David’s press trips to Valdobbiadene (for superior Prosecco) and five days later, to the Euganean Hills (for more obscure wines, salumi and olive oil production and spas) provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to spend a long weekend in Venice.
A holiday! Yes a real holiday !
I flew from Gatwick at midday on Thursday 20 October, and arrived at Venice airport only minutes after David had been deposited there by his transfer, and together we caught the water bus (Alilaguna linea 14) to Zattere, on the southern Fondamenta of the Dorsoduro, as the afternoon light was beginning to fade. What better way to arrive in Venice!
We stayed in the Sonder Hotel (formerly della Salute) lately taken over by an American company who seem to think that their guests will benefit from creating an account with them, sharing their personal data etc; ‘taking all the stress’ out of checking-in.
Some of us think that’s what Reception is for. For almost a fortnight we were bombarded with requests for our data almost daily. Very tiresome; as we told them…
Future visitors, be aware: a Junior Suite is not a suite at all. It is simply a larger room, and in this case with a view. (We won that argument as well – the Sonder organisation did agreed to refund the difference…after quite a struggle)
The Rio de la Fornace (above) is a quiet, elegant small waterway only three minutes from La Madonna della Salute, and its fine views of the San Marco waterfront and the Doges’ Palazzo. I happened to be paying my respects here to the Old Religion on the Sunday morning when the participants of the Venice Marathon struggled by, crossing the Grand Canal by specially constructed pontoon, heading for the finishing post close to the Biennale site. The race begins in Stra, and runs along the Riviera del Brenta before entering the city at the Piazza Roma near the railway station.
I took the top two photos; Alarmy is responsible for the one below, which shows an earlier version pontoon clearly. This year’s model had been towed away before the end of the day.
Three minutes in the other direction towards the Ponte Accademia is the Peggy Guggenheim collection which entranced us on Saturday morning. It resides in the single story Palazzo which she acquired and lived in from the late 1940s, and most of the art work has remained there since she purchased it. It was a joy to see so many out-standing examples of twentieth century art alongside their contemporaries, so intelligently arranged in this beautiful house with its bright natural light.
Below are only a few of the pieces held there; attributions below the slide show:
Mare-Ballerina 1914 by Gino Severini; The Red Tower 1913 by Giorgio de Chirico; At the Cycle Race Track 1912 by Jean Metzer; On the Beach 1937 by Pablo Picasso; Red Spots 1913 by Vasily Kandinsky; Empire of Light 1953/4 Rene Magritte . (The Magritte was spell-binding; this photo doesn’t do its impact justice)
Saturday afternoon was another triumph. When we were last in Venice in 2017, David’s gall bladder was on the point of giving up the ghost, and we were hugely relieved firstly to ‘bump’ into La Fenice (as we were wandering around hoping his pain would recede) and secondly to purchase tickets for that afternoon’s matinée performance of Carmen. It was stunning both visually and on the ear, and briefly distracted him from the pain and me from the problem!
This year we were fortunate that La Fille du Regiment by Donizetti was also on as a matinée, and a few tickets remained. It wasn’t a difficult choice: seats at €200 each in the former Royal Box, or at €30 with restricted views. You can guess…
La Fenice lies between the Ponte Accademia and San Marco, and we became familiar with the route after a couple of sorties on foot. One was to meet a friend, Margaret, who we first met in Massa Maritima in c 2006 when we were all learning italian at the summer school of the British Institute. Last seen in Massa in July 2019 at David’s birthday bash, Margaret has lived in Umbria for nearly twenty years, but by some ‘alignment of the stars’ (her well-chosen expression) happened to be in Venice herself. We had a very happy rendezvous at La Canonica close by San Marco and shared a very superior Prosecco.
Below: the old northern ‘gate’ of the Arsenale dockyard and military stores, and its canal into the lagoon
Margaret strongly recommended the Biennale, which has two main sites, the Giardini which has literally dozens of permanent pavilions each dedicated to a particular country and its contemporary art expressions; and the Arsenale beyond. We had a moving and sometimes breath-taking afternoon in the Arsenale. It is a huge dockyard, parts of it still used by the Italian navy with vast brick structures reminiscent of Tate Modern – perhaps not as high, but a bigger footprint. By contrast we found the Giardini exhibits puzzling and disappointing; garish, plastic, obvious and empty. Below is a glimpse of some of the Arsenale exhibits, sadly not attributed. (The goat is the star of a video exploring place and ownership – I think!)
Ironically we often find it difficult to buy a glass of fine wine in Italy however big or small the town or city may be! Part of this, we admit, is our lack of information; usually by the end of a visit we have sussed out which bar or ristorante has a genuine interest in wine, and therefore stocks a wide range. We used quite alot of shoe leather on this (un)holy grail trail. On our last night we did find Estra – where the food was expensive but the wines very diverse and high quality. Honour satisfied!
Generally the food in Venice was better than we remembered, if menus were predictable and service often peremptory. Despite the tourists, the shops were generally interesting – especially those with art materials, as were some of the bars and restaurants and cafés (this one below right was part of the Biennale)
The Accademia Galleries were our final stop. Art galleries – old or new – can be overwhelming, and some advance research and selection of subject matter is advisable. I am fascinated by the art and architecture of the late medieval/early renaissance periods, and much less engaged – or moved – by the baroque. Siena, Florence, Verona, Padova, Mantova, Vicenza, Urbino.. all these wonderful places have furnished my modest understanding.
Venice is very different! For so many centuries it looked to the east – to Byzantium; and its C14 art was slow to turn its attention to developments in Florence, in Rome and Siena. And it shows! Again, attributions follow the slide show
From The Last Judgement Polyptych (Multi-panelled) on the theme of the Apocalypse by Jacopo Alberegno (d. 1397); the Coronation of the Virgin by Catarino (c. 1390) the Arrival of the Virgin Mary in Paradise by Maestro di Ceneda (c 1440); the Annunciation by Bellini (c 1480s): Santa Maria, Infant Jesus, Santa Caterina and La Maddalena by Giovanni Bellini (c1480s); La Vecchia by Giorgio di Castelfranco, known as Giorgione (1502); Lute player: detail from Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio by Vittore Carpaccio (c1510); Il Padre Eterno by Boniface de Pitati, known as Veronese (c 1550); detail of same: note San Marco and the Campanile; finally, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, also by Veronese (c 1550)
The following day I flew back to Gatwick, and David headed to an airport hotel to await his fellow press trip participants.
We used Alilaguna once more, and I hugely enjoyed the 90 minute journey back to Marco Polo airport as the boat wove its way past San Marco and the Doges’ Palace from pier to pier, taking in the both the Lido and Murano en route.
Meanwhile David travelled shorter distance with Alilaguna in the opposite direction to Piazza Roma to find a road taxi.
Altogether we had a delightful break in unusually warm and sunny autumn weather, and as luck would have it, avoided the political chaos at home…
[During the 12 days of David’s Italian travels, Jeremy Hunt managed to rescind nearly all of his predecessor’s radical mini-budget; Liz Truss resigned; Boris Johnson aka the Messiah attempted a Second Coming, and then thought better of it, and Rishi Sunak finally made it to PM. I doubt the next twelve days will be as dramatic! I hope not!]