Sunday, 13 October 2013
Dusk by the old customs house that stands at the tip of the Dorsoduro, beyond the Salute. To the left, across the waters of St Mark's Basin, the south face of the Doges' Palace and the campanile of San Marco; ahead, Palladio's island church of San Giorgio Maggiore with its own slender campanile; out to the right, across the wide Giudecca Canal, Palladio's other Venetian masterpiece, the church of Il Redentore...
What to say? A gasp will have to do. A gasp followed by long, rapt contemplation.
As ever, a good deal of restoration is under way. Much of the roofline of San Marco itself covered by screens, and most of the western range of the Piazza similarly concealed, and dominated by a gigantic advertising poster (for a luxury watch). In the Frari, Titian's Madonna di Ca' Pesaro is absent - 'In Restauro' (though the Titian Assumption and the Bellini Madonna and Saints are present, as radiantly beautiful as ever).
The People Problem
The shop-lined streets around the Piazza are as hideously congested as ever, and Venice's unceasing efforts to drain visitors of their money as tiresome as ever. Happily, though, it is still easy to escape the tourist throng and enter the quieter Venice in a matter of minutes.
Afternoon in the Campo San Zanipolo and the Campo Santa Maria Formosa. The throng here is of young children, released from school, charging about the open space, chasing each other, kicking footballs, playing games. The air is full of their cries. Venice is a city of human sounds - and silences. This is what city life used to be like, before the motor car remade our towns and our lives.
The Art Problem
A Biennale year, alas, with 'Art' liable to pop up everywhere. The lower room of Tintoretto's Scuola di San Rocco - a supreme work of the human spirit if ever there was one - is disfigured by violent purple-and-black 'paintings' that appear to have been produced by a very angry man cleaning his brush.
And what should appear overnight in front of the stunning facade of San Giorgio Maggiore? A gigantic, pale lilac-coloured inflatable version of Marc Quinn's 'sculpture' Alison Lapper Pregnant, as seen on the empty plinth of Trafalgar Square. Offences against art (as against Art) don't come much more horrific than this (though I suppose it's quite armless...).
On the other hand. Inside San Giorgio (an interior that makes St Paul's look like prentice work), under the cupola, is an extraordinary piece by John Pawson, aptly called Perspectives. A large convex lens on a base of mirrored steel offers breath-taking inverted vistas of arches and vaults (see picture above).
The Cruise Ship Problem
Closely related to the People Problem, but I hadn't realised its scale until one evening when a massive structure appeared beside the Salute - so massive that it reached almost to the top of that mighty dome. It was a cruise ship - or rather a floating hotel - of at least 12 decks. How much longer will Venice be able to cope with the hordes disgorged from these monstrous vessels?
But who can blame them for coming?