparetti will go on strike. No matter.

Now that I’m in the Italy, where being able to hail a Black Cab (or a water bus) isn’t a sure thing, I’m ready to do some serious walking. Since the success of the next two weeks of my trip depends upon the comfort of my feet, I’m well equipped with Thierry Rabotins (the most comfortable shoes ever made) and Compeeds (the best band-aids ever invented). These shoes and bandages are both exceedingly expensive, but to have UN-sore feet at the end of each 6-or-7-mile day makes the money well spent.
Essential equipment.
Yesterday afternoon I settled into room #543 at the Bauer Hotel (www.bauervenezia.com), drew back the drapes, and threw open the windows just in time to hear the church bells that ring every quarter hour, from 6:30PM until 7:30PM. Then a call to room service for food, and a good night’s rest.
Bauer Hotel on Campo S. Moise.
Room #543.
Lovely veggies from the Bauer kitchen.
A note about the Bauer. Yes, it’s a 5-star hotel, but it’s a 5-star hotel in Italy. You’re paying rent for cool marble floors and a sound-proofed refuge in the heart of Venice, but must keep your American urgency packed in its suitcase. Don’t expect anything to happen quickly. Calls to room service can go unanswered for up to 20 rings (on June 2nd, room service didn’t pick up at all). Laundry sent out must be chased down when you need it back.

But most of all, what the Bauer offers are private views that surpass monetary value, and which give inspiration and calm; the restaurant is pretty great too.
Dusk to dawn views from my room ...
The view of Chisea di Salute from my breakfast table each morning.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Press and Preview Day at La Biennale (www.labiennale.org). I set out to walk the two miles from the Bauer to the Giardini, where the national pavilions are. The huge yachts moored along the Riva never fail to tickle me: I can almost hear each captain taunting: “mine’s bigger than yours!”
Yacht parade on the Riva.
I’m early, and when I go to collect my Gold Card ticket, the line’s short, and I’m in.
Entry to National Pavilions.
La Biennale is the contemporary art equivalent of the Chelsea Flower Show, both in size and renown. But where Chelsea is well-mannered, Biennale is In-Your-Face. Politics! Noise! Profanity! Nudity! (I’ve left out my photos of the profane.) The art on display ranges from nonsensical to sublime. Bombastic political commentaries are cheek to jowl with exquisitely made paintings and sculptures. Geniuses and charlatans abound; it’s hard to tell them apart. Marketing types eye gallery owners and journalists; there are reputations and, ultimately, dollars to be made. But I’m here simply to soak the whole thing up ... on Day 1 ... before the crowds of later days make it hard to move freely.
Map of Giardini Section of Biennale.
The American, Great Britain and French pavilions are the most popular, but seem aggressively didactic: no magic, no mystery ... just ham-handed points made.
American Pavilion.
French Pavilion.
I’m more drawn to the national pavilions that offer visual interest and emotional resonance. Some, like the Nordic Pavilion, are even subtle. Here, my favorites, of the Nationals:

The Nordic Pavilion, art by Backstrom & Ericksson
The Venezuela Pavilion, art by Bassim, Labin, & Yoshi
The Japan Pavilion, mirrors and video, titled TABAIMO
The Danish Pavilion, titled SPEECH MATTERS
And in the Central Pavilion, there’s actually wit:
More scenes from the Giardini’s National Pavilions:
Honestly? I wasn’t bowled over by the National Pavilions. Thinking La Biennale overrated, I began the trek away from Giardini toward Arsenale, where the work of hundreds of artists is on display. The prospect of seeing Arsenale excited me, simply because its 110 acres, formerly the greatest shipyard in Europe, are only open to the public every two years, for Biennale. As I walked on Castello’s back streets, I was astounded to find myself almost alone.
I passed inside the high wall which separates Arsenale from the rest of Venice and was entranced—huge swathes of greenery, sculptures, water views—I’d found the most removed corner of the complex. The sounds of a raucous band came from behind a grove of trees; a fog machine pumped cool mists through the grounds! THIS was special.
And inside the former industrial buildings, every conceivable type of art was on display ... utter chaos ... total fun.
Map of Arsenale Section of Biennale.
An unscientific sampling from the Arsenale galleries:
Totally over-stimulated, I needed air. The nearest doorway revealed the last and most wonderful sight of all: the fortified lagoon where the secretive work of building the best ships in the world was once done.
Two bald men passed, dressed in identical orange ball gowns that I loved, and
which made me think everyone should attend Biennale in party clothes: Finery Strictly Encouraged! Behind them, a young man strolled, self-consciously naked; he looked a bit put out that no one cared. This got me to wondering: where were the CROSS-or-UN-dressing ladies? Seems only the male visitors to Biennale felt they had something to celebrate ... or prove? Why had we women presented ourselves less exotically? Next time I’ll dress more festively.
Thursday, June 2, 2011

I’m burned out on Biennale and will instead spend the day with my Venetian friends, Silvio De Carli, Deborah King, and Alberto Melina.
Silvio. Deborah.
Silvio meets me at the Bauer, and although the cruise ship crowds have already begun to descend, we enjoy our walk among the splendors of Silvio’s home town:
Lunch with Venetians is an all-afternoon affair, and after collecting Deborah and Alberto at their apartment, we settle down for a meal at an outdoor café across from the main gate of Arsenale. My friends have been eating at this café for decades, and the owner greets them with hugs and kisses.
Deborah explains her latest project, a website and gallery show celebrating the art of her late husband Joseph Wallace King (www.vinciata.net), the painter known as Vinciata, who, over his long career, did portraits of many notables, including Queen Elizabeth II, President Richard Nixon, and various Saudi kings.

Friday, June 3, 2011

On this, my last full day in Venice before heading to Rome and Tivoli, I needed CALM, so I sought the quiet of Giudecca and Dorsoduro. But first, I did a bit of shopping at Ottica Carraro; I’ve been collecting their signature line of “Venice” sunglasses for years: they NEVER break. (www.otticacarraro.it).

Then I caught the #42 vaparetto from San Zaccaria to Giudecca, where I made my first-ever visit to Palladio’s Chiesa del SS Redentore. Silvio told me that, as a child, Redentore was his parish church ... not too shabby a place to learn your Catechism! The marble exterior is beautiful but the interior is oddly modest.
In 1577, after the site was chosen, local friars agreed to look after the temple free of charge, but only for so long as no nobles were buried there. Noble burials would have meant enriching bequests, which would in turn have corrupted the friars’ vows of poverty.
View from Redentore toward Dorsoduro, with San Marco in the distance.
After waiting an age for the #41 vaparetto back to San Zaccaria, I finally reached the Accademia Galleries (www.gallerieaccademia.org) in Dorsoduro, where I was disappointed to find their Tiepolo gallery closed for refurbishment. But since Accademia is heaven for a Bellini-lover, my visit was wasn’t wasted.
Giovanni Bellini, Madonna con Bambino. Courtesy of Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
Famished, I made my way to Peggy Guggenheim’s (www.guggenheim.org/venice) where I recovered with coffee and a delicious strawberry tarte before enjoying her quiet gardens, and her peerless art collection. No doubt about it, Peggy knew how to live. (For a great read, buy Mary V. Dearborn’s Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim.)
Saturday morning, June 4, 2011

While photos of Venice tell true stories about its unique variations of light, and about the colors of its opalescent waters, those stories are incomplete.

What they cannot include are the sounds (seagulls, boat engines, church bells, and voices echoing) and smells (diesel fuel, fresh salt air, just-made espresso, and morning alleyways filled with the stink of last night’s drunkards) that complete the City.

In early morning (despite the ripe alleyways), I adored Venice beyond reason, but by 1PM each day when crowds began to make the pavements impassable, I’d growl to myself, “be anyplace else, anywhere but here.”

During my last early-morning walk I passed an American man, who reached out in disbelief to touch a wall, and said to his wife:

“Everything’s falling apart! Look at this plaster!”

I don’t know if he was upset at how brutal Nature is to a City that’s built upon the sea, or if he was simply chagrined to have paid quite a sum to travel to such a crumbling place. I looked at the wall, and decided I loved it.

Next: The gardens of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli; & a healthy dose of Rome.